Common Name

Standardized: fennel
Other: shatapushpa

Botanical Name

Foeniculum vulgare Mill.
Plant Family: Apiaceae


Fennel was highly valued in the ancient world by Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, and Indians for its value as a carminative, expectorant, and as a talisman used in various rituals. Fennel is a food plant that can be eaten as a vegetable, is prized as a tasty aromatic spice for a variety of Ayurvedic and Mediterranean dishes, and is used as a flavoring in various liqueurs such as gin and absinthe. Due to fennel's gentle nature, it is used to support digestion in infants and children, and can be given to nursing mothers.


Fennel can be an annual, biennial, or perennial plant that can grow up to 6 feet tall, has bright yellow umbrella shaped flowers typical of those in the Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) family, and green feathery leaves that are similar to those of its cousin dill (Anetheum graveolens).

History And Folklore

Continually utilized since the time of Hippocrates and later cultivated by the Romans, fennel has a rich history based on its properties as a food and spice, digestive stimulant, and a sacred ritual object. The original Greek name for fennel was 'marathon' or marathos which meant 'to grow thin' due to the use of the fennel seed by athletes to control their weight. The place of the famous "Battle of Marathon" was a plain in East Attica where fennel grew abundantly. Fennel was sprouted as part of a ritual honoring Adonis, the lover of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. In ceremonies honoring Dionysus (Bacchus), a thyrsus (a wand or staff of giant fennel with ivy vines and leaves, wound with ribbons and topped with a pine cone) was tossed around while dancing as a symbol of prosperity, fertility, and pleasure in general.

Pliny the Elder, an ancient Roman historian believed fennel supported the ability to see clearly; this belief is also mentioned in a variety of Ayurvedic texts (system of Indian traditional healing). Further, in medieval times, it was believed that if grown around the home, or hung above windows and doorways on Midsummer's Eve, fennel would protect the inhabitants and ward off evil.

Various preparations and uses of fennel were recorded in Spain as far back as 961 B.C.E, and there are many references to this herb in historical poetry such as in Milton's Paradise Lost where he refers to the "smell of sweetest fennel." In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), fennel (or xiao hui xiang) was powdered and made into a poultice for snakebites. In TCM, fennel demonstrates aromatic and warming properties and effects the liver, kidney, spleen, and stomach meridians (energetic pathways) and is therefore administered to increase appetite, quell nausea, and to allay occasional bloating.

In Ayurveda, fennel is called 'samf' or 'saunf', 'madhurika', or ‘shatapushpa’ (amongst other names) and believed to taste bitter, pungent, and sweet. It is considered neutral to slightly warming energetically and balancing to all three of the constitutional body types (vata, pitta, and kapha). It is considered to be one of the best carminatives and has been utilized to relieve gas and enhance digestion. Fennel is considered nourishing to the brain and eyes, and calming to the spirit.

In various countries in the Mediterranean, particularly Italy and France, the leaves are put into salads, sauces, and puddings. Roman bakers put fennel under their loaves while baking in order to make the bread taste better, and perhaps to make it more digestable. Nicholas Culpepper (a 17th century botanist, avid astrologer, physician, and herbalist) wrote in his Complete Herbal that fennel should be boiled alongside fish in order to make it easier to digest.

In North America, fennel was used by the Cherokee as a carminative and thus administered to soothe digestion in infants, and was also given to woman during childbirth. The Pomo Indians used fennel as an eyewash and a digestive aid and the Hopi used fennel as a tobacco substitute for smoking.

In recent times, fennel is utilized mostly in the same way that it has been for thousands of years. It is an incredibly helpful digestive aid, an effective expectorant, a delicious food and spice, and may stimulate normal milk production in nursing mothers.

Uses And Preparations

dried seed (fruit) as a spice (whole or powdered), tea, tincture, or powdered and encapsulated fresh above ground parts as a cooked vegetable or in salads fresh seed (fruit) distilled as an essential oil or can be made into a tincture

Health Benefits of Fennel

1) Fennel May Help with Stomach/Gut Discomfort

Fennel has a long history of being used to treat a variety of gut and digestive problems, including stomach aches, flatulence, diarrhea, and constipation.

There are few studies that support these benefits. This doesn’t mean that the benefits are not there, just that few have studied them.

Fennel seed oil reduces intestinal spasms and increases gut flow .

Anethole, a major component of essential fennel oil, improved stomach function and emptying in rats (these are impaired in functional dyspepsia) .

Fennel extract prevented stomach ulcers caused by alcohol in rats .

In a study of 121 patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a mixture of fennel and curcumin essential oils decreased abdominal pain and improved quality of life .

