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.