Herbs & Plants

The Licorice Tasting but Not Licorice Herb Fennel

Fennel, fennel how do I love thee, let me count the ways.  Besides the number one reason it reminds me of one of my favorite herbs licorice, fennel in its own right has amazing benefits and can be used in so many ways.

Native to the Mediterranean region, fennel is a flowering perennial herb with yellow flowers, hollow stems and fine, wispy leaves.  Fennel the botanical name being Foeniculum Vulgare can be consumed in its totality from the leaves to the bulb down to the seeds.   Fennel is from the carrot, parsley and celery family and has a great source of Vitamin C and Vitamin A.   The herb can be eaten cooked or raw but the seeds in particular are where most of the medicinal values lie.

According to Mountain Rose Herb, in Chinese medicine fennel was used for snake bites.  In Ayurveda, fennel is said to be nourishing for the brain, eyes and calming to the spirit.  In North America the Cherokee tribe used fennel to aid babies with indigestion and assist women in childbirth.  The Pomo tribe used fennel as a eyewash and for digestive purposes and the Hopi tribe used fennel for smoking instead of tobacco.

The qualities of fennel are warming, moistening and relaxant, the same as licorice but the taste and smell of fennel is more aromatic.  According to the book Herbal Medicine for Beginners fennel is antispasmodic making it a helpful remedy for intestinal cramping whether it’s indigestion or something chronic like IBS (Irritable Bowl Syndrome).  The same book also reports that it’s great for soothing menstrual cramping.

Here are some other benefits of fennel (1):

  • Assist in removing gas.
  • Aids in reducing heart disease.
  • Can help with boosting the immune system.
  • Helps women with menopause symptoms.
  • Can help with premature aging.
  • Helps rid bad breath.
  • Helps reduce asthma symptoms (2). 
  • Helps women increase breast cell formation due to its estrogenic properties (3).
  • Aids in increasing cognitive abilities.
  • Can regulate blood sugar.
  • Can prevent the growth of cancer cells(3).

I can definitely attest to some of the health benefits of consuming fennel seeds.  It has helped me with the digestion of beans (see how I use fennel in my bean soup recipe here) and it has also helped me with increased brain function and alertness.  Sometimes for a nice energy boost to my brain mid morning or mid afternoon I make a fruit salad, take my mortar and pestle and grind up about 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds and mix it into the fruit salad.  The natural sugar from the fruit along with the aromatic and electrolyte properties of the fennel (4) gives me a nice energizing feeling.  Even just taking a jar of fennel seeds and inhaling in the aromatics makes me feel good and triggers my brain to be more alert.

Pineapple, Pink Lady Apple, Red Banana, Dates with grounded Fennel seed.
Fennel seeds can be eaten in the seasoning of food, brewed into a tea or infused as a tincture.   I use fennel in all types of ways.  I cook the fennel’s bulb and fronds with salmon, use the seeds to season food, I mix the seeds in herbal blends to drink in tea form or I eat the seeds straight out.  Sometimes I will pop a couple of fennel seeds in my mouth to curb a sugar craving.  And when I want to feel like I’m eating a piece of licorice candy from my childhood days, I put a few fennel seeds inside of a Medjool date and make myself an all natural piece of licorice candy. 😋

Fennel is quite safe for everyone of all ages but I found some safety measures concerning fennel which were listed throughout various research sites.  According to Medical News Today people who are battling cancer and are sensitive to estrogen should stay away from fennel due to the estrogenic properties in the herb.  And pregnant women may be advised not to eat huge amounts of fennel also due to the estrogen properties.

As always when using herbs for medicinal applications consult with an herbalist and/or holistic physician to make sure the herbs can be used and with the right quantity.