Fennel is a tall herb native to the
Mediterranean area. It has a sweet
licorice taste, and is widely used in Mediterranean cuisine. The leaves, bulb,
and stalk are edible; its seeds are used
as both a spice in cooking and to make herbal medicines.
It has been used to treat digestive ailments for centuries. Recent studies support the
use as a digestive
aid. It has been shown to relieve intestinal spasms and cramping in the smooth
muscle lining of the digestive tract, which helps relieve uncomfortable
Commission E, a panel in Germany that
evaluates the safety and effectiveness of herbs,
endorses it for treatment in digestive including indigestion,
gas pains, irritable bowel syndrome, and infant colic. Some studies have shown
the effectiveness to be comparable to that of Mylanta and Gaviscon,
and simethicone-containing medications such as Maalox.
The antispasmodic effect may help relax other muscles
in the body, including the uterus. One study showed that it acts as a
phytoestrogen in the body, simulating the effects of estrogen in the system. It
has been used to stimulate menstruation and milk production in
nursing mothers, and one study suggests that the herb has a mild
estrogenic effect. This is why it has been used
to treat conditions associated with hormone imbalances in women, including
premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause, low milk production, and low libido.
Today, it is an ingredient in many herbal formulas used
to balance hormones in menopausal and premenstrual women. It is also included in
some formulas that claim to promote natural breast enhancement.
It has also been used as a decongestant, and can loosen phlegm
in the bronchial passages. Patients suffering from bronchitis, or unproductive
coughs, may ease their symptoms by drinking hot fennel tea. The tea is made by crushing 1 to 2 teaspoons of mashed
seeds into a cup of hot water.
The plant also has a reputation as
a good appetite suppressant and promoter of weight-loss.
Some studies have shown that it does have some diuretic effect, and
may help reduce water retention.
Isolated cases of allergic and asthmatic
reactions have been reported.
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