Fantastic Fennel

Disclaimer: This information is in no way intended to be a substitute for modern medical care. Do not self-treat any medical complaint without the guidance of a licensed health care provider.

      Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, secured its place in the annals of folk medicine thanks to Pastor Sebstian Kneipp, who was affectionately known as the "water doctor." He used a hot infusion of crushed fennel seeds to cure stubborn cases of coughing, whooping cough, asthma and lung problems. Today, fennel is more commonly used to relieve digestive ailments, including bloating and stomach pain. Fennel tea is perhaps best known for its antispasmodic and anti-cramping properties. In addition, it stimulates the appetite, promotes food digestion and is an excellent remedy for gas. Because the tea is gentle, it can be mixed into food for infants and children.
      One of the oldest plants used in herbal medicine, it is now cultivated for medicinal purposes in many parts of the world, including the U.S., Europe, Asia and Africa. Fennel has a licorice-like flavor and is most often associated with Italian dishes, but it also has an extended history of non-culinary uses. Indigenous to Mediterranean regions, the aromatic herb suppresses the appetite; it was popular with wealthy ancient Greeks, who ate it to help lose weight, as well as with poorer classes, who chewed fennel seeds to stave off hunger pangs; medieval church goers were also known to eat the seeds to help stave off hunger during long sermons. In ancient China fennel was used as a cure for visual ailments, and to cure snakebite, while the Egyptians and Romans ate it after meals to help tone their digestive tracts. The herb, as well as the oil extracted from its crushed seeds, is still very highly valued for its diverse medicinal benefits.
      The pale yellow essential oil can help prevent buildup of toxins in the body, relieve digestive problems and fight infection. Fennel oil may also regulate menstrual cycles, minimize symptoms of PMS and decrease fluid retention It also has a mildly toning effect and firming effect on the muscles and skin. Fennel oil eases gas, hiccups and nausea, as well.
Fennel's vulgare species has two varieties: Azoricum has stronger medicinal properties and dulce is the one preferred for culinary use. Fennel is a semihardy perennial that is frequently cultivated as an annual because it does not always survive cold winters in northern growing zones.

Take Care!
      Fennel oil should be used only in very small doses, since it may cause skin sensitivities and other allergic reactions. Pregnant women, children under 10 and people with epilepsy should never use fennel essential oil in any form. When you're buying fennel oil, look for sweet-fennel oil, or Foeniculum vulgar dulce; other kinds of the oil can be harmful to your health because of their high ketone content.

Plant Facts
      This perennial and biennial plant is a member of the Apiaceae family. It emits a very spicy odor and its seeds have a strong anise taste. The fennel plant will grow in full sun to about 5 feet tall with dark green leaves, yellow flowers and oval seeds.

     Fennel is an aromatic plant that grows from a bulb and bears blue-green shoots with multiple branches and fine, feathery leaves. From July through October, the plant develops greenish-yellow flower umbels, which then form gray-brown seeds that begin to ripen in August.

      Fennel requires a great deal of room in order to grow adequately. The soil should be chalky, rich in nutrients and porous. The roots should be kept moist at all times. A plentiful supply of fertilizer and lots of sun promote the formation of seeds. In windy locations, tall plants must be staked, or they will bend and snap.

      Fennel originated in the Mediterranean region, where it is still found in the wild. Today fennel is cultivated as a vegetable or seed-bearing plant in the temperate zones of the U.S., Europe and Asia.

Parts Used
      Fennel seeds are most often used in natural remedies, but the leaves and roots also have medicinal value. Seeds that are collected in late summer are particularly rich in active constituents. Roots that are dug up in spring before the leaves have come out also offer greater medicinal power. The roots and leaves are tasty in salads, stews and vegetable and fish dishes. The seeds add a licorice-like flavor to bread and pastry. Vinegar, oil and liqueurs also benefit from the aromatic seeds.

