Drying Fennel Flowers

There was a lot of interest yesterday when I mentioned that I dry fennel flowers to use in cooking.  I maybe didn’t make it clear of was describing the wild fennel that grows all over the Mediterranean and not Florence or bulb fennel that is eaten cooked as a vegetable or raw in salads.

I learned about picking and drying the flowers to use with roast potatoes when I was helping some friends with their grape harvest, before we lived here in Lazio.  When I tasted them added to particular dishes I was determined to grow and harvest my own flowers.  It is one of the wild ‘crops’ that many people go to the countryside to collect, but having them in the garden means I can harvest the flowers when they are in peak condition, with the flower open but not beginning to form seeds.

I cut the whole flower head from the plant and then in a cool place I cut the flowers carefully and let them dry on a tray.  Once dry they can be crumbled between the fingers to obtain the pure yellow petals.  I sometimes push the dried flowers through a sieve; quite a lot of green gets through too, but it all seems to be packed with flavour so I don’t mind.  Purists would want only the pure yellow petals and stamens and if you’re buying it ready done the colour will tell you how much impurity there is in the mix. Pure gold means a price to match!

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A washing up bowl of heads won't even fill a small jar!

A washing up bowl of heads won’t even fill a small jar!

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I use mine in pasta with porcini, sausage risotto, and as mentioned above sprinkled on roast potatoes just before serving and on grilled meats.

It is the secret ingredient of Porcetta the whole boned and rolled roast pig that is traditional in Tuscany, Umbria and Lazio.  Some salami also have fennel flowers as an ingredient.

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Store in an airtight jar

Store in an airtight jar

Gold but mine has quite a bit of green too!

Gold but mine has quite a bit of green too!

The fresh flowers can be added to salads for an intense aniseed flavour; the seeds can be used in breads and curries.

Wild fennel is the primary food source for the caterpillar of the Swallowtail butterfly, so if I see the caterpillars I leave them undisturbed as they don’t do any damage in the garden and I love seeing these butterflies in the garden.  The flowers are also popular with masses of tiny spiders that I find all over the table I work on when preparing the flowers.  Hover flies seem to be the main pollinator, at least in my garden they are.

Many tiny spiders choose the flowerheads to make their webs

Many tiny spiders choose the flowerheads to make their webs

Swallowtail on Lavender

Swallowtail on Lavender

The swallowtail feeds on nectar, especially from Lavender, Perovskia and Verbena, but she lays her eggs exclusively on fennel.

Do you grow fennel, if so how do you use it?

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30 thoughts on “Drying Fennel Flowers

  1. thanks Christina, I didn’t go into the garden yesterday as I could see the midges were bad, I hope to be able to today, I didn’t even think of bulb fennel, the fennel I grow is Foeniculum vulgare and var.Dulce Bronze fennel, which I think are what you are talking about unless Italy has a different variant from the UK, on roast potatoes sounds lovely, I’m vegatarian so no roast but I do like my roast potatoes and parsnips, rosemary is nice used this way too, Frances

        • I have enough growing for garden pleasure and to supply flowers for winter dishes. Nothing else really tastes the same, not even the seeds. My bronze fennel never produces the same quantity of flowers as the green; also harvesting the flowers just seems to encourage the plants to produce more (just like any flowering plant).

  2. I am growing fennel – bronze fennel – for the first time this year, partly for the foliage but also for the seeds, as I love using them in curries. I wonder if the bronze fennel flowers would work in the same way as yours? I will have to give it a go.

  3. I didn’t think of drying fennel flowers for culinary use; a lovely idea. We only have the bulb fennel growing here, but I may introduce the other sort one of these days to the ornamental garden.

  4. This is so lovely, a beautiful plant to grow and therapeutic to pick, dry, prepare and store. I am going to share this with my daughter who is a really keen cook as I know she would love to try Fennel flowers in her cooking.

  5. I make a lovely jelly from Queen Anne’s Lace and it, too, is home to many tiny green spiders. Prepping the blossoms is a task best done out of doors. Thanks for the tutorial.

  6. You’re right. I didn’t understand the distinction between wild fennel and bulb fennel. You can tell I don’t grow either one, but really enjoyed reading about this process and seeing the photos. susie

  7. A wonderful post Christina. I must take a look if the flowers are still in the early enough stages to harvest some…. I can see I must grow more for a decent harvest as I don’t want to go without the flowers in my garden too! AND I want some seeds for me and to seed themselves! I have searched in vain for swallowtail caterpillars, but see lots of hover flies on the flowers.

  8. A wildflower that is the secret ingredient in special dishes and also attracts butterflies! Your description of the foods you prepare tells me that you garden for both body and soul. Sounds wonderful!

  9. I love my fennel to attract the insects and I use the dried seeds. This year I want to try it as a tea in the winter as I tasted fennel tea recently in the UK and liked it. I had never heard of drying the flowers, I would love to try it. This year I have not seen a caterpillar nor a Swallowtail butterfly yet, I have no idea why as we have had a warm summer.

  10. Pingback: Fennel flowers – a new harvest from the garden | The Garden Deli

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