9 Benefits of Fennel (Beyond Digestion)

Published on May 21, 2024

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

In North America, Fennel is best known as an after-dinner tea or spice that helps support digestion. 

Many breastfeeding mothers may also take it as a tea to support breast milk production.

However, the benefits of Fennel don’t stop at digestion and lactation. 

This ancient plant, which can be consumed from the top down (fronds, flowers, seeds, stalk, and bulb), is considered the world's most used traditional plants/herbs.

Its benefits are vast, ranging from digestive microbiome support to promoting normal inflammatory response, easing menstrual cramps, and much more.

In this article, we’re doing a deep dive into the benefits of Fennel and how it works to support various facets of health and wellness (beyond digestion).

What is Fennel?

Also known as Anise, Fennel is a member of the Apiaceae (carrot) family that grows in the Mediterranean and other similar climates throughout the globe.

Fennel’s adaptability to a range of climates has allowed its cultivation to spread worldwide, has made it the most used traditional herb/plant in the world, and scientific studies suggest it has a wide range of beneficial properties.REF#3988

Fennel’s use as a functional herb, spice, and food goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. Its use is also documented in Ayurvedic, Middle Eastern, and Traditional Chinese Medicine texts.REF#3989

Its mild, bittersweet licorice flavor makes Fennel seed a staple spice in many traditional teas and dishes from the Mediterranean and India. Fibrous bulbs and dill-like fronds are used extensively in Mediterranean and Californian cuisines.

As the world’s most used herb/plant, Fennel has a rich range of uses. 

Next, we’ll explore what researchers have uncovered about how Fennel works and how it may provide multi-faceted health support.

9+ Benefits of Fennel—For Digestion and Beyond

Fennel is best known for its effects on digestion, such as easing gas and bloating after meals, but research has revealed much more to this ancient plant's beneficial properties.

Analytical studies have shown Fennel seed and plant parts contain valuable compounds, including: 

  • Volatile compounds, such as such as rosmarinic acid, chlorogenic acid, and quercetin
  • Flavonoids
  • Phenolic compounds
  • Fatty acids
  • Amino acids
  • Antioxidants
  • Anethole
  • Terpenes, such as Fenchone and Limonene
  • Polyphenols

Multiple studies suggest Fennel may help support various aspects of health and wellness, including:

  • Cardiovascular function
  • Cell function and cycling
  • Cognitive function
  • Digestion
  • Immune function
  • Inflammatory response
  • Lactation
  • Liver function
  • Metabolic function
  • Muscle function
  • Normal cholesterol
  • Pain response/perception

In the following sections, we’ll examine the research behind Fennel and how it may benefit your health.

1. Fennel Contains Antioxidants

As outlined in the previous section, fennel contains a wealth of protective antioxidants in the form of flavonoids, polyphenols, and others.

A few examples of antioxidants found in Fennel seed and plant include:

  • Quercetin
  • Rosmarinic acid
  • Vitamin C 
  • Polyphenols
  • Chlorogenic acid

These antioxidant compounds help support a normal inflammatory response and cell function, promote your body’s natural defenses, and support graceful aging.

Antioxidants work by curbing the harmful effects of free radicals.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that can cause cell damage if left unchecked.

We’ll explore more about how Fennel’s antioxidants may support help in the coming sections.

2. Fennel Promotes Normal Digestive and Microbiome Function

Fennel seeds, chewed raw, with candy, or taken as tea, have been a staple after-dinner digestif in many cultures for centuries.

Research has shown there is merit to Fennel’s long history of use as a digestive aid.

For example, Fennel bulb and seeds contain ample amounts of dietary fiber, essential for healthy digestion, elimination, heart function, and gut microbiome diversity.

One raw fennel bulb has over 3 grams of fiber, and one tablespoon of fennel seeds contains over 2 grams of fiber.REF#3990

This equates to approximately 11% of the daily recommended value of fiber.

Research also suggests the Fennel compound, anethole, may support intestinal integrity via its antioxidant properties and effects on inflammatory response related to digestive function.REF#3991

Studies also suggest Fennel can help with occasional gas, bloating, indigestion, constipation, and stomachache.REF#3992

3. Fennel May Support Respiratory Function

Most herb enthusiasts reach for staples like Mullein or Eucalyptus for respiratory support. 

However, studies suggest fennel seeds may support respiratory function and clear airways in two ways:REF#3993

  1. Through its studied effects on ciliary motility, a function required for clearing fluid from the respiratory tract.
  2. The way its volatile oils support the normal contraction of trachea muscles involved in coughing and other aspects of respiratory function.

More research is needed. However, these findings are consistent with Fennel’s traditional use for supporting respiratory function.

4. Fennel May Help With Menstrual Cramps

As noted in 18+ Natural Solutions & Herbs for Menstrual Cramps, PMS, Cravings, & More. A systematic review and analysis of nine randomized controlled trials found Fennel, along with Cinnamon and Ginger, to be associated with a reduction of menstrual pain or cramping.REF#3994

These findings are consistent with Fennel’s traditional use in many cultures to help with various types of minor pain management.

Although more research is needed, it is likely that the active plant compounds in Fennel, such as antioxidants that support normal inflammatory response and smooth muscle contractions, may be responsible for its effects.

5. Fennel May Support Immune Function

You’ve already learned that Fennel may support respiratory function, microbiome diversity, and inflammatory response, all related to immune function.

