Wild Fennel

In walking the hills and canyons of Los Angeles, I’ve always marveled at how much wild fennel grows along the paths everywhere. It seems to thrive in really harsh conditions, sprouting out of cracks in the road and along parched beaten paths that look like virtual sand. From Malibu to the Hollywood Hills, it’s usually in some state of blooming. In the late summer it sports gigantic yellow flowered heads that look like gold queen anne’s lace. In the fall and winter, the flowers turn to fennel seed. Now in the spring/summer, beautiful feathery stalks wave in the wind.

Since I’m always buying fennel, I wondered if I could just pick and eat this common roadside attraction. So I did some research and alas, it’s a different variety that we toss in salads and stew with tomatoes to make a yummy sauce. Our hillside weed is too woody to do anything other than flavor the food. It’s great for using as a bed to grill fish and other vegetables to impart that smoky anise flavor. In the summer when the thing flowers, you can take a paper bag, put it over the flowerhead and tap it a couple of times to get pollen. Use the pollen as a spice on fresh zucchini and just about anything else. It’s a taste that will really send you.

11 thoughts on “Wild Fennel”

  1. at first glance…a wander after my own heart, I’m always smelling and tasting things on my meanders. Caveat is that if you have plant allergies a lot of these plants will come back to haunt you as I have learned the hard way.

  2. BTW: I’m gonna actually try and cook some of the wild fennel, because a bunch has naturally propagated in my garden next to the tomatoes….I’ll keep you posted as to whether when picked young, it’s more tender than when it gets big and reportedly woody.

  3. I grew some store bought “garden fennel” in my garden two years back and I could not tell the difference between it and “hillside fennel”. You have to pick it young, but as far as I can tell, it’s pretty much the same plant.

  4. The most common fennel found in stores is “Florence Fennel”, often used in Italian cusine. It has a more bulbous base which is often cooked. The base of the wild fennel is rather narrow and less desirable however the foilage and the seeds are very similar and equally good for seasoning.

  5. Good post! But remember to harvest only from locations not heavily polluted by passing car exhausts, in order to avoid lead and whatever.


  6. Hey Will-
    We’re all non-native invaders that must die. it is the way of the world! I just want to go down having tasted everything!
    And the mustard is just so purdy!

  7. Hi there. I grew up in the Bay Area, and one of my parents’ early dating stories involves my father coming over to my mother’s house in Palo Alto and discovering that there was fennel growing wild in her yard. He freaked: “do you know what this is?” and introduced her to fennel. But I’m pretty sure it was the thicker, eating kind.

    How do you eat your fennel (the thicker kind)? I only know to eat it raw dipped in olive oil with pepper.

  8. Lia-I do lots with Fennel: Cut it up raw and toss in a salad. Saute it with tomatoes and onions and put it over pasta with a little freshly grated parmesean cheese. Stuff a chicken with fennel and garlic. Saute it with carrots. dip it raw in anything!

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