Fennel is a perennial, pleasant-smelling herb with yellow flowers. It is native to the Mediterranean, but is now found throughout the world. Dried fennel seeds are often used in cooking as an anise-flavored spice. But don’t confuse fennel with anise; though they look and taste similar, they are not the same. Fennel’s dried ripe seeds and oil are used to make medicine.
Fennel is used for various digestive problems including heartburn, intestinal gas, bloating, loss of appetite, and colic in infants. It is also used for upper respiratory tract infections, coughs, bronchitis, cholera, backache, bedwetting, and visual problems.
Some women use fennel for increasing the flow of breast milk, promoting menstruation, easing the birthing process, and increasing sex drive.
Fennel powder is used as a poultice for snakebites.
In foods and beverages, fennel oil is used as a flavoring agent.
In other manufacturing processes, fennel oil is used as a flavoring agent in certain laxatives, and as a fragrance component in soaps and cosmetics.
Uses & Effectiveness
Possibly Effective for
Colic in breast-fed infants. Research suggests that giving fennel seed oil can relieve colic in infants 2-12 weeks old. Also, breast-fed infants with colic who are given a specific multi-ingredient product containing fennel, lemon balm, and German chamomile (ColiMil) cry for a shorter period of time than other infants with colic. In addition, giving a specific tea containing fennel, chamomile, vervain, licorice, and balm-mint (Calma-Bebi, Bonomelli) can reduce colic severity in infants.
Insufficient Evidence for
Swelling of the colon (colitis). Early research suggests that taking an herbal combination of fennel, dandelion, St. John’s wort, lemon balm, and calendula can reduce pain along the large intestine in people with swelling of the colon.
Constipation. Early research suggests that drinking an herbal tea containing a combination of fennel, anise, elderberry, and senna daily for 5 days can reduce constipation. Also, drinking a tea containing fennel, senna, licorice, orange peel, cassia cinnamon, coriander, and ginger (Smooth Move) for one month can reduce constipation in older people.
Painful menstruation. Some research suggests that taking fennel extract four times daily starting at the beginning of a period can reduce pain in girls and young women with painful menstruation called dysmenorrhea. However, other research shows conflicting results.
Excess hair on women (hirsutism). Early research suggests that using fennel cream for 12 weeks can reduce hair on women with male pattern body hair.
Sunburn. Early research suggests that applying fennel to the skin before ultraviolet (UV) exposure can reduce sunburn.
Stomach upset and indigestion.
Mild spasms of the stomach and intestines.
Intestinal gas (flatulence).
Upper respiratory tract infection.