Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a flowering plant native to the Mediterranean region. It is a member of the Apiaceae (carrot) family and grows throughout Asia, North America, and Europe.
Fennel dates back centuries and is thought to be one of the oldest medicinal herbs in the world. It is prevalent in parts of Asia, where many people consume fennel after meals to aid in digestion and freshen their breath.
Fennel and fennel seeds are commonly used to flavor foods. The herb is also thought to possess various health benefits and may be helpful as a digestive aid or diuretic (rids the body of extra water and salt). Fennel has also been traditionally used as a food to boost breast milk supple (a galactagogue).
As with many herbs, though, the science behind the medicinal uses of fennel is weak overall.
This article will provide an overview of the potential health benefits of fennel. It will also discuss side effects, precautions, dosage, and how to use fennel and its seeds.
- Active ingredient(s): Essential oils, phenolic compounds, flavonoids, calcium, potassium, sodium, iron, phosphorus, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin C, estragole
- Alternate name(s): Bitter fennel, sweet fennel, common fennel, wild fennel
- Suggested dose: Due to a lack of scientific evidence, there is no suggested dose for fennel.
- Safety considerations: Fennel is generally considered safe, but some may experience side effects, including diarrhea, allergic reaction, and photosensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight).
Potential Benefits of Fennel
Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.
Along with its nutritional benefits, fennel and fennel seeds may provide additional health benefits.
Fennel is known to contain a long list of nutrients and active ingredients. It is especially rich in antioxidants that are thought to help strengthen eyesight, treat glaucoma, reduce inflammation, and prevent such conditions as cancer and heart disease.
However, few of the alleged health benefits of fennel are supported by scientific evidence.
What follows is an overview of some of the potential benefits of fennel.
Fennel and fennel seeds are a rich source of various nutrients, including antioxidants, unsaturated fatty acids, and amino acids.
Fennel seeds provide:
- Saturated and unsaturated fatty acids
- Essential and nonessential amino acids
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin A
Many of the nutrients found in fennel are essential nutrients, which means you need to consume them in varying amounts daily to maintain proper health. As such, fennel and fennel seeds are commonly used in cooking and baking.
The fruit or seeds of fennel may be dried before use and are described as both sweet and savory. Other parts of the fennel plant, including the shoots, leaves, and stems, may be eaten raw or in other ways and provide nutritional benefits. Interestingly, fennel leaves contain the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
Research shows that fennel may be a galactagogue, a substance that increases breast milk supply.
The volatile oil of fennel seeds has been found to contain anethole (a phytoestrogen) and other bioactive ingredients that may improve certain aspects of lactation.
Some studies have linked fennel use to increased breast milk volume and fat content. Fennel supplementation while breastfeeding may also lead to infant weight gain.
Although fennel shows promise as a galactagogue, it's important to note that many of the studies on this subject have been very small, of poor design, or performed on animals, not in humans. More research should be conducted for conclusions to be reached.
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, fennel has been used as a digestive aid for thousands of years.
Laboratory research has shown fennel may indeed have a positive effect on digestive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
In one such study, fennel seed extract strengthened the intestinal epithelium (outer layer of tissue). These findings led researchers to believe that fennel could be a useful complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy for IBD.
A noteworthy study out of China found that heating 500 grams (g) of fennel in the microwave, wrapping it in a towel, and placing it on the abdomen of postsurgical patients improved outcomes.
Compared to a control group, patients who received the heated fennel experienced significantly shorter times to the first bowel movement and passing gas, two important milestones in the recovery process following surgery.
Overall, however, there is a lack of research in this area, and more should be conducted to determine fennel's potential role in digestive disorders.
Along with other herbs, fennel is thought to have a positive effect on various side effects of menopause, although some research results are mixed.
A small clinical trial found that topical fennel cream delayed vaginal atrophy (thinning, drying, and inflammation of the vaginal walls) in postmenopausal women.
In the study, participants used either a placebo (an intentionally ineffective treatment to act as a control group) or 5% fennel vaginal cream once a day for eight weeks. By the end of the study, those who used the fennel cream had significant increases in the number of vaginal superficial cells as well as improvements in vaginal pH, two factors that may cause dryness.
