The fennel in my garden is aphid ridden so I was very happy to find some very large, lush fennel in seed in a friend’s garden today (and even happier that he let me pick it). Fennel seed vinegar is a favourite of mine and I got to make more than enough today for the year and for giving away. Here’s what I did:

1. The seed needs to be ripe. This means treat it like a fruit, not like a seed you want for sowing. So you don’t want it dry or brown or shrivelling. Fennel seeds are plump when ripe and still green.

2. Chop the seed heads into a measuring bowl. This will tell you roughly how big a jar you need. I got just under 2 litres, which when compressed a bit fit into a 1.5 litre jar.

3. Once the jar is filled with seed, fill it again with apple cider vinegar. Put the lid on (plastic, as vinegar will corrode metal) and shake a bit to loosen any air trapped in the seeds. There will be more air to surface, so check daily for the first week, and then weekly after that, and top up as needed. It’s important that the plant material stays submerged under the vinegar, especially if you are using unpasteurised vinegar.

4. Label the jar with plant and part of plant, date, menstruum (in this case raw apple cider vinegar), and place of harvest.

5. Let sit for 6 weeks, and then strain into a dark glass bottle.

6. Take as 1 tablespoon in a glass of water, or sprinkle on salads, grains, etc. Fennel seed vinegar tastes divine (if you like fennel), so prioritise it for dishes where the taste comes through.

Fennel seed is a lovely aromatic digestive aid. It has volatile oils in it, which make it warming and stimulating to the digestion. If you find bitters too cooling, the aromatic herbs can be a good choice for digestive woes. Fennel seed is mild, nutritive and easy to use regularly. New Mexico herbalist Kiva has an in depth article on the medicinal aspects of aromatic herbs especially in relation to digestion.

Fennel is a member of the Umbelliferae family, which includes many plants we are familiar with eg carrot, aniseed, caraway, dill, coriander, parsley, celery, parsnip, angelica, lovage. The flower and seed heads form umbels (like an umbrella shape) hence the family name.

There are some poisonous plants in this family, in NZ notably the hemlock, so it’s good to be certain you know what plant you are picking. Fortunately fennel in seed is distinctive by its fennel smell, which is pleasant, and hemlock has an unpleasant smell and other distinctive features. And generally they’re easy to tell apart once you see them:

fennel leaf

hemlock leaf

We have some native Umbelliferae plants in NZ, including a celery, several aniseeds, and the wild spaniard.