Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)       

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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 gastrointestinal symptoms. 

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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