Fennel (Foeniculum Vulgaris)

Medical Uses

Traditionally, fennel has been used mainly to aid digestion, relieve stomach spasms, loosen coughs, freshen breath, and promote the flow of breast milk in nursing mothers. Fennel water has been given to infants to relieve colic. Fennel syrup and fennel honey have been used for upper respiratory infections in children.

Historical Uses

Fennel was a sacred herb in medieval times, and bunches of fennel were hung on doors to prevent the effects of witchcraft. Ancient Greeks thought that fennel gave them courage. The Greek meaning of fennel is “to grow thin”. In folklore, fennel seeds were used to promote milk flow, help calm colicky babies, suppress appetite, and aid digestion. Fennel has been used in India to aid digestion and freshen breath after eating.

Growth

Fennel is easy to grow from seed; it prefers warm soil with plenty of sun.

Fennel: Part Used

• Seeds

Major Chemical Compounds

• Volatile oil

• Essential fatty acids

Flavonoids

• Beta carotene

• Vitamin C

Calcium

• Iron

Fennel: Clinical Uses

Traditionally, fennel has been used mainly to aid digestion, relieve stomach spasms, loosen coughs, freshen breath, and promote the flow of breast milk in nursing mothers. Fennel water has been given to infants to relieve colic. The German Commission E approved fennel seeds for “dyspepsias, flatulence, catarrh of the upper respiratory tract”.

Mechanism of Action

Fennel is thought to aid digestion and relieve gas and colic because of the effects of its volatile oils.

Fennel: Dosage

Tea by infusion: Place 1 level teaspoon of seeds to 150 mL of boiling water, steep for 5 minutes, strain, and drink 2 to 3 times daily.

Seeds: Up to 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds may be chewed after meals. They taste like licorice. The German Commission E limits the use of fennel seeds to 2 weeks.

Side Effects

Fennel seeds may cause skin irritation and may have a laxative effect.

Contraindications

• High doses of fennel are contraindicated during pregnancy.

• Diabetics who use fennel syrup with honey must consider the sugar content.

Herb-Drug Interactions

In an animal study, there was a significant interaction between ciprofioxacin and fennel; absorption, distribution, and elimination of ciprofioxacin were all affected. The authors of this study recommended an adequate dosing interval.

Pregnancy and Breast-Feeding

Fennel is a uterine stimulant, so high doses should be avoided during pregnancy. Pregnant women may use small amounts in cooking. The herb is safe if used in infusions and preparations containing 4 percent essential oil of seeds. It is also safe for use while breast-feeding.

Pediatric Patients

Fennel syrup and fennel honey may be given to children with upper respiratory infections.

Summary of Studies

No recent clinical studies in humans are available.

Warnings

• Fennel may cause skin irritation.

• Fennel may have a laxative effect.

• Don’t take fennel if you take ciprofloxacin.

• Don’t take high doses of fennel during pregnancy because it stimulates the uterus. You may use small amounts in cooking. You may also use infusions and preparations that contain 4 percent essential oil of seeds.

• If you have diabetes and you use fennel syrup or honey, make sure you consider the sugar content.

• Fennel is safe for use while breast-feeding.

Fennel: Recipes

Try using dried fennel on grilled fish and in soups, sauces, and stews.