Although it's still been cold this week, I was determined to go out in search of alexanders, which tends to grow near the coast. I've yet to see any around Aberystwyth, but surely there must be some somewhere. One evening I took a walk up Constitution Hill, and found nothing but gorse and a small candle burning on a tiny stone table, under a tree. Yesterday evening I tried again, this time choosing the Ystwyth Trail, thinking that a riverside walk would be a likely place to find various plants.
I battled into the brisk south easterly wind - so strong I could barely stand up at times - for about half an hour without seeing anything interesting. Then just as I was about to turn back, I spotted some feathery, dark plants in the grass, growing about six inches tall.
That looks like... a pinch of the leaves released the scent... yes, it's fennel! I didn't even know that fennel grows wild until I saw it mentioned in some foraging blog, about a week ago. I used to have some in my garden, though, and it looks exactly like this. Actually, from the
bronze colour, I wouldn't be surprised if it's an escaped garden variety, rather than the more common kind, but still, it's definitely growing wild here.
A note of caution here: Fennel, like its relative alexanders, is related to the poisonous hemlock, so you have to be very sure you've got the right plant. That said, carrots and parsnips are also in the same family, so don't assume the whole family's dangerous - it's not - you just have to know which plant you have. The leaves of hemlock look nothing like these fennel fronds, so they're not at all confusable at this age, but they do have similar flowers, so I suppose you could mix up the older plants, if you were being really careless.
The scent of fennel is strong and distinctive, like aniseed. In my opinion, alexanders is somewhat similar, but not everyone agrees on that. So, I hadn't found what I was looking for, but a somewhat stronger-tasting relative. That was still an excellent result. I cut one or two fronds from each of the larger plants and took them home.
Since the flavour is quite strong, I treat fennel more as a herb than a vegetable, so the fairly small amount I gathered was still too much to use all in one go (bearing in mind it's just me eating it). I put half in the fridge and cooked the other half with one tiny leek from the garden and some frozen peas, as a side vegetable, which was delicious. We're having pizza for dinner tonight, so I'll put the other half on that.
Also harvesting this week:
Leek (just the one)
Also eating this week:
Evening primrose roots
Blackcurrant fruit leather
Crab apple and mint jelly
Foraged food challenge summary page here.