14 Proven Health Benefits Of Fennel: An Aromatic Cure-All

If fennel is a much-loved staple on your dinner table, we aren’t surprised. The stems, bulbs, tender leaves, flowers, and seeds of this plant have an exquisite flavor and can spice up any recipe. But every time you add fennel to your food, you also stand to gain from its many health benefits. Not surprising considering fennel or Foeniculum vulgare has been widely used in traditional medicine for centuries. Here’s a detailed look at the many ways in which fennel can do wonders for your health.

1. Treats Gastrointestinal Problems

[pullquote]Fennel is considered a safe and effective remedy to soothe colic in babies. A couple of spoons of a weak or diluted tea made with fennel can be given up to 3 times a day. This can ease not only colic pain but also wind and bloating. It even boosts digestion and improves appetite in children.1[/pullquote]


Fennel can help you fight a range of gastrointestinal problems such as indigestion, colic, stomach ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome. Anethole, a compound present in fennel, has been found to inhibit smooth muscle spasms in the intestinal tract. This makes fennel work as a carminative that eases stomach cramps and tackles gas.

One study looked at the combined effect of curcumin (an anti-inflammatory compound present in turmeric) and fennel essential oil on people with irritable bowel syndrome and found that it improved their quality of life and eased symptoms over a period of 30 days. In fact, 25.9% of those studied became symptom-free. So if you’re suffering from a bout of indigestion, brew yourself a cup of fennel tea to soothe your upset tummy. Incidentally, fennel seeds are often taken after food in India as a mouth freshener and to promote digestion.2 3 4


2. Eases Respiratory Issues

[pullquote]Apart from drinking fennel tea, you can also gargle with it to soothe the mucous membrane. Vapor inhalation with fennel essential oil can also help bring relief from respiratory symptoms.[/pullquote]

If a stubborn cough is making you miserable, fennel can step in. This herb works as an expectorant and helps expel mucus.5 It also has a bronchodilatory effect, helping dilate the bronchi and bronchioles, reducing respiratory airway resistance, and improving airflow to the lungs.6 Components like cineole and anethole in it are thought to be responsible for this effect. This double action makes a cup of fennel tea a good bet for dealing with a range of respiratory disorders from a common cold to asthma.7


3. Tackles Microbial Infections

Fennel acts against many harmful pathogens and can, therefore, protect you from various infections. For instance, studies have found that it shows antibacterial activity against a range of bacteria such as Enterococci bacteria which can cause urinary tract infections, wound infections, and bacteremia; Staphylococcus aureus which can lead to staph infections; as well as Shigella bacteria, Escherichia coli, and Salmonella typhimurium which can cause food poisoning.8

[pullquote]A fennel seed infusion is recommended as an eyewash or a compress to tackle conjunctivitis and other inflammatory conditions that affect the eyelid.[/pullquote]


It can also act against fungi such as dermatophytes which cause skin infections and Candida albicans which is responsible for thrush.9 Having a tea made with fennel is even suggested for parasitic infections like that from hookworms.10

4. Relieves Menstrual Pain And Discomfort

Many women struggle with the agony of stomach cramps during menstruation. One study found that taking 30 mg of fennel extract 4 times a day for 3 days from the beginning of the menstrual period provided significant relief. The effect is attributed to fennel’s ability to inhibit uterine contractions, thus easing the pain and cramps associated with menstruation.11 Specifically, the phytoestrogens in fennel are thought to mimic the action of female hormone estrogen in the body, bringing relief from menstrual problems.12


[pullquote]Brew a fennel tea with the fresh leaves and bulbs or the seeds and have thrice a day. You can also try a juice of fennel bulbs, celery, and apple to tackle cramps and other discomfort you face during menstruation. Take an 8-ounce cup of the juice twice a day.13[/pullquote]

In another study, when fennel extracts were given to subjects with dysmenorrhoea for 2 months, 80% reported a considerable reduction in or complete relief from pain. The effect was even found to be comparable to that of the medication mefenamic acid, the treatment of choice for menstrual pain – and that too without any of the side effects associated with the drug.14 Fennel can even ease nausea and weakness that many women struggle with during periods.15 When taken over a few months, it can also improve menstrual regularity.16


5. Improves Breastmilk Production

[pullquote]Fennel shows estrogenic activity and is used to promote lactation and menstruation as well as increase libido in women.[/pullquote]

Fennel has been used traditionally to improve the production of breastmilk. Its galactogenic activity is attributed to anethole which influences hormones involved in the secretion of milk.17 So if you’ve been having problems with your milk supply, add fennel to your food or try drinking some fennel tea.


