The fennel plant came originally from Europe, where it is still grown. Fennel is also cultivated in many parts of North America, Asia, and Egypt. Fennel seeds are used in herbal medicine.
According to the Greek legend of Prometheus, fennel was thought to have bestowed immortality. Fennel seeds are a common cooking spice, particularly for use with fish. After meals, they are used in a few cultures to prevent wind and upset stomach. Fennel has also been used as a remedy for cough and colic in babies.
What it does
The main active constituents of fennel include the terpenoid anethole, which has been shown to be effective in reducing smooth muscle spasm in the digestive tract. These actions suggesting significant potential in relieving indigestion, gas, bloating and irritable bowel syndrome. Fennel is also a digestive tonic, liver stimulant, mildly oestrogenic, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, diuretic and anti-microbial.
Fennel has many uses including colic and griping in infants, increasing milk production in nursing mothers and for irritable bowel in adults.
Do not use in pregnancy or when breastfeeding.
Generally, there are no side effects or contra-indications from using fennel, although if the seeds are taken in large amounts they can be toxic.
Fennel appears to reduce blood levels of ciprofloxacin (a quinolone drug used to treat urinary tract infections) and so should be avoided if you take this medication.
At the time of writing there were no well known negative drug interactions with fennel.