chef sprinkling fennel pollen onto grilled fennel

How to Use Fennel: Go Wild in Cooking

Every year, leafy plants as tall as NBA players sprout up throughout Sonoma County wine country, spreading yellow flower “dust” from their crowns along fence lines and dirt roads. This is wild fennel, and despite its invasiveness and weed-like appearance, this native to the shores of the Mediterranean is fun to use in cooking—and it’s free. Fennel, also known as anise or sweet fennel, has a strong anise scent and mild licorice flavor. These three ideas show you how to use fennel—foraged or purchased—in recipes during its peak season of summer.

New to foraging? Don’t miss our beginners’ foraging guide.

How to Use Fennel in Recipes

How to use fennel: Flowers serve as a garnish

1. Fennel Flower Entree Garnish

Use fennel’s distinct umbrella of yellow flowers as a garnish with steak or pork dishes. Pick fresh flowers, rinse gently and place on a baking sheet to dry overnight. Encourage guests to smell the flowers for another element of the sensory experience during dinner. The fennel flower garnishes for the salmon course (pictured) were a hit at our first-ever Sunset Supper at Vista Point.

Making a fennel pollen vinaigrette

2. Fennel Pollen Vinaigrette

Bring subtle anise spice to a vinaigrette by adding a teaspoon of wild fennel pollen to a cup of vinaigrette. Pollen is slightly grainy, so it can also be toasted before adding to the vinaigrette to release its essential oils and aromatics.

Grilling fresh fennel

3. Grilled Fennel Bulbs

Slice fennel cross-cut lengthwise and sous-vide cook it in a fennel pollen vinaigrette. Another tip on how to use fennel: Fennel bulbs are a great garnish for grilled beef, pork or even in a crab risotto.

Shopping Tips for Fennel

When shopping for fennel, the shape is very important. There are two—one that’s narrow (the female) and one rounder (male). Look for the broader, round one. The male plant typically has more flavor.

Learn more about wild fennel at

    • Arnold Iwanick
    • January 1, 2019

    Hi Todd,
    Thanks for the fennel tips.
    When we lived in Redding, CA I would pick wild fennel and serve it with freshly caught steelhead. What a treat!
    Arnie Iwanick, La Center, WA.

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