In the traditional American diet, fennel makes a rare appearance as a slightly sweet and crunchy spice that adds amazing flavor to pasta, salads, and gourmet pizza. Despite its sporadic presence on our plates, Foeniculum vulgare as it is called in scientific circles, is packed with a unique combination of phytonutrients that make it an all-star spice worthy of a larger role in our diets. In recent years, researchers have published a number of studies that confirm what holistic healers have long known—fennel offers a wide range of health-boosting benefits that vary from promoting eye health to reducing the risk of developing certain cancers.
- Helping in the Fight Against Cancer
Fennel’s essential oil is an excellent source of the phytonutrient anethole, which may reduce the risk of cancer. Anethole is primarily responsible for the distinct aroma and flavor people love about fennel. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help block tumorigenesis – the formation of cancer. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, researchers discovered that fennel seed methanolic extract (FSME) increased the antioxidant defense system of Swiss albino mice resulting in an anti-tumor effect. The same study also concluded that FSME may have “remarkable anti-cancer potential” to fight breast and liver cancer.
- Curbing a Hearty Appetite
Many natural health enthusiasts sing the praises of chewing fennel seeds to help curb their appetite. But does it actually work? The fiber-rich seeds fulfill 10% of the daily allowance for fiber per cup, which promotes satiety. The refreshing, almost licorice-like taste of fennel can also help cleanse the taste buds and turn off a craving for sweets. A study in the Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition draws conclusions that support the appetite-suppressing benefits of fennel. Researchers found that pigs consumed significantly less feed when their diet included 100 mg of fennel oil.
- Soothing Colicky Babies
In India, fennel has been a popular treatment for gastrointestinal problems for centuries. Researchers say the same properties that make it a go-to remedy for digestive concerns are responsible for its effectiveness as a treatment for baby colic. A 2003 study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that fennel seed oil eliminated colic in 65% of the 125 newborn babies involved in the study.
- Curing Pink Eye and Other Eye Infections
Fennel seed eye wash has long been a natural home remedy for conjunctivitis or pink eye. The perennial herb’s anti-inflammatory properties help reduce eye swelling and ease pain and itchiness. A study published in the Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology explains why fennel may be an effective remedy for pink eye and other eye infections. Researchers found that fennel produces “significant ocular-hypotensive activity” that decreased the intraocular pressure in rabbits with glaucoma by 31%.
- Easing Painful Menstrual Cramps
Women who struggle with dysmenorrhea or painful menstruation report significant relief from taking fennel remedies. Fennel is made of the compounds fenchone and estragole, which are believed to have antispasmodic benefits that can help prevent or treat muscle cramping. A study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursery and Midwifery tested the effect of using fennel to treat menstrual cramps using a participant group of 60 women aged 18-25. Researchers in that study concluded that a “combination of fennel extract/vitamin E is effective in decreasing the intensity of pain of primary dysmenorrhea, and it is advised for those who cannot use chemical drugs.”
- Other Health-Boosting Benefits
Because fennel is rich in bone-strengthening calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, vitamin K, and zinc, studies suggest it may be effective in reducing the risk of menopausal bone loss and osteoporosis. A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine found that fennel achieves this result by reducing osteoclasts, which weakens the bones. Researchers are still discovering ways fennel in its various forms can help you improve and maintain good health. Speaking with a holistic practitioner can help you determine how to best incorporate fennel into your diet and herbal treatment options.