Friday, June 18, 2010

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel was introduced to New Zealand by settlers, probably as both a culinary and medicinal herb. Among the first to introduce it may have been the sealers on Whenua Hou or Codfish Island (just off Rakiura - Stewart Island). Here local Maori and sealers formed a community, and around 100 years later fennel was reportedly growing rampant around the island. (I wonder if it still is?)

Wild Fennel has edible stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, and pollen - a great delicacy. You can try the roots too for flavouring; they're a bit tough to eat!

Fennel has a natural affinity with dairy in both sweet and savoury dishes. (Fennel and white chocolate sauce on ice-cream, mmmm.)

The fennel 'roots' or 'bulbs' you buy in stores are really the fleshy base of the stalks - from a variety of fennel, Florence fennel, specially bred for this purpose.

If you're eating wild fennel stalks, choose the younger, tender ones. You may still want to strip away the outer layer if it's a bit stringy - just try and see.

Medicinally fennel is particularly useful for digestion, and is most famous as a carminative (gets rid of gas). It's at least partly the anethol which does it; the same compound that gives fennel its aniseedy flavour. Anise, star anise, and licorice all contain anethol too.

Fennel essential oil is used in aromatherapy and perfumery, and is one of the few essential oils grown and processed here in New Zealand.

Here are a few useful links:

A recipe for candied Angelica stalks which you can use for fennel stalks just as well

101 ways to make cream of fennel soup

Gathering and using fennel pollen

Above photo of fennel courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Nigel Olsen said...

I see it growing like wildfire along the stopbank near the local river when I go for my run each morning. I'm assuming it's pretty hardy? When's the best time of year to harvest it - spring?

anna wilde said...

hi there Joanna
anna here from wildhealth.tapping away with 4 mth old on hip.... i have a friend in the hutt who wants sourdough mother- you know someone?
thanks anna

Johanna Knox said...

Hi Nigel - round where we are you can harvest anytime. It seems to grow all year round, with new plants popping up all the time. Now is looking pretty good - lots of new, tender growth. It could be that different weather at different times of years brings out different flavours, but I'm not sure. If you notice or find out - let me know! :) I hadn't got any further than going for the newer growth!

Hi Anna - if she hasn't found one already, I have a friend coming round on Friday who might have one. She used to anyhow. I'll ask her!

robertguyton said...

Hi Joanna
That's very interesting - I was amazed to read your suggestion that fennel began its NZ stint on Whenua Hou! I live at Riverton, facing the island and thought I'd brought the first fennel to the South (from Nelson).
I've been on Rarotoka (between Whenua Hou and Riverton) and there is none there.
Do you know of Giant Fennel? I have some growing. It's vigorous!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know if it's wild fennel thats growing on the river walking track in Helensville?