Fennel, or Foeniculum vulgare, is a perennial plant indigenous to the Mediterranean region, but now widespread in many parts of the world. Fennel is a highly aromatic and flavorful herb commonly used in cooking, but it also has medicinal properties. The most commonly used parts of fennel are its leaves and fruits, which are mistakenly called seeds due to their seed-like appearance.
In ancient Greece, fennel was often called marathon, although it was later given the Latin name feniculum, which related to its hay-like appearance when dried. The Latin term evolved into “fenol” in Old English and then “fenel” in Middle English before its modern spelling. In Greek mythology, Prometheus famously used fennel to steal fire from the gods, and the Bacchanalian wands of Dionysus and his admirers came from fennel plants.
According to “The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine,” ancient Greeks used fennel seeds to improve lactation in breastfeeding mothers, and the ancient Romans regarded fennel and its seeds as an herbal remedy to promote healthy vision. In India, fennel seeds have been eaten raw for countless generations and are said to improve eyesight, clear cloudy eyes, reduce high blood pressure, and correct flatulence and bloating. According to “The New Encyclopedia of Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements and Herbs,” fennel seeds are an old folk remedy used to reduce indigestion, intestinal pain and infantile colic, which can be caused by painful bloating. Typically, fennel seeds are made into a tea and sweetened by honey, stevia or other natural sweeteners. Syrup can be made from fennel juice and seeds and was traditionally given for chronic coughs. Powdered fennel seed, also called licorice powder, deters fleas and is used to drive them away from dog kennels and horse stables.
Fennel seeds contain anethole, which acts as a phytoestrogen and mimics the effects of estrogen in the body. Like soybeans, fennel seeds may promote growth of breast tissue, although the link to increasing lactation or improving the quality of breast milk has never been proven. Anethole also provides the flavor and aroma of fennel seeds, which is often described as licorice- or anise-like. In fact, fennel seeds are sometimes mistaken for anise seeds and star anise, which have similar but stronger flavors. According to “Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica,” fennel seeds are also a fairly good source of vitamin C, which may account for some of their anecdotal medicinal benefits.
In Pakistan and India, roasted fennel seeds are eaten after meals to improve digestion and promote fresh breath. Fennel seed extract is also used to flavor some brands of natural toothpaste. Fennel juice and seeds are used to make licorice liquors, the most infamous of which is absinthe, the widely popular elixir in France and Switzerland during the late 1800s. Medicinally, fennel seed displays diuretic properties, which may be helpful for the treatment of hypertension, as cited in “Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices of Herbal Medicine.”
- “The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine”; Simon Mills; 1994
- “The New Encyclopedia of Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements, and Herbs”; Nicola Reavley; 1999
- “Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica”; Dan Bensky et al.; 2004
- “Medical Herbalism: The Science Principles and Practices of Herbal Medicine”; David Hoffmann; 2003
- organic fennel image by FJ Medrano from Fotolia.com
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.