Native to the Mediterranean region, it now grows abundantly in many regions of the world. Its history however, has its roots in ancient Greek and Roman times. The Latin word “foeniculum,” or “little hay” and is said to describe fennels feathery leaves, but may also describe a traditional use of feeding it to the goats to increase the quantity and fat content of their milk. There are reports of people eating fennel up to 2000 years ago, although at that time, the stem was more popular than the seed. Roman bakers would use the leaves under bread as it baked to provide flavor. Roman warriors ate fennel to provide courage, and wore a wreaths of its leaves. In the Middle Ages Fennel became an important supernatural remedy against witchcraft, and was hung over doors on Midsummer’s Eve to ward off evil spirits. A 2nd century physician, Galen, declared fennel one of the four warming seeds, with celery, parsley and asparagus being the others. It was later included as one of the “4 medieval warming seeds” with anise, caraway, and coriander, and was one the nine holy herbs the Anglo-Saxons used to combat the nine causes of disease. A poultice of powdered fennel seed was used in snakebites, and is still used as such today in China.
What is Fennel Used For?
Fennel is an excellent example of an aromatic herb that works to support normal digestive activity. Because fennel is most commonly used as a digestive aid, it is particularly helpful for occasional gas, bloating, and indigestion. Studies have shown that fennel has a calming action on smooth muscles, which may be in part how it restores health to the digestive tract. Fennel is also reported to exhibit a positive effect upon lactation, improving the volume of milk produced and its fat content in goats and mice.
Traditional Health Benefits of Fennel
Additional Information on this Herb
The primary constituent of interest is Fennel’s essential oil, which is approximately 2-4% of the total constituents, comprised of the sweet-tasting transanethole (60-80%) and estragole (5-10%), as well as fenchone (5-7.5%), limonene, phelandrene, camphene and pinene. Other constituents include tannins, rutin, a fixed oil, stigmasterol and coumarins.
Seed and essential oil
1. Alexandrovich I, et al. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Jul-Aug;9(4):58-61. 2. Miguel MG, et al. Foeniculum vulgare essential oils: chemical composition, antioxidant and antimicrobial activities. Nat Prod Commun. 2010 Feb;5(2):319-28. 3. Savino F et al. Phytother Res. 2005 Apr;19(4):335-40. 4. Singh B, et al. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008 Dec;46(12):3842-50.
Fennel essential oil should be used in small amounts. Fennel seed however is generally recognized as safe in amounts used in food. If you have a medical condition or take pharmaceutical drugs, or if you are pregnant, please consult your doctor prior to use.
- This information in our Herbal Reference Guide is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This content does not provide dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Accordingly, this information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician.
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