6. Helps Tackle Hirsutism

Some women suffer from the growth of dark, thick hair in areas such as the face, chest, buttocks, or chin – that is areas where men typically have hair. This is known as hirsutism and is usually associated with hormonal imbalances. Fennel can help tackle this condition. According to a study, applying a cream containing 2% fennel extract reduced the thickness of hair by 18.3%. Though the mechanism through which fennel works is not entirely clear, it is thought that compounds such as trans-anethole and di-anethole in it may exert an anti-androgen (male hormone) effect.18 19

7. Keeps Your Skin Young

One study looked at the effect of applying a cream containing fennel seed extracts and found that it was extremely beneficial for the skin. The formulation reduced fine wrinkles and improved the elasticity of connective tissues. It also had a moisturizing effect. It is thought that the presence of flavonoids and polyphenols in fennel, which give it potent antioxidant properties, contribute to its anti-aging properties.20

8. Protects The Liver

[pullquote]To prepare fennel tea, crush and seep 2 to 3 teaspoons of fennel seeds or a handful of leaves, stalk, and bulbs in a cup of boiling water for around 10 to 15 minutes and strain.21[/pullquote]

Your liver works hard, generating bile which helps break down fats, storing nutrients, and removing waste from your blood.22 But sometimes drugs, alcohol tobacco, and even environmental toxins can cause injury to your liver and impact its functioning. Fennel may have hepatoprotective properties that can counter this. As one animal study found, fennel oil extracted from the seeds had a potent protective effect when given to the subjects. It helped counter the toxic effects of the harmful chemical carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) on the liver. Components such as b-myrcene and d-limonene in fennel may be responsible for this effect.23 While therapeutic doses of fennel can be considered for liver health only with a doctor’s help, you can give your liver a regular detox by adding fennel in small quantities to your everyday cooking. Incorporate fennel tea into your daily wellness routine too.

9. Counters Stress

Traffic snarls, scheduling conflicts, family issues, and money problems – life can seem pretty stressful at times. But if you’ve accepted constant stress as a part of life you should know that it can take a toll on your health. It can cause backaches and headaches and worsen ulcers and acid reflux, trigger asthma, and raise your blood pressure.24 But fennel may be able to mitigate the damaging effects of stress. One animal study found that administering fennel extract an hour before inducing stress in the subjects had a positive impact, demonstrated by the inhibition of stress-induced biochemical changes in their urine. It is thought that the antioxidant defense provided by fennel might account for its anti-stress activity.25

10. Helps Ease Anxiety

Research indicates fennel may be able to help ease feelings of worry and unease and even deal with anxiety. In one study of menopausal women with depression and anxiety disorders, treatment with fennel was found to bring an improvement in symptoms.26 Fennel also had a skeletal muscle-relaxant effect and has been seen to ease anxiety in animal studies.27

11. Improves Memory

Animal studies have found that fennel extract can improve memory. Stress and free radicals have been found to have an adverse impact on memory, which is why it’s being suggested that the anti-stress and antioxidant properties of fennel may have something to do with its memory-enhancing properties. Fennel may also work as an anticholinesterase agent. That is, it may inhibit acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme involved in the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine has an important role in memory and learning. Fennel may even have a beneficial effect on people with neurocognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease as well as other forms of dementia.28 29

12. Fights Inflammation

Inflammation is a normal reaction by your immune system that helps heal damaged tissue and fight harmful pathogens. But uncontrolled, chronic inflammation can cause disease and organ dysfunction. In fact, inflammation is implicated in a range of illnesses such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, asthma, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. And unfortunately, many common aspects of modern life such as sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and obesity promote inflammation.30 It is therefore important to consume foods and herbs that can fight inflammation. And research indicates that components such as trans-anethole and limonene present in fennel give it potent anti-inflammatory properties.31

13. Is Good For Your Heart

Fennel can help you maintain an optimal cholesterol ration, cut levels of harmful fat in your blood, and contribute to keeping your heart healthy. One study found that administering an extract of fennel bulb to mice reduced LDL cholesterol by 50%. It also decreased triglycerides by 50%. Meanwhile, the level of HDL cholesterol increased by 56%.32 Animal studies also show that fennel’s diuretic effect, helping balance the salt content in the body, can play a role in managing hypertension. Uncontrolled blood pressure or hypertension is a serious risk factor for heart problems and having fennel may have a protective effect.33

14. Helps Manage Diabetes

Fennel has traditionally been recommended for those with diabetes and research backs this up. One animal study found that it not only lowered blood sugar levels but also reversed the decrease in glutathione peroxidase – an enzyme that fights oxidative damage – caused by the induction of diabetes. Oxidative stress plays a significant part in the development of diabetic complications and this study also observed that changes to tissues in the kidney and pancreas of rats brought about by oxidative stress due to diabetes were corrected by administering fennel oil. The antioxidant properties of fennel are responsible for this beneficial effect.

Exercise Caution

Although fennel has many beneficial effects, you should know that it can cause an allergic reaction in some people. If you are allergic to carrot, celery, or any plants in the Apiaceae family, check your tolerance for fennel before adding it to your daily diet. People with estrogen-dependent cancer or at risk would also do well to avoid consuming large amounts of fennel.34

Fennel’s bioactive components may also interfere with other medicines you take, so get your doctor’s go-ahead before you drink fennel tea regularly if you are on any medication. Pregnant women should have no more than small, dietary amounts of fennel as excessive intake may affect the baby’s endocrine system.