In another study, postmenopausal women who used 2 grams of fennel seed powder daily for eight weeks reported significant improvements in overall menopausal symptoms compared to a placebo.
Researchers from a third small study wanted to determine if fennel played a role in body composition changes that may occur along with menopause. However, no significant results were found, and fennel did not seem to affect body composition, including weight and body mass index (BMI), of postmenopausal women.
It has been suggested that fennel decreases pain and reduces inflammation, which may help with dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation).
According to one review, fennel was found to reduce the pain intensity of period cramps significantly compared to a placebo. This may be due to spasm-reducing (antispasmodic) and pain-reducing effects associated with the herb.
Another review concluded that fennel may be as effective as conventional drugs in reducing dysmenorrhea. However, the review had several limitations, including a wide variation in the severity of reported period pain among study participants and the duration and dosage of fennel treatment.
Additional research on this topic is needed before fennel can be recommended as a treatment option for dysmenorrhea.
Side Effects of Fennel
Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), fennel is "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS). Although rare, using fennel as an herbal supplement may lead to side effects.
Some people have experienced nausea and vomiting after using fennel. Stomach cramps and photosensitivity have also been reported as possible side effects of fennel.
You may be more likely to experience side effects if you use too much fennel at one time. Therefore, it's important to use fennel only as directed and never exceed a recommended dose.
Despite its apparent safety, fennel may not be right for everyone and some people should take extra precautions when using it.
Fennel contains a substance called estragole that may be carcinogenic (cancer causing) and genotoxic (damaging to genes). However, these effects have only been displayed in animal models and not in humans.
There is not enough information to know if fennel is safe during pregnancy. In fact, there is some concern that fennel may cause preterm birth, but this is not supported by scientific evidence. Talk with a healthcare provider to determine if you should avoid fennel during pregnancy.
Fennel is thought to be safe when used in normal amounts while breastfeeding. However, large doses of fennel while breastfeeding have been associated with toxicity in infants in some cases.
How Much Fennel Should I Consume?
Always consult with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs.
There is no standardized dosage information for fennel. This is because there is not enough scientific evidence to support its use for any health condition.
Fennel used in amounts common in foods is considered safe, but little is known about the safety of using the herb in medicinal doses.
In human, animal, and lab studies, fennel has been used in varying doses, ranging from as little as 30 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) to 200 mg/kg or more.
More research is needed before proper dosage information can be confirmed for fennel. Until then, follow dosing directions as listed on the product label of fennel supplements or as recommended by a healthcare provider.
How to Use Fennel and Fennel Seeds
Fennel can be used in various ways in cooking. It is a common flavoring agent in both French and Italian cuisines. Many parts of the fennel plant can be used for cooking, including the seeds and leaves. It is popular for its licorice-like flavor.
Fennel is typically used as a vegetable. It can be consumed raw or cooked and may be added to salads, stews, soups, or grilled with fish. Fennel may also be used in baking, as a preservative, or brewed as an herbal tea.
Fennel may negatively interact with certain medications, supplements, and foods.
Although not fully proven, an old (from 1999) animal study found an interaction between fennel and ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic. Additional research is needed to confirm this potential interaction.
There is some evidence that fennel may interact with tamoxifen, a drug used to treat breast cancer. According to lab research, tamoxifen interacts with beta-sitosterol, an active ingredient in fennel and other herbs. This interaction may make tamoxifen less potent.
Because fennel may act as a phytoestrogen, there is concern that it interacts with both estrogen and birth control pills. As a phytoestrogen, fennel may block the actions of estrogen by binding to various receptors in the body.
More research is needed to determine if additional interactions exist.
It's important to carefully read the ingredients list and nutrition facts panel of a supplement to learn which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Please review supplement labels with a healthcare provider to discuss any potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.
How to Store Fennel
Store fresh fennel in the refrigerator to prolong its shelf life. It is often recommended to wrap fresh fennel in a paper towel or place it in a storage bag before putting it in the refrigerator. Some people separate the parts of the fennel plant before storing it.