Harvesting and Processing
      The fresh young leaves, picked throughout the growing season, can be used as a seasoning. The tender stems can be cut off and the roots dug up and eaten as vegetables. When the umbels turn brown in August, cut them off and hang them upside down in paper bags. As the seeds start to fall out, shake the umbels to collect the seeds. Store them in tightly sealed jars, away from direct heat and light.

      The essential oil in fennel seeds contains anethol - which relieves cramps; fenchone - which stimulates the appetite; and estragole. The tea, made from the crushed seeds, acts as an expectorant. In the digestive tract, fennel tea removes toxins and inhibits excessive intestinal fermentation, thereby reducing gas. To reduce inflammation or swelling around the eyes, apply compresses soaked in fennel tea. Fennel essential oil is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and is effective for fighting urinary-tract infections. Inhalations of fennel oil can alleviate respiratory illnesses, as well.

      Drinking a tea infused from fennel seeds may help relieve mild digestive problems while the fresh root can be used as a diuretic. Rinsing with a fennel-seed mouthwash is a good way to keep the lining of your mouth clean and healthy. This rinse will also inhibit the formation of tooth decay and keep your breath fresh.

Methods of Administration

Tea or infusions
      Infuse 1 tsp. of fennel seeds in 1 cup of boiling water and steep for 10 minutes. Uncrushed seeds will yield a sweet-tasting tea infusion. Crushed seeds will taste stronger and more bitter.

      Briefly boil 1 tbsp. of fennel seeds in 1 cup of water. Add 1 tsp. of eyebright and 1/4 tsp. of salt; steep for 10 min. Strain the mixture through a linen cloth, taking care to filter well. Use the mixture of herbs remaining in the cloth as an eye compress and the strained liquid to rinse the eyes. Always prepare only enough eye rinse to be used at a single time. Storing unused eyewash for later use is not recommended.

      Pour boiling water over a handful of fennel leaves and seeds. Allow to steep overnight. Put the plant parts in a linen cloth and place on any painful area.

Labeled products
      Commercially, look for fennel syrup, honey, teas, tinctures and candies. Fennel is also available in many combination products on the market.

Medicinal Uses

To relieve digestive complaints in infants and children
      Fennel tea's sweet flavor and antispasmodic effect make it a good choice for children with stomach upset. In infants with colic, a few tablespoons of fennel tea brings fast relief: Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp. of crushed fennel seeds. Allow it to steep for 10 min., then strain. The tea is also helpful to older children with abdominal pain and flatulence. You can make fennel tea with milk instead of water or use the tea to thin whole milk or pureed foods.

To promote lactation
      In folk medicine, fennel tea is commonly used to increase milk flow in nursing mothers. Drink at least 3 cups of the tea each day. The infusion may also relieve breast infections or nipple soreness. Soak a gauze compress in the lukewarm tea and apply it to the affected area of the skin.

To treat eye inflammations
      Bring 1/2 cup of water and 2 tsp. of crushed fennel seeds to a boil. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow it to cool. Soak a gauze compress in the lukewarm tea, cover your eyes with it and leave it on for 15 minutes. Or, use the tea as an eyewash.

To treat indigestion
      Fennel tea is helpful for the relief of bloating and flatulence. The so-called "four-winds tea blend," which contains equal parts fennel, anise, caraway and coriander seeds, has proved especially useful for this purpose. All four of these herbs have similar therapeutic properties and uses.

To ease congestion
      Due to its mucus-dissolving properties, fennel tea is often used as an expectorant for the treatment of whooping cough, asthma, bronchitis and other upper respiratory infections. It can also be used as a gargle for a sore throat. Inhalations with essential oil of fennel alleviate coughing and loosen phlegm, it also clears respiratory passages, making breathing easier. Mix 2 drops of fennel oil in a bowl of hot water and inhale the vapors.

For eliminating toxins
      European doctors have used fennel oil externally to treat gout, as it helps flush waste products from the body. Add 4 drops of fennel oil to your warm bathwater before you get into the tub.

