Governor Tucker’s instructions in 1616 included everything from service to God, to planting sugarcane, mulberry and sowing “Fennell, Bazil, Mariorum, and Onion seeds.” Today, wild, bulbless fennel is ubiquitous in many parishes, found even in urban areas. Hip-high forests cover areas of Southampton beaches, and it shows up along lanes and unwanted in flower beds; it is now considered a weed. A native of the Mediterranean that loves to be near the sea, fennel is very adaptable.
Fennel gave Greek athletes courage and strength; it was a symbol of flattery, and a protection against witchcraft and evil spirits. To the Anglosaxons, fennel was one of nine sacred herbs used in both kitchen and apothecary. In Italy, fennel shows up in everything from hors d’oeuvres to dessert.
Reaching up to four feet in height, Fennel stems are sturdy with a thick, long leafstalk. The tiny, bright yellow flowers appear at the stalk ends in small clusters and produce aromatic seeds that smell like liquorice.
Mix chopped fennel fronds into homemade pestos, salsas, salads, stocks, pastas, curries, and vinaigrettes or use them as a garnish on dips, yogurt sauces, eggs, stir-fries, chicken and meats. They are also delicious sprinkled on top of roasted vegetables or added to a green smoothie or juice.
Fennel fronds pesto
1 cup toasted walnuts
3 cups loosely packed fennel fronds
1 lemon juiced
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ cup olive oil
Toast the walnuts over medium heat for about 3-5 minutes, or until they start to turn a nice golden brown colour. Set aside to cool.
Add the walnuts, fennel fronds, lemon juice, garlic and salt to a food processor. Add in half of the olive oil and pulse or blend until incorporated. Continue blending while slowly pouring in the rest of the olive oil and desired consistency is reached (you may need to add in a little more olive oil or water 1 teaspoon at a time if you prefer it thinner).
Store in an airtight container in the fridge or freeze for later use.