Fennel seeds have a range of medicinal uses, including as a natural carminative (relieves gas), they have anti-cancer properties, they can help with anxiety and depression and can be used broadly in women’s health issues. Let’s take a closer look at the traditional and modern uses of fennel seeds and their varying health benefits.
History & Nutrition
Fennel seeds (foeniculum vulgare), botanically from the Apiaceae family, are simply the seeds of the flowering fennel plant, from which we also enjoy fennel bulbs. The seeds are a sweet mix between mint and anise flavour striated in green and white. One of the ingredients in Chinese five spice, fennel seeds have a long history in European and Asian cooking and medicine.
A 16th century Serbian manuscript called The Chilandar Medical Codex is one of the earliest completed medical documents of its time. This manuscript cited a handful of herbs and plants as having therapeutic uses, one of which is the fennel seed.
Here’s some of the purported attributes of fennel seeds, according to Iraninan, Indian and Asian traditions (with a quick lesson in some medical terms):
- Galactagogue (breastmilk booster)
- Antiemetic (prevents vomiting)
- Antipyretic (reduces fever)
- Emmenagogue (promotes menstruation)
- Mucolytic (breaks down mucous)
- Diuretic (expels excess fluid)
- Antispasmodic (relieves muscle spasm and cramps)
- Relieves heartburn
- Relieves cough
Fennel Seeds Nutritional Components (at a glance)
- B vitamins: riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine
- Minerals: manganese, magnesium, calcium, copper & zinc
- Beta-carotene & Vitamin C
- Polyphenols: kaempferol, anethole, chlorogenic acid, quercetin
Fennel Seeds and your health - current research
Antimicrobial Activity Chewing of fennel seeds after food is a common cultural practice in Indian and Asian countries. A clinical study in 2020 from the Indian Journal of Dental Research showed chewing fennel seeds increased salivary pH, as well increased levels of anethole, which is the polyphenol unique to fennel. Both of these activities create powerful antimicrobial agents in the oral cavity, promoting dental health.
In fact, the anethole and fenchone polyphenols in fennel seeds have been shown in various lab studies to possess powerful cytotoxic and anticancer qualities. Knee osteoarthritis Fennel seed extract was used in one clinical trial with women suffering knee osteoarthritis. 66 patients were randomized to either a control group, or a group receiving four capsules of dried fennel extract (200mg equivalent). The results demonstrated that knee stiffness improved in the test group and that fennel seeds may be a natural adjunctive option for the treatment of knee osteoarthritis.
Fennel Seeds for Women’s Health
Several clinical trials examined the effects of fennel seeds on PMS symptoms. According to the results, symptoms including pain, digestive upset, headaches, fatigue and abdominal cramping all showed improvement upon and after divided doses of fennel oil. These improvements happened gradually over two or more menstrual cycles. Other non-physical yet just as debilitating PMS symptoms including anxiety, depression and irritability were also measured in another study of female university students. It showed a significant reduction in the severity of all physical and emotional PMS-related symptoms with fennel oil administration compared to a placebo group.
An Iranian study with 60 women who experience irregular or absent periods resulting from PCOS, used medicinal fennel extract to treat these symptoms. The menstrual cycle length of the women in the treatment group who received fennel infusion and dry cupping was more regular, with cycles lasting between 30-32 days. After 3 and 6 months of treatment, this group also reported on improvements in pain levels associated with their cycles. These improvements could in part be due to the oestrogenic activity of diosgenin found in fennel seeds.
A recent Cochrane review of over 3000 mothers from several randomised controlled trials showed a mild to moderate correlation between the consumption of fennel seeds used in tea and improvements in breastmilk production, volume and increased infant weight.
A study conducted on a group of Iranian women, aged between 45-60 assessed the effectiveness of ffennel seeds on menopausal symptoms. The daily consumption of fennel seeds ‘significantly improved menopausal symptoms’ over the 8 week study period.
Any parent with a baby suffering from colic or reflux knows this is a really tough thing to go through. Fennel seed oil has shown some potential effects in reducing abdominal discomfort in bubs, however this is usually anecdotal with not a lot of research to qualify the claims. One study assessed fennel seed’s effectiveness on colic in a group of 125 infants in a hospital setting. Overall, the babies in the study were more settled with the administration of fennel seed oil compared to a controlled placebo, with no side effects reported.
Fennel tea (5g dried fennel) reduced gas production, improved IBS symptoms and gut recovery in a group of women post-operatively recovering from surgery.
Keep it simple, keep it fresh and enjoy your cup of tea.
- Steep ½ - 1 tsp per person of fresh, raw fennel seeds in a cup of just boiling water (80-90 degrees C is perfect).
- Allow to brew for 5-10 minutes, the longer the brew the stronger the tea with more nutritional benefits!
Alazadeh, M., Azadbakht, M., Niksolat, F., Asgarirad, H., Moosazadeh, M., Ahmadi, A., & Yousefi, S. S. (2020). Effect of sweet fennel seed extract capsule on knee pain in women with knee osteoarthritis. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 40, 101219. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2020.101219
Alexandrovich, I., Rakovitskaya, O., Kolmo, E., Sidorova, T., & Shushunov, S. (2003). The effect of fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare) seed oil emulsion in infantile colic: a randomized, placebo-controlled study.
