What is Fennel?
Fennel (xiao hui xiang, 小茴香), also known as Foeniculum Vulgare, is a bulbous plant that resembles a celery. An ancient perennial herb that has feathery leaves, white bulbs, long green stalks and yellow flowers, Fennel is known for its highly aromatic properties that smells like Liquorice but with warm, woody undertones. Fennel thrives in Autumn and Winter.
Fennel has been used in many cultures for its medicinal properties. Since the time of Hippocrates, it was used as medicine. The Romans thought of Fennel as a sacred ritual object, and they used it as a digestive stimulant. The Greeks used Fennel during their ceremonies because it represented pleasure and prosperity.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Fennel falls under the category of ‘Herbs that warm the Interior and expel Cold’. Such herbs can be used for Internal Cold with Qi Deficiency or Yang Deficiency. Warm in nature, Fennel can help individuals who have too much ‘Cold’ in their body, such as those who are experiencing a Yin Excess or a Yang Excess, to restore a healthy yin-yang balance.
Pungent in taste, Fennel tends to promote the circulation of qi and body fluids. In particular, Fennel targets the Kidney, the Liver, the Spleen and the stomach.
Functions and Benefits of Fennel
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shows that the health benefits of Fennel include:
Fennel can promote the movement of qi to alleviate pain in the lower abdomen and genitals, such as hernia with abdominal pain. Fennel can also disperse Cold from the Liver and promote qi flow to relieve dysmenorrhea caused by Cold, Qi Stagnation and Blood Stasis.
Fennel’s ability to regulate Spleen-stomach qi and warm the middle energizer can also tackle stomach discomforts caused by indigestion by helping to increase one’s appetite and arrest vomiting. The herb is effective at relieving stomach and intestinal complaints such as bloating, acid reflux and fullness too.
In addition, Fennel can also help to address measles, treat inflammatory conditions such as insect bites or sore throat, and relieve abdominal pain in infants who are suffering from stomach gas (flatulence).
Other than the above Fennel benefits, modern studies have also shown that Fennel is high in calcium content, which means that it can help to boost bone health by strengthening your bones. Fennel is also high in Vitamin C, providing almost half of the recommended daily allowance in just one bulb. Hence, Fennel can improve skin health and reduce damage by free radicals that can cause premature aging. Fennel can also help to lower blood pressure and inflammation due to its high potassium content and low sodium content.
As Fennel contains inflammatory properties, it may also help to prevent cancer. Fennel is shown to be able to reduce cholesterol levels, which help to lower the risk of heart attacks and heart diseases. Fennel may also improve vision and slow down macular degeneration, the leading cause of age-related vision loss.
A 2017 study suggests that Fennel may contribute to improvements in menstrual and menopausal symptoms, such as reducing vaginal itching, dryness, menstrual cramps, sleeping issues, as well as vasomotor symptoms, like night sweats, flushes and hot flashes. In fact, Fennel may also help to improve sexual function and sexual satisfaction.
Last but not least, Fennel is also used as a stimulant for breastfeeding women to increase the production of breast milk.
How to Use Fennel
Whole Fennel seeds are available at health food stores at many supermarkets. You can consume these Fennel seeds raw, brewed into a tea, or ground into powder to be added to various dishes.
Other parts of Fennel, such as Fennel flower, Fennel bulbs and Fennel stalks can be used medicinally or in cuisines as well.
Fennel bulbs can be chopped and added to your soups and salads. The bulbs give your dishes a wonderful aroma aside from the various health benefits. Alternatively, you can blend the bulbs with other ingredients into juice.
When choosing a Fennel bulb, look for one that is firm and mostly white at the bottom. Avoid any that are brown or spotted at the bottom. The stalks should be bundled together and not flowering, and the fronds should be a fresh green colour. The bulbs can stay in the refrigerator for about four to five days.
Cautions and Side Effects of Fennel
Fennel should not be used by individuals who are experiencing Yin Deficiency with Heat signs or excess Heat. Also, individuals with allergies to certain spices, celery and carrot are highly likely to be allergic to Fennel too.
While no significant adverse reactions have been reported, there are rare cases where Fennel seeds can cause allergic reactions on the skin and respiratory problems. Also, excess amounts of Fennel oil may cause nausea, vomiting and seizures. In particular, if an individual is suffering from an oestrogen-dependent form of cancer should avoid any large quantities of Fennel.
In addition, due to its high potassium content, individuals with kidney disease should limit the amount of Fennel they consume too. Also, people taking beta-blockers, usually prescribed to help control blood pressure, should also avoid Fennel.
As Fennel has strong estrogenic properties, it may be unsafe for pregnant women too as there are concerns over its potential to disturb foetal growth and development. Fennel may also interact with certain medications, including oestrogen pills and certain cancer medications.
Last but not least, we strongly encourage you to consult your healthcare provider before adding Fennel to your diet.
Here is a summary for Fennel:
- Herb name (Chinese): 小茴香
- Herb name (Pin Yin): xiǎo huí xiāng
- Herb name (English): Fennel
- Herb name (Botanical): Fructus Foeniculi
- Origin of species: Foeniculum vulgare Mill.
- Part(s) of herb used: Fruit
- Geo-specific habitat(s): All parts of China
- Taste(s) & Properties: Pungent; Warm; Administrates the Liver, Kidney, Spleen and Stomach Meridians
- Actions: Relieves menstrual pain and pain in the abdominal region; Warms up the body, and ease pain
Barros, L., Carvalho, A. M., & Ferreira, I. C. (2010). The nutritional composition of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): Shoots, leaves, stems and inflorescences. LWT-Food Science and Technology, 43(5), 814-818. [Accessed on 28th October 2022]
Javed, R., Hanif, M. A., Ayub, M. A., & Rehman, R. (2020). Fennel. In Medicinal Plants of South Asia (pp. 241-256). Elsevier.[Accessed on 28th October 2022]
Saddiqi, H. A., & Iqbal, Z. (2011). Usage and significance of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Mill.) seeds in Eastern medicine. In Nuts and seeds in health and disease prevention (pp. 461-467). Academic Press.[Accessed on 28th October 2022]
Xu, Y., Yang, Q., & Wang, X. (2020). Efficacy of herbal medicine (cinnamon/fennel/ginger) for primary dysmenorrhea: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of International Medical Research, 48(6), 0300060520936179.[Accessed on 28th October 2022]
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