Collecting Wild Fennel Pollen

We food people think we are normal.

But we are as crazy as bedbugs. Wait, they aren’t crazy, just hungry. Well, we do share that. I confess this as the first bright yellow flower heads of wild fennel appear in fields and roadsides. A new foraging season for wild fennel pollen collecting has arrived. This time last year I kept seeing fennel pollen on menus all over town and saw jars of it for sale. While I dislike black licorice intensely, I love almost everything else with an anise flavor. I wanted some fennel pollen of my own and I didn’t want to pay for it. To learn how to collect it, I did what you’d do: consulted the Internet.

One blog post told me to collect some flower heads and suspend them upside down in a bag, hang that up somewhere, and bat it every time I passed it. The pollen would fall to the bottom of the bag with almost no effort. Now, maybe you have a place where having a bag hanging in your way would not drive you crazy. Or you are very clever and can train your cat to bat the bag about.

Wild fennel pollen. From left to right: most to least obsessively sorted.

But I tried it nonetheless and opened the bag after several days to see what was what. What would be aphids and my first lesson in fennel foraging: Make sure your flower heads are fresh and not bug infested.

A video recommended collecting flowers and simply brushing your hand across the flower heads over your dish. This works. The pollen is fine, very yellow and pretty, but you get very little. The method also practical if fennel flowers live down by the mailbox a few steps away. The closest source I know of is a twenty-minute walk. One way. And straight uphill.

Now that I had some experience, a third source was more helpful. The writer recommended washing, drying, then picking the fennel off the heads. So I did that. Three times. The first batch I dried in the sun and rubbed the flower heads through a strainer. The pollen was mixed with an equal or larger amount of tiny, nearly hair-thin (actually maybe thinner than one of my hairs) stems. The second batch I washed and dried in a very low oven then put through the strainer more carefully and was rewarded with fewer and shorter stems. The third and final batch (even for an obsessive like me there are limits) I washed, dried a little less than Batch 2, and strained and sorted while watching TV. Actually, I listened and just glanced at it occasionally while sorting the pollen. Over and over again. How did it ever become possible as a commercial product?

This year, if I collect any at all, I’ll just forage while walking and then when the season’s over, I’ll just wait for the next year. Local, seasonal cooking in action.

2 Responses to “Collecting Wild Fennel Pollen”

  1. Debra
    12. August 2012 um 06:07

    Sounds like more work than saffron. So precious! Is it delicious? What recipes use fennel pollen?
    Thanks, Penni, for this interesting post.

  2. penniw
    12. August 2012 um 07:45

    Recipes?! Just anything that tastes good with fennel. It’s such a pretty garnish and so, if I have it, I’ll dust fresh sliced tomatoes, green beans, deviled eggs. You get the idea!


Thanks again for a great boost in getting our kitchen functioning. What a difference! I can actually get implements out of the drawer without a struggle. I made a carrot salad for dinner with no hassle because the Cuisinart was at hand to shred the carrots! Yay!

-Francesca Bannerman, SF

About Penni

Over 30 years as a food and wine professional, writer, and editor.

Cookbook author including:
'The Tra Vigne Cookbook' for Michael Chiarello,
'The Basque Kitchen' for Gerald Hirigoyen
and 'BurgerBar' for Hubert Keller.

Contact Penni Wisner