Alternative therapies in health and medicine, 9(4), 58–61. Capasso R, et al. Effects of the herbal formulation ColiMil on upper gastrointestinal transit in mice in vivo. Phytother Res 21.10 (2007): 999–1101.
Foong, S. C., Tan, M. L., Foong, W. C., Marasco, L. A., Ho, J. J., & Ong, J. H. (2020). Oral galactagogues (natural therapies or drugs) for increasing breast milk production in mothers of non-hospitalised term infants. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 5(5), CD011505. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD011505.pub2
Ghaffari, P., Hosseininik, M., Afrasiabifar, A., Sadeghi, H., Hosseininik, A., Tabatabaei, S. M., & Hosseini, N. (2020). The effect of Fennel seed powder on estradiol levels, menopausal symptoms, and sexual desire in postmenopausal women. Menopause (New York, N.Y.), 27(11), 1281–1286. https://doi.org/10.1097/GME.0000000000001604
Ghasemian, A., Al-Marzoqi, A. H., Mostafavi, S., Alghanimi, Y. K., & Teimouri, M. (2020). Chemical Composition and Antimicrobial and Cytotoxic Activities of Foeniculum vulgare Mill Essential Oils. Journal of gastrointestinal cancer, 51(1), 260–266. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12029-019-00241-w
Ghazanfarpour, M., Mohammadzadeh, F., Shokrollahi, P., Khadivzadeh, T., Najaf Najafi, M., Hajirezaee, H., & Afiat, M. (2018). Effect of Foeniculum vulgare (fennel) on symptoms of depression and anxiety in postmenopausal women: a double-blind randomised controlled trial. Journal of obstetrics and gynaecology : the journal of the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 38(1), 121–126.
Imran, A., Xiao, L., Ahmad, W., Anwar, H., Rasul, A., Imran, M., Aziz, N., Razzaq, A., Arshad, M. U., Shabbir, A., Gonzalez de Aguilar, J. L., Sun, T., & Hussain, G. (2019). Foeniculum vulgare (Fennel) promotes functional recovery and ameliorates oxidative stress following a lesion to the sciatic nerve in mouse model. Journal of food biochemistry, 43(9), e12983. https://doi.org/10.1111/jfbc.12983
Jarić, S., Mitrović, M., Djurdjević, L., Kostić, O., Gajić, G., Pavlović, D., & Pavlović, P. (2011). Phytotherapy in medieval Serbian medicine according to the pharmacological manuscripts of the Chilandar Medical Codex (15-16th centuries). Journal of ethnopharmacology, 137(1), 601–619. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2011.06.016
Mahboubi M. (2019). Foeniculum vulgare as Valuable Plant in Management of Women's Health. Journal of menopausal medicine, 25(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.6118/jmm.2019.25.1.1
Manohar, R., Ganesh, A., Abbyramy, N., Abinaya, R., Balaji, S. K., & Priya, S. B. (2020). The effect of fennel seeds on pH of saliva - A clinical study. Indian journal of dental research : official publication of Indian Society for Dental Research, 31(6), 921–923. https://doi.org/10.4103/ijdr.IJDR_185_19
Mohamad, R. H., El-Bastawesy, A. M., Abdel-Monem, M. G., Noor, A. M., Al-Mehdar, H. A., Sharawy, S. M., & El-Merzabani, M. M. (2011). Antioxidant and anticarcinogenic effects of methanolic extract and volatile oil of fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare). Journal of medicinal food, 14(9), 986–1001. https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2008.0255
Mokaberinejad, R., Rampisheh, Z., Aliasl, J., & Akhtari, E. (2019). The comparison of fennel infusion plus dry cupping versus metformin in management of oligomenorrhea in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomised clinical trial. Journal of obstetrics and gynaecology : the journal of the Institute of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 39(5), 652–658. https://doi.org/10.1080/01443615.2018.1541232
Özalkaya, E., Aslandoğdu, Z., Özkoral, A., Topcuoğlu, S., & Karatekin, G. (2018). Effect of a galactagogue herbal tea on breast milk production and prolactin secretion by mothers of preterm babies. Nigerian journal of clinical practice, 21(1), 38–42. https://doi.org/10.4103/1119-3077.224788
Pai, M. B., Prashant, G. M., Murlikrishna, K. S., Shivakumar, K. M., & Chandu, G. N. (2010). Antifungal efficacy of Punica granatum, Acacia nilotica, Cuminum cyminum and Foeniculum vulgare on Candida albicans: an in vitro study. Indian journal of dental research : official publication of Indian Society for Dental Research, 21(3), 334–336. https://doi.org/10.4103/0970-9290.70792
Rahimi, R., & Ardekani, M. R. (2013). Medicinal properties of Foeniculum vulgare Mill. in traditional Iranian medicine and modern phytotherapy. Chinese journal of integrative medicine, 19(1), 73–79. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11655-013-1327-0
Savino F et al. A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial of a standardized extract of Matricariae recutita, Foeniculum vulgare and Melissa officinalis (ColiMil) in the treatment of breastfed colicky infants. Phytother Res 19.4 (2005): 335–340.
Singh, G., Kapoor, I. P., Pandey, S. K., Singh, U. K., & Singh, R. K. (2002). Studies on essential oils: part 10; antibacterial activity of volatile oils of some spices. Phytotherapy research : PTR, 16(7), 680–682. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.951