Dog fennel


Everyone has seen those lacy fern-like spikes with the tiny daisy-like flowers in the summer. This time of year what’s left of the flowers turns white and they can be quite attractive if they are not invading our flowerbeds.

This weed is dog fennel or wild chamomile (Eupatorium capillifolium) and it can have many uses aside from its looks. Many think it adds to a perennial garden. If you’ve ever pulled any, you noticed a strong odor. Some like the smell and others don’t.

Mosquitoes generally don’t like it. Native Americans used this perennial to repel them and some folks still use it today. I haven’t noticed much benefit, but likely additional preparation might be helpful. Juice from the entire plant can be extracted and applied topically to treat bites of reptiles and insects.

Dog fennel can grow six or seven feet tall and can take over an area if not kept clipped. Its leaves are hairless, but stems are quite pubescent.

It grows best on moist fertile soils and invades quickly. This upright aster relative tolerates dry conditions and does well on sandy soils. It also tolerates a wide pH range.

Regular mowing generally keeps dog fennel from becoming a problem in our lawns. It generally self-pollinates, but wind spreads pollen and seeds meaning plants could pop up anywhere. Dog fennel is not difficult to control chemically. Numerous herbicides will kill it.

One reason I chose to write about dog fennel is because there is much confusion surrounding it. Some foragers and herbalists speak in glowing terms. It is also useful for lost hunters to recognize, because the dried down from flowers and foliage makes great tinder. Being able to start a fire could save lost hunters, hikers and fishermen.

Other folks, especially livestock farmers consider this plant poisonous and a nuisance. Toxicity problems are not common since dog fennel has poor palatability. Even deer don’t usually eat it unless there is no other food left.

The major culprit is an alkaloid called pyrrolizidine. As a general rule, alkaloids are bitter-tasting compounds. This one in significant quantities can seriously damage the liver. Leaves also contain low levels of tremitol, which causes dehydration when ingested by cattle.

I do not recommend eating this herb. It is not a substitute for domestic fennel. The two species aren’t even related. Fennel is in the carrot family.

Some use the foliage in small quantities as a spice and many sources list it as edible. Some call it wild chamomile, but I wouldn’t recommend brewing any tea from it if you value your liver. Common names of plants can be dangerous.

I consider dog fennel useful only when used externally. Oils in the foliage can soothe sunburn and other skin irritations. Numerous sources document its insecticide potential. To many it also has aesthetic value.

The green lacy stems are attractive in flower arrangements as filler material. In fall the dried flowers make a nice accent also. Dried stems resemble florist Caspia but don’t last as long before shedding.

young dogfennel plant in fall

Above is a young dog fennel plant in fall. Normally young seedlings like this are more prolific in the spring.

Older plant in the fall having shed most of its white petals and seeds

Another mature dog fennel plant showing a bit more white chaff

 

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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30 Responses to Dog fennel

  1. It’s cool that this plant can repel mosquitoes and the oils can soothe sunburn or skin irritations.

  2. awhitenhs12 says:

    Its very interesting that this plant can do many things, it has a lot of uses and pretty much all of them are useful.

  3. I like that this plant can repel mosquitos.

  4. its cool that this plant can repel mosquitoes and can help with sunburn to.

  5. amandawensel says:

    Since this plant can repel mosquitoes i should consider having a few around my house.

  6. i would love to grow some to help me with mosquitoes in the summer nights and for sunburn and bug bites too!

  7. This plant is very unique and the white chaff look a little like spider webs

  8. sbright16 says:

    I tihnk its neat that a misquteo dont like it i would of never thought of that.

  9. The uses of the plant are useful and incredible. I think its pretty amazing that this plant can repel mosquiteos.

  10. I like how useful it is and can repel misquitos.

  11. i think this is a kind of cool plant as it repels misquitos, also helps with bug bites and sunburn.

  12. I think it is pretty cool that it repels mosquitoes and I think i have three in my yard.

  13. I like that is has many uses like the oils can soothe suburn or skin irritations and that it can repel mosquitoes

  14. I’ve heard of this before being used for an mosquitoe repelant.

  15. i would deffinately let this plant grow wild in my yard. im no fan of mosquitoes. so the fact they can repel them is great

  16. seankathryn says:

    awesome that it can repel misquitos..definitely a very useful plant.

  17. I need to get this plant and put it around my house ! i Hate mosquitoes !

  18. amandawensel says:

    I would love to have this plant around my house for the mosquitoes, i think its great how this plant can also help save those who may get lost in the woods.

  19. zachvanett says:

    week 8 hw makeup. I think it is really cool thath it can reapel mosquitos

  20. zachvanett says:

    I also liked that it can sooths burns and irratations it is a very useful plant

  21. sbright16 says:

    I like that mosquitoes don’t go near it and its good for sunburn

  22. david brice says:

    now that is what i call a great plant!!!!

  23. donnashawna says:

    I like the name of the plant and what it can do like Repel mosquitoes

  24. i hate these things, they stink soo bad, but hey if they repel them skeeters, then ill let some grow in my back yard. i had no idea that it could help with sunburns

  25. It’s weird that dog fennel and domestic fennel aren’t related, if I saw there names together I would have thought they were.

  26. kimberlypaigeweaver says:

    I have neer heard of using this to repel mosquitoes. I like that it can help with sun burn and all.

  27. susiehedley says:

    I like how it’s useful for sunburns and skin irritations and love how it repels mosquitoes.

  28. those things are cool mostly because they repel mosquitoes

  29. jordan2197 says:

    Dog fennel is cool because it can repel mosquitoes. The oils form the plant can soothe sunburn or skin irritations. Dog fennel have many uses but almost all of them are useful.
    it is a very unique plant, the chaff kind of looks like spider webs.

  30. Morgan Murray says:

    From this post I learned how beneficial Dog Fennel really is. It’s odor can repel mosquitos, the plant juice can be extracted and applied topically to treat bites of reptiles and insects, and the oils can soothe sunburn or skin irritations.

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