The dry stems of last year’s fennel are a familiar sight in the northwest quarter of the park, and elsewhere, this time of year. They’re a favorite perch for Red-winged Blackbirds and other species. In the past couple of weeks, fine growths of fresh green fennel have been rising at the feet of the old brown and gray stems. The new fennel has juicy-looking thick bright green stems, and its leaves are a lacy branchwork of needle-like fingers.
The fresh fennel already has a mild version of its characteristic anise-like aroma if you crush the leaves gently. The aroma will grow much stronger as the plant matures, and when it flowers, the scent will permeate the air along the pathways where it is established. Fennel is a ruderal here — a self-invited visitor — but in many parts of the world, farmers cultivate it. Its bulb, foliage and seeds have multiple culinary uses. Wikipedia says:
The bulb, foliage, and fruits of the fennel plant are used in many of the culinary traditions of the world. The small flowers of wild fennel (known as fennel “pollen” ) are the most potent form of fennel, but also the most expensive. Dried fennel fruit is an aromatic, anise-flavored spice, brown or green in color when fresh, slowly turning a dull grey as the fruit ages. For cooking, green fruits are optimal. The leaves are delicately flavored and similar in shape to those of dill. The bulb is a crisp vegetable that can be sautéed, stewed, braised, grilled, or eaten raw. Young tender leaves are used for garnishes, as a salad, to add flavor to salads, to flavor sauces to be served with puddings, and also in soups and fish sauce.
Fennel fruits are sometimes confused with those of anise, which are similar in taste and appearance, though smaller. Fennel is also used as a flavoring in some natural toothpastes. The fruits are used in cookery and sweet desserts.
Many cultures in India, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Middle East use fennel fruits in cooking. It is one of the most important spices in Kashmiri Pandit and Gujarati cooking. It is an essential ingredient of the Assamese/Bengali/Oriya spice mixture panch phoron and in Chinese five-spice powders. In many parts of India, roasted fennel fruits are consumed as mukhwas, an after-meal digestive and breath freshener, or candied as comfit.
Fennel leaves are used in some parts of India as leafy green vegetables either by themselves or mixed with other vegetables, cooked to be served and consumed as part of a meal. In Syria and Lebanon, the young leaves are used to make a special kind of egg omelette (along with onions and flour) called ijjeh.
Many egg, fish, and other dishes employ fresh or dried fennel leaves. Florence fennel is a key ingredient in some Italian and German salads, often tossed with chicory and avocado, or it can be braised and served as a warm side dish. It may be blanched or marinated, or cooked in risotto.
Fennel fruits are the primary flavor component in Italian sausage. In Spain, the stems of the fennel plant are used in the preparation of pickled eggplants, berenjenas de Almagro. An herbal tea or tisane can be made from fennel.
On account of its aromatic properties, fennel fruit forms one of the ingredients of the well-known compound liquorice powder. In the Indian subcontinent, fennel fruits are also eaten raw, sometimes with a sweetener.
In Israel, fennel salad is made of chopped fennel bulbs flavored with salt, black pepper, lemon juice, parsley, olive oil and sometimes sumac.