Aromatic perennial growing to about 5 ft (1.5 m). Has dark green, feathery leaves, umbels of yellow flowers, and small, ridged, oval shaped seeds.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to the Mediterranean region, fennel is now cultivated in temperate regions around the world. The seeds are gathered in autumn.
Seeds, essential oil.
Sweet” fennel seeds contain about 8% volatile oil (about 80% anethole, plus fenchone and methylchavicol), flavonoids, coumarins (including bergapten), and sterols. The volatile oil relieves gas and is antispasmodic. “Bitter” fennel seeds contain significantly higher levels of fenchone.
History & Folklore
Dioscorides, in the 1st century CE, states that “the juice, when put into the eye, aids vision, and into the ear, kills the worms (i.e. bacteria) that develop there.”
Medicinal Actions & Uses
The primary use of fennel seeds is to relieve bloating, but they also settle stomach pain, stimulate the appetite, and are diuretic and anti-inflammatory. Like anise (Pimpinella anisum) and caraway (Carum carvi), the seeds make an excellent infusion for settling digestion and reducing abdominal distension. The seeds help in the treatment of kidney stones, and, combined with urinary antiseptics such as uva-ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), make an effective treatment for cystitis.
An infusion of the seeds may be taken as a gargle for sore throats and as a mild expectorant. Fennel is safe for children when taken at a low dose and, as an infusion or syrup, can be given for colic and painful teething in babies. Fennel increases breast milk production and the herb is still used as an eyewash for sore eyes and conjunctivitis.
The seeds have a longstanding reputation as an aid to weight loss and to longevity. Essential oil from the sweet variety is used for its digestive and relaxing properties. It also has estrogenic activity and may prove helpful in relieving menopausal symptoms.
Fennel seeds are potentially toxic; do not exceed the recommended dose. Do not take the essential oil internally.