For conditioning your skin
      A conditioning oil containing a few drops of fennel oil can prevent acne and help heal minor skin inflammations. It also has a mild firming effect on the skin that may restore muscle tone. Blend 1 drop of fennel oil in 2 tbsp. of sweet-almond oil and apply.

For bloating
      Fennel oil is one of the most effective aromatherapy oils for reducing bloating. Blend 2 drops of the oil in 1 ounce of sweet-almond oil. Gently rub your abdomen with the oil to ease swelling and gas.

After nursing
      Women with chapped, sore breasts from nursing can use fennel oil for the pain. Blend 3 drops of fennel oil, 2 oz. of avocado oil, 10 drops of rose-hip-seed and 2 drops of sandalwood oil. Rub into your skin after nursing (wash off before nursing again).


Healing Tea Mixtures
For bronchitis and coughs

Use 1-2 tsp. of the herbs per cup of boiling water. Steep the mixture for 10 min., strain. Sweeten the tea with 1 tsp. of honey to enhance its expectorant effect and relieve coughs quickly.

For asthma and whooping cough

Use 1-2 tsp. of the herbs per cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 min., strain. Sip at least 3 cups of the tea daily to relax the airways and relieve spasms.

For flatulence in adults and colic in infants

Use 1-2 tsp. of the herbs per cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 min., strain. Sweeten with honey if desired, unless the tea is to be given to an infant.

Guide to Cultivation
      Fennel plants are available in most herbal garden centers. The plant may also be grown from seed in the spring or fall, as it will put out its own seeds the next year. Fennel should not be planted near dill, since the two will cross-pollinate.

Seeding and planting

  1. In mid-April or late September, prepare a bed in which to sow the seeds.
  2. Make furrows in 8-in. rows. Plant the seeds 6-8 in. apart. Cover them with a thin layer of soil. Keep the soil moist.
  3. Seedlings will appear after 2-3 weeks. when they reach a height of 1 in., thin them out to 3-4 in. apart.
  4. Hoe and weed between the rows often t o keep the area free of weeds.
  5. In the late fall, cut off the stalks 4-6 in. above the ground and cover the plants with mulch to protect them from frost. However, depending on regional winter conditions, the plants may not survive.
  6. The following spring, dig up the young plants and their taproots and replant them 16-24 in. apart in a prepared bed.

      Fennel readily reseeds itself if just a few umbels are left in place. In the spring, the seedlings should be thinned out as soon as they start to increase in size, so that they will be able to develop well.

Magickal Information

Gender: Masculine
Planet: Mercury
Element: Fire
Deities: Prometheus, Dionysus
Powers: Protection, Healing, Purification
Ritual Uses:
      The thyrus, which figured in Dionysian ceremonies, was often made of giant fennel stalks with pine cones attached to the ends.
Magickal Uses:

Confidentiality Statement: (for anyone who does not respect copyright and/or is confused regarding this issue) The information, data and schematics embodied in the document are confidential and proprietary, being exclusively owned by Ellen J. Lord (aka Purpleflame or Firefly). This document is being supplied on understanding that it and its contents shall not be used, reproduced, or disclosed to others except as specifically permitted with the prior written consent of Ellen J. Lord. The recipient of this document, by its retention and use, agrees to protect the same from loss, theft, or unauthorized use.

      All information provided in this article is the result of research using (but not limited to) the following books and guides: Herbs for Health and Healing, Rodale; Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Scott Cunningham; Magical Herbalism, Scott Cunningham; The Complete Guide to Natural Healing, International Masters Publishers; Earthway, Mary Summer Rain; Teach Yourself Herbs, Susie White; Natural Beauty from the Garden, Janice Cox; Nature's Prescriptions, Editors of FC&A Medical Publishing, and The People's Pharmacy Guide to Home and Herbal Remedies, Joe Graedon and Theresa Graedon, Ph.D