Fennel Foraging: Medicine and Food in One

Living in California, one is surrounded by a bounty of wild herbs, grasses, fruits, and vegetables — all ripe for the picking. Sage, lavender, dandelions, rosemary, and countless orchards grow rampantly in the streets and fields of Los Angeles. It’s amazing to live in such a crowded urban landscape and yet be amidst wild foods everywhere. The only question is, what’s edible? And what do I do with it?

Fennel as medicine.

With a long-standing history of being used as a healing herb, fennel was brought to North America by Spanish missionaries to be grown in their medicinal gardens.

As far as greens are concerned, fennel has all the goods. It’s rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, including vitamin C, vitamin B3, manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. It’s a particularly strong antibacterial herb that boosts the immune system.

Some heralding qualities of fennel:

  • Rich in potassium, a mineral that helps to lower blood pressure. Add fennel to walnuts and celery as blood pressure-lowering foods to eat regularly.
  • Fights the common cold and helps to expel mucus, due to alpha-pinen in the herb. Breathe in the steam from a pot of fennel and boiling water to alleviate asthma and bronchitis.
  • Digestive powerhouse. Fennel’s greatest virtue may be its medicinal value on the digestive system. If relieves stomach aches, gas, and hiccups. In fact, it’s one of the premier herbs used in old-timey cough syrups and alcohol tinctures used to give kids and sick people back in the day.

Fennel in the kitchen.

The fennel fronds are the long, feathery leaves that grow on the plant. These grow prolifically and can be used in a multitude of ways in your kitchen. With a sweet smell and a slightly bitter, minty taste, not unlike anise or licorice, it‘s easy to distinguish with a simple taste on the tongue.

Simmer a large handful of fresh fennel fronds in boiling water for just a few minutes, then strain and serve with honey or agave. This high vitamin C drink will boost the immune system, fight coughs, make the stomach feel good, and relax the nerves.

Chop the fresh fennel fronds and toss them in raw salads and slaws. Its minty, sweet flavor pairs particularly well with apples, celery, orange, cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, cream, or white cheese.

Layer handfuls of fresh fennel fronds with seafood on the grill, in the oven, or poached on the stovetop for a gentle, sweet grass-like flavor that accentuates most fish.

Gather a large amount of fresh fennel fronds (enough to smash down into a large stockpot), and fill with ½ cup water and 1 cup sweetener of choice. Boil down for about 10 minutes, until thick and reduced slightly. Remove herbs and boil down if the syrup needs to get thicker. Use this as a cough syrup remedy or to make stellar handcrafted cocktails. Pairs well with gin, vodka, and scotch.

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