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Herbal Monograph

Herb: Fennel Seed (Foeniculum vulgare;  f. officinale; Umbelliferae)

Other Names  Large fennel, sweet fennel (a.k.a. Roman fennel), wild fennel, fenkel, bitter fennel (2) finocchio (56);   hinojo  (57)  

Character/Energetics:  spicy, sweet, warm (6); warm, dry, pungent, sweet (15)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:     spleen, stomach, liver, kidney (6)  stomach, nerves, intestines and eyes (14)                                                     

Parts used:  fruit   (6)    

Identification & Harvesting:  Irregular large inflorescence 15 cm across, with small, bright yellow flowers;  fruit is glabrous, brownish or greenish grey, 6-10 mm long;  plant is biennial to perennial, 80-150 cm high with a strong spicy scent.  Indigenous to the Mediterranean, England, Germany, Argentina, Iran, India, China.  (2);  carrot-shaped root with fine, bluish stripes   (13); 

Harvest in fall when ripe   (15)

Self-seeds freely in most soils;  Not reliably hardy in areas with cold winters   (38)

A member of the parsleys, native to the Med.  Widely naturalized in other parts of the world, esp. California.  F. vulgare dulce, sweet fennel, is grown for the seeds and essential oil.  F. vulgare azoricum is finnochio or Florence fennel, grown as a vegetable for its swollen stems.  F. vulgare vulgare, bitter fennel, is also grown for its seeds.    (61)

Active Constituents:  Constituents vary with character:

Bitter fennel oil — trans-anethole 50-75%, fenchone 12-33%, estragole 2-5%;  additional components alpha-pinenes, camphene, p-cymene, myrcene, limonene, alpha- and beta-phellandrene, gamma-terpenes, terpinols, cis-ocimene.

Sweet fennel oil — trans-anethole 80-90%, fenchone 1-10%, estragole 3-10%; additionally alpha-pinenes, camphene, p-cymene, myrcene, limonene, alpha- and beta-phellandrene, gamma-terpenes, terpinols, gamma-fenchen.

Seeds — per variety of oil above;  but sweet fennel seeds contain also:  trace hydroxycoumarins (umbelliferone, scopoletine, osthenol, scoparin, trace furocoumarins including bergapten, columbianetin, psoralen, xanthotoxin), pyranocoumarins, flavonoids   (2); 

3‑4% volatile oil including 50‑60% anethole, 20% fenchone, pinene, phellandrene, camphene cymene, limonene, dipentene, fatty oil (oleic acid, petroselinic acid), stigmasterol, 7‑hydrozcoumarin    (6)

Volatile oils incl. estragole, anethole, essential fatty acids, flavonoids incl. rutin. (15)

Creosol and alpha-pinene help loosen bronchial secretions.  Fennel seed contains as much as 8800 ppm alpha-pinene  (56)

Actions:  stimulates gastrointestinal motility;  in higher concentrations, antispasmodic;  in vitro, antimicrobial;  experimentally, anethole and fenchone have shown a secretolytic action on the respiratory tract   (2); stimulant, carminative, antispasmodic, expectorant  (6) carminative, circulatory stimulant, anti-inflammatory, promotes milk flow, mild expectorant, diuretic (15)     galactagogue, stomachic (13); increases milk flow, anti-spasmodic, anti-inflammatory   (38)      

Studies confirm antimicrobial, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory activity.  Boiled-water extracts of the leaf have been shown to significantly reduce arterial blood pressure without affecting heart rate or respiratory rate, while nonboiled water extracts had no effect.  Research in the ’30’s looked at fennel seed oil as a potential source of synthetic estrogens, and this research is ongoing.    (61)

Conditions & Uses:  Treats cough, bronchitis, peptic discomforts (such as mild spastic disorder of the G-I tract, feeling of fullness, flatulence), catarrh of the upper respiratory tract.  (2)

Fennel seed is used in treating indigestion, gas and flatulence, spasms of the gastrointestinal tract and abdominal pains; increases peristalsis of the stomach and intestines; and helps bring up phlegm from the lungs. It is very effective for cancer patients after radiation and chemotherapy. Dry-roasted it relieves pain of the testes and urinary bladder.  Mixed with salt it lowers chi and with wine raises it. It is perhaps the mildest and safest of the herbs in this category (stimulants) to use.   (6)         

An excellent stomach and intestinal remedy which relieves flatulence and colic while also stimulating digestion and appetite.  More effective than anise seed in its calming effect on bronchitis and coughs.  Externally the oil eases muscular and rheumatic pains.  Infusion may be used as a compress to treat conjunctivitis and blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids)    (8)

Colic — tincture, fluid extract, infusion, decoction.  Coughs, emphysema, hoarseness — decoction*, syrup*.  Cramps or gas — tincture, fluid extract, decoction.  Eyewash — infusion.  Indigestion — tincture, fluid extract, decoction, syrup, powder.  Jaundice, rheumatism, or sinus congestion — tincture*, fluid extract*, decoction*.  Spasms — tincture, fluid extract.

Will increase the flow of urine, menstrual blood or mother’s milk.

*Usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem   (14)

When taken by nursing mothers, can also relieve colic in babies.  In Chinese medicine, the seeds (hui xiang) are thought tonifying for the spleen and kidneys, and are used for urinary and reproductive disharmonies. (15)

Seeds used for hundreds of years as a digestive carminative, stimulant, and mild diuretic, and to treat fever and stimulate milk flow.  A primary use is to mask the bad flavor of medicines.  Currently used for bloating, flatulence, mild gastrointestinal spasms.  Syrup is used for catarrhs of the upper respiratory tract (61)

Combinations: Combine in tincture form with laxatives such as rhubarb root or senna to prevent colic.  Use as a simple or add American cranesbill to reduce acidity;  or peppermint, meadowsweet, chamomile to enhance carminative action.   (15)

Used externally as a mouthwash or gargle for gum disease and sore throat.    (38)

For asthma relief, combines well with parsley seed, coriander, juniper berries, sweet Annie, cardamom, sassafras, horsebalm, ginger, Chinese angelica (also known as dong quai), dill, tarragon and yarrow;  with a little licorice added.    (56)

Generally added to other herbs for flavoring purposes and used as a carminative.    (57)

Precautions:  No recorded risks or side effects with designated dosages.  Very rare allergic reactions.                        Possible reciprocal reactions in people with celery allergy.   (2) A uterine stimulant:  avoid high doses during pregnancy.  Small amounts used in cooking           are safe. (15);  Oil is not given to pregnant women.   (38} Oil can be toxic in doses greater than 1 tsp.(56)

Rare allergic skin or respiratory-tract reactions.  Given a possible estrogenic effect, avoid during pregnancy.    (61)

Tincturing Process:  Vita Mix: (Speed 5)  Fill fennel seeds to blades level in VM container. 

Process 120 seconds. Fennel expands somewhat in menstruum. 8.3 gr fennel: 1 oz 60% alcohol  (1a)   

Applications: Infusion — steep 1 tbsp freshly crushed seeds in 1 cup water for 5 min.  Sweeten with honey to taste.  Decoction — boil 1/2 tsp seed in water.  Strain.  Milk decoction — boil 1 tsp seed in 1/2 cup milk for 5-10 min;  take for colic.  Fennel-honey — add 1-3 drops fennel oil to 1 tbsp honey and mix.  Take 1 tsp at a time as a cough remedy. (13)

Infusion — steep 5-15 min, 6 oz. 3 x daily.  Fluid extract — 5-60 drops 3 x daily.  Oil — 1-5 drops 3 x daily.  Powder — avg dose 15 grains.  (14)

Chest rub — Dissolve 25 drops each of thyme, eucalyptus, fennel oils, in 25 ml sunflower or almond oil for chest complaints.  Add 5-10 drops tincture to baby’s bottle;  or breastfeeding mother should drink a cup of infusion before nursing.   (15)

Divination: g,  e   (48) Four of Wands:  Fennel Seed      

Aromatic.  carminative.  Mild stimulant.  Aids digestion, eliminates gas and congestion of the G-I tract.

Divinatory Meanings:  Agreement.  Relief.  Satisfaction of all parties involved.  

A balancing of opposing spirits and wills.

Reverse Meanings:  Taking things too lightly.  Not using caution in the light of previous difficulties.   (52)

Dosage:  .1-.6 ml fennel oil for maximum of 2 wks;  or 5-7 gm crushed seed in tea or tea-like product or other galenic preparations.   (2); 3-9 gms.  (6);   10-30 drops tincture as required. (13)

Up to 1.5 g. capsules daily, or simmer 2-3 tsp crushed seed in a cup of hot water for 10-15 min., once daily.  Tincture 1:5, 60% alcohol, 30-60 drops up to 4 x daily.    (61)

General Notes:   “…both the seeds, leaves and root of our Garden Fennel are much used in drinks and broths for those that are grown fat…”  William Coles, 1650.  The Romans believed that serpents sucked the juice of this plant to improve their eyesight, and Pliny recommends it for “dimness of vision.”  Also regarded as a slimming aid, its Greek name marathron reputedly derived from the verb “to grow thin”.  

In medieval times, chewing the seeds was a favorite way to stop gastric rumbles during church sermons.  Root not as effective as seeds.  (15)

“Excellent obesity fighter” — noted to call attention to conflict in folk-medicinal lore — cf. source (8);  “appetite stimulant”.  (1)

Excellent for children. (14)

Flavor depends on proportions of the two main constituents:  fenchone, a bitter-tasting compound, and anethole, with a flavor like sweet anise.  Sweet fennel predominates in the Mediterranean, and bitter or wild fennel is common to central Europe and Russia.  The seeds were eaten during Lent to allay hunger.  Not reliably hardy in areas with cold winters.  Flowers attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies, parasitic wasps, which prey on garden pests.  Should not be planted near beans, kohlrabi, tomatoes or coriander, since it is said to affect their growth adversely.  

Fennel and dill should not be grown close together since hybridization produces seedlings with an indeterminate flavor. (38)

Same plant family as carrots and parsley.  (56)


PHOTO: Wikipedia



(1)   Cayuga Botanicals Research Data, (HCBL 11/94)

(1a) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data “Fennel Seed” Tincture file

(2)   PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 850-51

(6)   Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 243

(8)   The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 199

(13) The Herb Book by John Lust, pgs. 189-90

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 118-19

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, pgs. 59, 155, 175

(38) Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses by Deni Bown, pgs. 283-84

(48) The Rulership Book by Rex E. Bills, p. 50

(52) The Herbal Tarot Deck (Created by Michael Tierra and Designed by Candis Cantin), pgs. 24-25

(56) The Green Pharmacy  by James A. Duke, Ph.D., p. 65, 89

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., p. 136

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 82-83


PHOTO: Wikipedia