Fennel seeds do not require refrigeration. You may keep them in an air-tight container and store it in a cupboard.
Store fennel seeds and supplements in a cool, dry place. They should also be kept out of direct sunlight and out of reach of pets and small children.
Discard fennel once it reaches its expiration date or shows signs of rancidity.
Sources & What to Look For
Fennel may be used fresh, as a spice, or in supplement form.
You can purchase fennel seeds, fennel spice, and fresh fennel at many grocery stores. Fennel seeds and spices are also available online.
Fennel supplements may be found in various forms, including capsules and powders. Fennel supplements are not common but can be purchased online.
Fennel is naturally vegan and gluten-free. Some forms are also organic.
Unlike fresh fennel, herbal supplements are largely unregulated in the United States. To be safe, it's best to choose supplements approved by third-party agencies like U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International. These agencies review supplements for contaminants and ensure the ingredient list is accurate.
Some herbs are similar to fennel in terms of flavor, use, and potential health benefits.
Regarding cooking, other herbs may work similarly to fennel in various recipes. Herbs that are said to provide similar flavors as fennel include:
- Licorice root
- Caraway seeds
- Celery seeds
Many of these herbs are also thought to provide potential health benefits.
Fennel is a flowering plant used for centuries for its potential health benefits. Despite its long-term use, though, few scientific studies exist on fennel, and many of its health claims remain unfounded.
Fennel is generally thought to be safe when used in amounts found in foods, but it may not be suitable for some people, including those who are pregnant or who are taking certain medications.
If you're thinking of using fennel as a dietary supplement, talk with a healthcare provider first to help you decide if it's right for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does fennel taste like?
Fennel is said to have a licorice-like flavor. The flavor is also sometimes described as sweet and highly aromatic. This flavor profile makes fennel suitable for both savory and sweet recipes.
How do I prepare fennel to eat?
Fennel can be consumed in various ways.
Some people consume fennel raw, while others prefer to eat it grilled, boiled, or baked. The herb is also commonly used as a flavoring agent in the form of fennel seeds or ground fennel.
Learn More:Why Raw Vegetables May Be Aggravating Your IBS
Is fennel nutritious?
Yes. Fennel contains a long list of nutrients. These include protein, unsaturated fatty acids, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and manganese, among others. Fennel is also a good source of fiber, making it a well-rounded, nutritious vegetable.(Video) "Proven Health Benefits of Fennel Seeds"
Learn More:You Might Be Better at Picking Nutritious Foods Than You Think
Fennel and Fennel Seeds: Benefits, Uses, and More? ›
Adding them to your diet may improve heart health, reduce inflammation, suppress appetite, and even provide anticancer effects. To reap the benefits of fennel and its seeds, try incorporating raw fennel bulb into your salads or using the seeds to flavor soups, broths, baked goods, and fish dishes.How many fennel seeds should I eat a day? ›
Q. How much fennel seeds should I eat daily? A. Eating 1-2 tsp of fennel seeds is recommended to reap its benefits.How many spoons of fennel seeds per day? ›
Fennel Seeds Seeds - ¼ to ½ teaspoon twice a day.What happens if we eat lot of fennel seeds daily? ›
When you eat the recommended dose of fennel seeds, they are quite safe. But their overconsumption can cause phytophotodermatitis, premature thelarche, contact dermatitis, and /or an allergic reaction.Who should not eat fennel seeds? ›
People suffering from asthma and other sorts of allergies, should stay away from fennel seeds. According to health experts, even abdominal cramps can be an allergic reaction of fennel seeds.Can fennel seeds reduce belly fat? ›
Yes, that's right! It has many important nutrients that make it an important spice to boost weight loss. Fennel seeds are a rich source of fibre, antioxidants, and minerals, all of which are important for burning fat and supporting good health. It is an Ayurvedic favourite too, and is used in variety of concoctions.What are the healing properties of fennel? ›
Research shows that fennel seeds may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antiviral effects. A 2020 systematic review found that digesting these seeds may also stimulate prolactin to help mothers naturally produce breast milk. A person can ingest fennel seeds in dishes or as an extract.Is fennel good for your kidneys? ›
Fennel is an antiacid, helping to neutralize excess acids in the stomach and intestines as well as clearing uric acid from the joints. This lends to its use for kidney stones and gout.What is the most common use of fennel? ›
Finely mince the fronds to use as an aromatic garnish for salads, soups, pasta, and more, or save the fennel stalks and leaves to use in homemade vegetable broth.