Additional research suggests specific active compounds in Fennel seeds and plant, known as coumarins and flavonoids, may support normal immune regulation (modulation) via their effects on inflammatory response and cell function.REF#3995

So, next time you need extra immune support, consider reaching for a cup of Fennel tea and/or including some Fennel bulb in your next meal or snack.

6. Fennel Supports Healthy Breast Milk Production

Fennel is a staple in most lactation support teas and supplements, for good reason. Centuries of traditional use plus modern research suggest it can promote healthy breast milk production.

Studies suggest polymers of the active plant compound anethole, such as dianethole and photoanethole, support the normal production of prolactin, the hormone required for normal milk supply, via their effects on dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in milk production.

Traditional herbalists also believe Fennel taken by the mother can have a calming effect on baby’s digestion through breast milk. 

Although using Fennel for lactation support is considered very safe, always check with your doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant before taking herbs for breast milk production.

7. Fennel Provides Support During Menopause

Fennel is one of those amazing plants that supports women through all seasons of life, from menstruation and lactation through menopause.

Studies have shown using Fennel during menopause can help support the following:REF#3996

  • Normal sleep
  • Heat regulation
  • Sexual function, including desire and comfortable intercourse
  • Vaginal dryness and comfort

It is also used to support normal bone density in Traditional Iranian Medicine, but the research supporting this is not consistent or complete.REF#3997

8. Fennel Seed May Have Liver-Protective Properties

Fennel seeds have long been used as a liver-support spice believed to impart beneficial effects on bile production.

Research has shown the terpenes limonene and β-Myrcene in Fennel seed essential oil may have hepato-protective properties (protects the liver from toxicity).REF#3998

More research is needed.

9. Fennel Seed Oil May Help Ease Tummy Trouble In Babies

Many babies experience tummy trouble, which can cause hours of crying, pain, and discomfort.

Although giving herbs to babies by mouth is not recommended, research suggests topical application of Fennel oil may help soothe tummy trouble in babies.

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers found that fennel seed oil massaged into the abdomens of infants reduced intestinal spasms and supported normal motility.REF#3999

Their experiment resulted in the elimination of stomach pain in 65 percent of infants in the study group. 

Before trying fennel oil topically, talk to your baby’s doctor or healthcare provider.

How to Take Fennel 

Fennel is so versatile it can be taken as a tea, tincture, used as a spice, or eaten as a whole vegetable.

Most studies cited here used Fennel Seed, which contains a concentrated amount of active plant compounds and antioxidants.

Fennel seed can be chewed raw (it tastes like licorice), used in recipes, taken as a tea or tincture, or diffused as an essential oil (we’ll share a recipe for Fennel Tea coming up).

If you don’t care for the taste of licorice, you can also find Fennel Seed in capsules.

Fennel bulb, which is fibrous like celery with a mild licorice flavor, is delicious chopped into salads, shaved into slaw, eaten with crudite, braised, stewed, roasted, or used in soups.

Its flavor becomes even milder when cooked and is a fun alternative to celery.

How to Make Fennel Tea

Fennel tea is an easy, tasty, and popular way to enjoy the benefits of Fennel Seed. 

Its flavor is naturally sweet, slightly bitter, and licoricey and pairs well with other grassy, floral, or lemony herbs.

To Make:

  1. Add 1-3 teaspoons Fennel Seed to a teapot, tea ball, or reusable cotton tea bag.
    • The more you add, the more intense and bitter the flavor, so start with 1 teaspoon and work up to more.
  2. Pour boiling water over the seeds.
  3. Let steep for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Strain, sweeten if desired, and enjoy.

Complementary Herbs Include:

  • Chamomile
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Green tea
  • Hibiscus
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Balm
  • Peppermint
  • Thyme

Fennel tea can be enjoyed hot or iced as a refreshing and naturally-sweet summertime treat.

Side Effects & Contraindications of Fennel

Fennel has been used as a wellness elixir, tea, vegetable, spice, and topical application for centuries and is considered safe in normal doses.REF#4000

No signs of toxicity were observed in most toxicity experiments on Fennel.

There is some concern that using Fennel essential oil in large amounts could negatively affect hormonal balance due to its estrogenic effects, but more research is needed.

Topical use of Fennel may cause itching or rash, but this is very rare. Doing a small patch test before applying it to a wider area can prevent this.

Fennel may be contraindicated with certain medications, such as estrogen and certain cancer medications.REF#4001

Always talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before taking Fennel, especially if you are taking medication, are pregnant, or have a pre-existing health condition.

Fennel seeds, bulb, and fronds are generally considered safe when used in normal amounts.

12 Ways To Enjoy More Fennel In Your Diet

Follow these 12 tips to get more Fennel in your diet:

  1. Chew seeds after meals
  2. Drink Fennel tea
  3. Add chopped Fennel to salads
  4. Try Fennel in place of celery in soups, stews, veggie platters, and slaws
  5. Throw Fennel fronds into smoothies
  6. Try fennel seeds in popcorn
  7. Look up Mediterranean, Indian, and Provencal recipes with Fennel
  8. Add Fennel bulb to your roasted veggies
  9. Use Fennel fronds in dressings to add a grassy, licorice kick
  10. Try a small teaspoon of Fennel seeds in yogurt
  11. Use Fennel fronds as a garnish on roasted veggies, meats, and more
  12. Cook grains with Fennel seeds

However you take or eat fennel, you’ll know you’re giving your body a healthy dose of flavor, fiber, and dozens of beneficial nutritional and antioxidant compounds.


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