Alternative Names: Common Fennel, Sweet Fennel or Bitter Fennel, Carosella, Florence Fennel, Finocchio, Garden Fennel, Large Fennel, Wild Fennel, F. officinale, Anethum foeniculum.
Fennel is native to the Mediterranean region, but is now cultivated worldwide. It is an aromatic perennial that grows to about five feet (~2metres) in height, having dark green, feathery leaves, umbels of yellow flowers, and small, ridged, oval-shaped seeds, which are gathered in the autumn. The tall stalk looks like celery and is often consumed as vegetables, while the leaves and seeds are used to flavour foods. Although the taste and aroma of fennel are sometimes mistaken for anise or licorice, the plant is actually related to caraway.
All parts of the plant are aromatic (seeds, essential oil, root). Although the root is sometimes used medicinally, it is not as effective as the seeds and used mainly as a vegetable. The seeds have a taste resembling that of anise and are used for making herbal tea, but the roots are especially beneficial when treating urinary tract infection.
As an herbal medicine, fennel is reputed to increase milk secretion, promote menstruation, facilitate birth, ease the male climacteric, and increase the libido. These supposed properties led to research on fennel for the development of synthetic estrogens during the 1930s.
An infusion from the seeds makes a good gargle for sore throats or used as a mild expectorant.
The primary use for the herb is for digestive upsets and settling stomach pain while stimulating the appetite. The seeds are soothing for the digestive system. Essential oil is used for digestive and relaxing needs. Tinctures from the seeds are used for digestive problems.
Mouthwash and gargles are made from infusions for gum disorders, loose teeth, laryngitis, and sore throats.
Chest rubs are made from the essential oil and combined with eucalyptus and a neutral oil for upper respiratory congestion. Decoctions from the roots are prescribed for such urinary problems as kidney stones or such disorders associated with high uric acid content as gout.
It aids in the treatment of kidney stones. When combined with such urinary antiseptics as uva-ursi, it makes an effective treatment for cystitis. In Chinese medicine, the seeds (hui xiang) are thought to be a toner for the spleen and kidneys, and are also used in urinary and reproductive disharmonies.
Other benefits of Fennel:
Fennel oil was found to be genotoxic in the Bacillus subtilis DNA-repair test. Estragole, present in the volatile oil, has been shown to cause tumors in animals.
Therapeutic quantities should not be used during pregnancy. There are documented adverse effects during pregnancy or while nursing. May cause contact dermatitis and/or photosensitivity. Ingesting even small amounts of undiluted fennel oil can cause nausea, vomiting, and seizures. Those with hepatitis, cirrhosis, or other liver disorders are advised not to take fennel.