The essential oils of fennel seeds are great for detoxifying the body, which helps cleanse the blood. Purifying the blood through your diet is particularly important to ensure the efficient absorption of nutrients.
Do you chew and swallow fennel seeds? ›
Chew a spoonful after a meal (yep, you can swallow them) or add a teaspoon to a smoothie or granola. Sipped in fennel tea. Prefer to drink your remedies? Buy fennel tea (or make it by steeping a spoonful of crushed fennel seeds in hot water).Is it healthy to chew on fennel seeds? ›
Both the flavorful, crunchy bulb and aromatic seeds of the fennel plant are highly nutritious and may offer an abundance of impressive health benefits. Adding them to your diet may improve heart health, reduce inflammation, suppress appetite, and even provide anticancer effects.What are the disadvantages of fennel? ›
- difficulty breathing.
- tightness of chest/throat.
- chest pain.
- itchy or swollen skin.
Fennel seeds have multiple health benefits that include improving digestion, metabolism, hair and skin health. Since they have diuretic properties, fennel seeds help eliminate toxins from the body.Is fennel good for your hair? ›
Fennel seeds or saunf has vitamin C, calcium, iron, and magnesium which strengthen your hair follicles and make your tresses stronger. Usually, our hair starts to thin and fall when they lack nutrients. Using fennel seeds oil gives your hair the much-required nutrition and you have strong and healthy hair.Is fennel seed bad for liver? ›
Fennel seed oil could avoid liver damage and act as a hepatoprotective (liver protective) in an animal study. Oral intake of fennel seed oil could also decrease the levels of enzymes associated with liver damage. Thus, saunf is indeed good for the liver.Does fennel affect liver? ›
A part of the therapeutic effects of fennel extract and TA is possibly through the hypoglycemic properties of them. Additionally, they may directly protect the liver through other mechanisms such as antioxidant effects.Does fennel thin the blood? ›
Blood thinners: Fennel seeds can act as a blood thinner and may increase the effects of medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin). Diabetes medications: Fennel seeds may lower blood sugar levels. If you take diabetes medication, talk to your doctor before adding fennel seeds to your diet.What does fennel seeds do to the female body? ›
Anethole, a major compound found in fennel seeds, has properties that mimic estrogen and may help stimulate milk production. Some studies suggest that eating fennel seeds increases prolactin—the hormone that triggers milk production.Can I boil fennel seeds and drink the water? ›
If you face a lot of problems related to digestion then start drinking fennel seeds water or tea everyday. By promoting the production of the gastric enzymes, fennel seeds keep all digestion related issues at bay. It keeps the digestive tract healthy. It treats constipation, indigestion, and bloating too.
What does fennel seeds water do for females? ›
- May Improve Digestive Health. ...
- May Provide Relief From Asthma And Other Respiratory Ailments. ...
- May Benefit Breastfeeding Women. ...
- May Combat Bad Breath. ...
- May Help Fight Diabetes. ...
- May Increase Breast Growth. ...
- May Help Lower Cholesterol Levels. ...
- May Help Treat Edema.
It can help you sleep
Since fennel can relax your muscles — including your digestive muscles — you may feel more ready for bed after drinking it. Ancient remedies called for the use of fennel to treat insomnia.