2) Fennel Helps with Infantile Colic

“Colic” is the term used to refer to when young children cry or are in a state of distress for several hours a day. The causes are unknown, but it is widely believed that stomach cramps and other digestive issues play a key role.

Because fennel is known to have a soothing effect on the gastrointestinal system, it has a long history as a folk remedy for infantile colic. This use has also been backed up by science.

For example, in a study with 125 infants, fennel seed oil eliminated colic in 65% of infants, compared to an improvement of only 24% in the placebo group.

A meta-analysis of 17 studies and a review of 14 clinical trials of supplements for gut disorders concluded that fennel (either as an oil, a tea, or an herbal compound) was effective in treating babies with infantile colic .

3) Fennel Mimics Estrogen

Fennel has estrogen-like activity (it is estrogenic).

Because of this, it can reduce menstrual pains, alleviates symptoms of menopause, and increases libido .

Fennel Relieves Menstrual Pain

Fennel capsules shortened the length of the menstruation cycle, reduced period-related nausea, and improved subjective well-being in 40 young women compared to a group receiving placebo treatment .

Combination of fennel extract/vitamin E was more effective than ibuprofen in decreasing the intensity of menstrual pain in 68 female students [20].

Fennel was also found to alleviate menstrual pain in 30 women reporting particularly painful periods (dysmenorrhea). This effect kicked in between 30 – 120 minutes after taking it. However, 5 women withdrew from this study due to finding its odor unpleasant, and one woman reported a mild increase in the amount of menstrual flow .

Fennel May Help with PMS

This herb reduced the severity of symptoms in 90 young women with moderate to severe PMS .

Fennel Is Beneficial in Menopause

Menopause is often accompanied by symptoms such as hot flashes, sweating, heart discomfort, sleep problems, depression, irritability, fatigue, anxiety, sexual problems, and joint and muscle discomfort.

In a triple-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 90 women, fennel effectively reduced menopausal symptoms without serious side effects [23].

Fennel May Help Avoid Unwanted Hair Growth in Women

Sometimes, women with regular menstrual cycles and normal levels of male hormones can experience unwanted hair growth, a condition known as hirsutism (for example, inappropriate facial hair growth).

While the underlying causes of this are not yet known, fennel has shown potential in reversing this distressing condition.

For example, fennel gels and creams applied directly to the affected areas of the skin reduced hair growth and hair thickness in a DB-RCT of 44 women and in another study of 38 women .

4) Fennel May Promote Breast Milk Production

It has been traditionally used by breastfeeding mothers to increase breast milk production .

While there are no studies that have directly tested the effects of fennel itself on milk production, there is still some scientific evidence to explain why it might have a beneficial effect on breast milk production.

Dopamine blocks prolactin, a hormone that stimulates breast milk production. Anethole, found in fennel, may compete with dopamine at dopamine receptors, thereby blocking the inhibitory action of dopamine on prolactin . This would result in more milk production.

A study of 46 women showed that fennel capsules increase blood prolactin levels .

5) Fennel Is Antimicrobial

Historically, fennel has been used as a remedy for many infectious disorders .

Fennel extract prevents the growth of several harmful bacteria in the laboratory (such as staph infection and tuberculosis-causing bacteria, E. coli, and Salmonella) .

It may also prevent the growth of Candida albicans, and harmful molds (Aspergillus niger and Fusarium oxysporum) .

6) Fennel Has Antioxidant Effects

This herb is an abundant source of antioxidants such as caffeoylquinic acid, quercetin, and other phenolic and flavonoid compounds.

Three weeks of fennel supplementation increased the activity of important antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase (SOD), and catalase in rats .

However, wild fennel has a higher free radical scavenging activity and a higher content of phenolic and flavonoid compounds than medicinal and edible fennel – so anyone interested in using this herb for its antioxidant effects should try to get their hands on the wild fennel variety .

7) Fennel Is Good for the Skin

A cream containing fennel extract improved skin texture and increased skin water content in 11 volunteers .

Fennel extract may prevent the visible effects of skin aging that come from sun exposure. For example, it increased the production of collagen, elastin, and TGF-beta1 levels in mice exposed to UVB radiation. Furthermore, it dose-dependently decreased the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) by increasing Nrf2 and antioxidants such as GSH [12].

Cell studies have also found that fennel and trans-anethole also lighten the skin and may prevent skin blemishes by blocking UV-induced melanin production (melanogenesis) .

8) Fennel May Help Reduce Inflammation

Fennel extract has significant anti-inflammatory effects in rats and mice. It also prevents slow allergic reactions (type IV allergic hypersensitivity) .

