Contrary to popular belief, “fennel seeds” aren’t really seeds at all. They’re actually the fruit of the fennel plant! These micro fruits have been traditionally used in Herbal Medicine to help relieve digestive upset including bloating and flatulence.
Fennel seeds were also traditionally used in Herbal Medicine to help relieve the pain associated with menstruation.
Due to their high nitrite content, these seeds are also commonly used in India to help relieve bad breath. Research suggests that for this same reason, the seeds may have beneficial cardiovascular effects.
This collection of community monographs established by the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) discusses the traditional uses for Foeniculum vulgare (fennel), including “symptomatic treatment of mild, spasmodic gastro-intestinal complaints including bloating and flatulence.”
This research investigates the in vitro influence of 14 different spices, including fennel, on the activities of digestive enzymes. It was found that fennel “significantly enhanced the activity of lipase”, an important digestive enzyme.
Ramakrishna Rao, R., Platel, K., & Srinivasan, K. (2003). In vitro influence of spices and spice‐active principles on digestive enzymes of rat pancreas and small intestine. Food/Nahrung, 47(6), 408-412.
This paper investigates edible plants that have “a significant body of research supporting the claims that they have a digestive action, with particular emphasis on clinical data.” The author states that the most important of these digestion-enhancing plants are ginger, peppermint, and fennel, amongst others.
This collection of community monographs established by the Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) discusses the traditional uses for Foeniculum vulgare (fennel), including “symptomatic treatment of minor spasm associated with menstrual periods.”
This study was conducted to determine the effect of fennel on primary dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation). Participants received either 30 mg of fennel extract or placebo for three days. The group of participants who took the fennel showed significantly greater pain relief than the control group. Based on this, the authors conclude that “fennel is an effective herbal drug for menstrual pain.”
This study compared the effectiveness of fennel and mefenamic acid (common drug used to treat menstrual pain) on menstrual pain relief. The researchers found that “in the fennel group, 80% of girls and in the mefenamic acid group, 73% of girls showed complete pain relief or pain decrease, while 80% in the fennel group and 62% in the mefenamic acid group no longer needed to rest.”
Expectorant and Cough Suppressant
Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) discusses the traditional uses for Foeniculum vulgare (fennel), including being “used as an expectorant in cough associated with cold.”
Nitrites play an important role in the cardiovascular system, as they are known to have a vasodilatory effect by opening up blood vessels and improving blood flow. The aims of this study were to: 1) “quantify the nitrite and nitrates in fennel seeds”; and 2) determine the “effect of fennel derived-nitrites on vascular functions.” The results show that fennel seeds contain a significantly higher amount of nitrites in comparison to other commonly used seeds, and have functional effects in the promotion of the formation of new blood vessels, cell migration, and the reduction of vascular tension.
Swaminathan, Akila et al. “Nitrites derived from Foneiculum vulgare (fennel) seeds promotes vascular functions.” Journal of food science vol. 77,12 (2012): H273-9. doi:10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.03000.x