Organic Fennel Seeds: Fennel seeds contain a compound with similar effects of aspirin and acts as an anti-inflammatory to calm thyroid inflammation. The calming of the thyroid helps improve hormone production in the thyroid.What discomfort does fennel relieve? ›
According to herbalists, fennel seed is an effective aid to digestion. It can help the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal system relax and reduce gas, bloating, and stomach cramps.Is fennel good for your colon? ›
Fennel has been shown to help with digestion by reducing inflammation in the bowels and decreasing bacteria that cause gassiness. One study also showed that fennel oils could help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.Does fennel help blood circulation? ›
Fennel seeds also contain fibre which helps improve the health of the large intestine and colon. It also encourages blood circulation to the digestive tract, improving gut health.Is fennel good for heart? ›
A good source of fibre as well as heart-friendly nutrients like potassium and folate, vegetables like fennel may support heart health. This is because studies report that a plentiful intake of vegetables in the diet appears to lower blood pressure and may help manage cholesterol.Why do Italians eat fennel? ›
Fennel is amazing in the fact that the whole stalk is edible. Italians often eat this at the end of a meal to cleanse the palate.What is the best way to eat fennel? ›
Roasted: Couldn't be simpler!
Cut a fresh fennel bulb into quarters or eighths, depending on size, toss with olive oil and vinegar, and roast on a baking sheet until tender (try 20 minutes at 400 for starters). Top with grated fresh parmesan and enjoy as a snack or a side dish.
Fennel tea may help balance hormones by encouraging your body to produce the correct hormone levels. Fennel contains antioxidants that may decrease inflammation and increase blood circulation - both of which can improve overall hormone balance throughout the body.
Do fennel seeds clean teeth? ›
Conclusion: Chewing both fennel seeds and cardamom seeds are equally effective in increasing salivary and plaque pH. Both the seeds can be used to lubricate and moisten the mouth, while at the same time providing caries protection to highly susceptible individuals.Can we drink water after eating fennel? ›
Consuming fennel seeds with water is a commonly known practice that is mostly done to ease stomach cramps and improve digestion. Take a handful of fennel seeds and soak them in a glass full of water.Is it OK to eat raw fennel? ›
The fennel bulb is enjoyed raw, where its anise flavor is most pronounced, and cooked for a sweeter, mellower version of itself. But don't pitch the rest! The entire fennel plant is not only edible but delicious.Why do Indians chew fennel seeds? ›
In Indian culture, it's common practice to chew on a small handful of saunf or fennel seeds after a meal. They're known as the Indian mouth freshener seeds because they contain anise (a.k.a. licorice) flavor, which can freshen up the breath.What happens when you chew fennel seeds? ›
In some parts of the world, people chew plain or sugar-coated fennel seeds after a meal. Chewing fennel seeds is thought to help aid digestion and prevent gas. Fennel seeds may help prevent or reduce gas in several ways.Is fennel seed good for high blood pressure? ›
Works against high blood pressure
To reduce high blood pressure, fennel seeds which are an essential source of potassium can help. It reduces the tension on the blood vessels by dilating them. This results in the reduction of blood pressure.
In the past, people with small pouches (diverticula) in the lining of the colon were told to avoid nuts, seeds and popcorn. It was thought that these foods could lodge in diverticula and cause inflammation (diverticulitis). But there's no evidence that these foods cause diverticulitis.Does fennel have estrogen? ›
The main constituent of the essential oils of fennel and anise, anethole, has been considered to be the active estrogenic agent.Is fennel a laxative? ›
Relieves Constipation: The fiber in saunf adds bulk and helps in easy bowel movements too. Senior citizens who often experience constipation can chew on fennels seeds after meals or opt for Fennel Tea to relieve constipation. For the sam reason fennel oil is also used as a laxative in some medicines and tonics.Can you eat a spoonful of fennel seeds? ›
Chew a spoonful after a meal (yep, you can swallow them) or add a teaspoon to a smoothie or granola. Sipped in fennel tea. Prefer to drink your remedies? Buy fennel tea (or make it by steeping a spoonful of crushed fennel seeds in hot water).
How much fennel is safe? ›
There is no recommended daily limit established for how much fennel tea is safe to drink. Since fennel tea affects digestion, start with one cup at a time and see how your body reacts to drinking it.Can you just chew fennel seeds? ›
Fennel seeds for digestion
Yes, something as simple as chewing fennel seeds can help you prevent a host of digestive issues. Coutinho said people should chew 1 tablespoon of these seeds raw or add them when making tea. These seeds can also be boiled with cumin and ajwain and sipped warm.