This herb suppressed inflammation in mice with lung injury, by decreasing the production of the inflammatory cytokines IL-6, TNF-alpha, and the inflammatory agents MMP9 and nitric oxide (NO) .

Fennel contains several major ingredients that are inhibitors of 5-LOX, an enzyme that causes inflammatory and allergic responses in the body by producing leukotrienes. Fennel’s ability to inhibit these enzymes may make it useful for preventing inflammatory and allergic reactions.

Anethole, found in fennel, decreased inflammatory cytokines IL-1beta and TNF-alpha in a rat model of periodontitis (inflammation of the gums) .

9) Fennel May Combat Tumors

Fennel seeds reduced the growth of skin and stomach tumors in mice. They increased the content/activities of phase I and phase II detox enzymes and the activities of antioxidant enzymes .

Fennel seed extract was also shown to block the growth of breast and liver cancer cells.

Anethole, the principal active component of fennel seeds, increased survival time and reduced tumor weight and volume in mice with cancer.

Similarly, anethole inhibited the growth of prostate cancer cells, as well as prevent them from spreading throughout the body.

Anethole blocks tumor growth and metastasis by increasing the levels of many of the body’s natural compounds that hunt down tumor cells and cause them to self-destruct (undergo apoptosis) .

10) Fennel May Alleviate Anxiety and Depression

In a DB-RCT of 60 post-menopausal women, fennel showed borderline significant improvement in treating anxiety and depression [33].

Fennel essential oil decreased anxiety in mice .

11) Fennel May Improve Memory

Fennel extract prevented the deficits in memory in rats and mice caused by aging and scopolamine (a drug that causes amnesia by blocking acetylcholine) [35, 11].

It blocked acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, in mice [11]. This increases acetylcholine and improves the creation of memories.

12) Fennel May Help Diabetes

Fennel essential oil reduced blood sugar levels in rats with diabetes by nearly 50%. It also prevented diabetes-induced damage to kidneys and pancreas [36].

In another study, prolonged treatment with fennel distillate improved blood glucose, cholesterol, and glycated hemoglobin in diabetic rats [37].

13) Fennel May Decrease Bad and Increase Good Cholesterol

In mice with high cholesterol, fennel extract decreased total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol), while it increased HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol) [1].

Another study noticed the increase in HDL-cholesterol in rats .

However, these effects have only been reported in rodents so far, so it’s an open question whether this herb will have as dramatic an effect on cholesterol in human users.

14) Fennel May Protect the Liver and Kidneys

Fennel essential oil protects against liver injury and drug-induced liver and kidney damage in rats.

It decreased levels of liver-damage markers aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and bilirubin in both studies .

15) Fennel May Decrease Blood Pressure

Fennel extract dose-dependently reduced blood pressure in rats.

16) Fennel May Decrease Blood Clots

Fennel essential oil prevents blood clotting in guinea pig blood and in mice .

17) Fennel May Help with Wound Healing

Two key ingredients of fennel, fenchone, and limonene improved wound healing in rats. They act as anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agents and also increase collagen production .

18) Fennel May Help Soothe Pain

The herb, particularly its ingredient anethole, decreased pain in animals without causing sedation. They most likely do this by decreasing inflammatory mediators, which can worsen the sensation of pain.

19) Fennel May Help Reduce Appetite

In 9 healthy overweight women, fennel tea decreased hunger and increased the feeling of fullness .

20) Fennel May Increase Airway Relaxation

Fennel extract and essential oil had a significant ability to relax the airways (trachea) of guinea pigs .

Dopamine is well known for its role as a neurotransmitter in the brain, but it also plays other roles in the body, such as relaxing the respiratory system to improve airflow to the lungs (bronchodilation) . Anethole, one of the ingredients of fennel, may mimic the effects of dopamine on the respiratory system, thereby achieving a similar effect.

21) Fennel May Help Osteoporosis

Fennel seed prevents bone tissue from being broken down, leading to improved bone density and bone mineral content in mice [47].

However, in a DB-RCT in 60 postmenopausal women, short-term (one month) fennel treatment caused no changes in bone density [48].

Further studies with longer durations are needed to confirm a potential benefit of this herb on bone density in humans.


In most clinical studies, fennel capsules containing 100 mg of active ingredients were given to subjects 2 or 3 times per day.

When given in the form of tea, this herb is usually taken half an hour before a (to improve digestion), and up to 3 times a day for other purposes.

Fennel seeds are also commonly used as a spice in cooking.


Specific: No known precautions.
General: We recommend that you consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using herbal products, particularly if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any medications.

This herb is sold by the ounce

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