| What is it?
The richly aromatic seeds are the parts that are widely used in medicine and food from Fennel; a long-lived plant that grows up to a meter and produces an abundance of those 'fruits' that make it famous.
How has it been used?
The ancient Greek physicians Hippocrates and Dioscorides highly recommended Fennel to increase milk secretion in nursing mothers and this use has persisted in many parts of the world to this day (e.g. many South American cultures boil the seeds in milk to promote good health for nursing mothers).
Fennel was one of the favourite remedies of St Hildegard of Bingen who wrote it 'makes us happy with good digestion and good body odour'.
17th century English herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote 'Fennel increases milk, cleanses the eyes from mists that hinder sight and take away the loathings which oftentimes happens to the stomachs of sick persons'.
Fennels grow easily and widely and have been used since ancient times for relieving digestive discomfort, to improve appetite, to soothe sore eyes and as an aid to nursing mothers.
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Science on Fennel
Fennel is hardly ever used by itself in herbal medicine and similarly the clinical studies done with Fennel have included it in some formula combinations that are certainly still worth highlighting even though we couldn't say their benefit was due to the Fennel alone.
~ Patients with chronic non-specific colitis were treated with a combination containing Dandelion root, St John's wort, Lemon Balm, Calendula and Fennel. By the end of two weeks of treatment, spontaneous and palpable pains along the large intestine had disappeared in 96% of the patients and defecation was normalised in patients with diarrhoea syndrome (Chakurski I, Matev M, Koichev A et al. Vutr Boles 1981; 20(6)51-54)
~ In a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial patients with marked and chronic digestive problems such as flatulence or bloating were treated either with a herbal formula containing Caraway seed, Peppermint, Gentian and Fennel in tablet form or an identical looking placebo over a 14 day period. Significant improvement was achieved in the herbal group compared to placebo and ultrasound results evaluating the amount of gas present also demonstrated a significant benefit from the herbal formula (Silberhorn H, Landgrebe N, Wohlinh D et al. 6th Phytotherapy Conference, Berlin, October 5-7, 1995)
~ A liquid herbal formula containing Caraway, Wormwood, Peppermint and Fennel was found to be superior to the spasmolytic drug Metoclopramide in relieving pain, nausea, belching and heartburn in a randomised double-blind, clinical trial used to assess effective treatments for patients with chronic indigestion (Westphal J, Horning M, Leonhardt K. Phytomedicine 1996; 2(4):285-291)
~ A tea preparation containing Licorice, Lemon Balm, Vervain, Chamomile and Fennel was given for infantile colic in a randomised double-blind study involving babies who were approximately 3 weeks old. Each time the baby had an episode of colic they were given some of the tea and after 7 days the colic scores were significantly lower than compared with the placebo group; 1.7 compared to 0.7. In addition more babies in the group had their colic eliminated (57%) compared to the placebo group (26%) (Weizman Z, Alkrinawi S, Goldfarb D et al. J Pediatrics 1993; 122(4):650-652)
Safety of Fennel
No adverse effects are expected (or have ever been reported) from taking Fennel in tea or tincture, even in high or frequent doses. It may certainly be confidently taken during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding and used by the young or old with safety.
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I use a great deal of Fennel in my herbal formulae and strongly rely on it to ease poor digestion and help the medicine be better absorbed into the body to where it needs to go. Fennel is truly one of our most important digestive tonics and it is a medicine that I have personally seen give relief to a great deal of suffering and discomfort.
Many of the people I work with are constitutionally ‘cold’. This means, amongst other things, that they do not digest food well, feel the cold acutely, and get stuck with health problems that can be slow to heal. Fennel can be tremendously helpful to such people as it gently warms from within.
Fennel is not a herb that we need to have any concern about taking too much of; like Garlic it is just as much a food as it is a medicine. That said I usually find that just 10 drops or so of the tincture combined with other herbs in a dose of medicine is ample to convey its benefits.
For anyone who is studying herbal medicine or perhaps just simply wants to get to know this great herbal ally in much more depth I highly recommend the old practice of taking a little Fennel tincture or tea and then, with a quiet and attentive mind, observing for yourself what you feel. I am sure that if you do this then you will experience for yourself the kind and certain 'action' of this herb. It goes directly to the gut, soothing and warming along the way.
More Milk Tea
Mostly Fennel works its charms perfectly well in small to moderate doses, repeated as often as needed, but there is a time when it can be most beneficial to use a lot of Fennel and this is during breastfeeding when we are concerned the baby is not getting enough milk...
Breastfeeding mothers who feel they are not making enough milk should definitely try this recipe and they can certainly trust that you will not do them self or their baby any harm by having such large amounts of it for any length of time.
Instructions: Take as many Fennel seeds as you can hold in your palm and place into a saucepan with about two to three large cups of water. Briefly bring the seeds to the boil then cover well and leave to cool. Strain and drink the entire amount over the course of a day and watch what happens, it should be very noticeable, impressive and most gratifying to all concerned!
Fennel combines perfectly with Chamomile and Caraway for indigestion and disturbed bowel function and it blends with Licorice to make other herbal medicines 'warmer' and easier to absorb.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Fennel is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Fennel can particularly offer its benefits when a relaxing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Heinerman's Fennel & Barley water tea
"First cook some Barley in plenty of water. Strain the water and save. Reheat 600mls of the Barley water until boiling and then add 2 tsps Fennel seeds. Reduce heat to simmer for 5 minutes then steep for an extra 20 minutes.
One cup taken by nursing mothers will soon stimulate milk flow. 1/2 cup before meals stimulates the appetite. The eyes washed with the same strained liquid will get rid of irritation and eye-strain and the same tea made with an equal amount of Peppermint and given in small cupfuls when cool will help to calm hyperactive children".
John Heinerman from Miracle Healing Herbs.
Historical notes on Fennel
The history of fennel goes back to ancient times as it was easily accessible throughout the Mediterranean Basin. Roman warriors are said to have consumed fennel to make them strong. It was also thought to have the power to help people keep thin. Its Greek name marathon, which means "grow thin", reflects the belief in its ability to suppress appetite. The town of Marathon, site of the famous battle between the Athenians and the Persians, means "place of fennel". After the battle, the Athenians used woven fennel stalks as a symbol of victory.
Pliny, a Roman writer and philosopher, said of fennel, "Fennel has a wonderful property to mundify (cleanse) our sight and take away the film that overcasts and dims our eyes."
The Anglo-Saxons held it sacred, and the Emperor Charlemagne declared in 812 AD that fennel was essential in every garden because of its healing properties.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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