Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Fennel is a perennial herb native and cultivated elsewhere. It has dark green pinnate leaves with feathery lobes. The yellow flowers are umbelliferous, and the seeds ridged ovoids. The leaves, bulb and seeds are all edible, although it is the seed that is used medicinally. They contain large amounts of volatile oils, mainly antheole, as well as flavonoids such as rutin and quercetin.
Fennel is used as a flavouring in drinks and sweets and has been used as a vegetable and medicine since ancient times. Pliny recommended Fennel for ‘dimness of vision’, while Gerard wrote ‘Fennel seede drunke assuageth the paine of the stomache, and the wambling of the same, or desire to vomite, and breaketh winde’.
Nowadays fennel seed is primarily used in the treatment of mild, spasmodic digestive complaints such as flatulence and colic in children, and indigestion, bloating and heartburn in adults. Both the seeds and the root are appetite stimulants and help soothe the digestive system.
Fennel seed is a useful remedy for upper respiratory catarrh and has a calming effect on bronchitis and coughs. It is also diuretic, and has been used in the treatment of urinary stones. The volatile oil is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, and has been shown to be effective against Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans. It also has a mild oestrogenic effect, and is a well-known means of encouraging the flow of breast milk.
Fennel was believed to have magical powers in the Middle Ages and was hung over doors to keep out witches. It was also considered to be a remedy for snakebite. In the past, the poor ate Fennel to satisfy hunger pangs on fast days and to make unsavoury food palatable. Fennel sprigs used to be placed in horses’ harnesses to keep flies away.
NB: The above information is for guidance only, and is not intended to take the place of diagnosis and treatment by a qualified practitioner. Some herbs may interact adversely with other medication, so make sure that your health professional is aware of everything you are taking.