Fennel seed is a savoury spice that looks quite similar to but it is a bit sweeter than cumin seeds. Obtained from the fennel plant, these seeds are generally green or brown in colour. There might not be an Indian home that isn’t aware of the warm and sweet aroma of fennel seeds. In fact, Indians use fennel seeds extensively in both sweet and savoury dishes. Roasted fennel seeds are an important ingredient in mukhwas, a popular after-meal mouth freshener in India. In South India, people make fennel water out of these seeds, which is considered good for digestion. In Eastern India, fennel seeds are used as one of the main ingredients in a type of spice mixture called panch phoron. It is also used widely in North India, especially in Kashmir and Gujarat.

Fennel is native to the Mediterranean region. It was initially cultivated by the Greeks from where it  spread to the rest of the Europe.. Later, owing to its medicinal properties, fennel seeds spread to the other parts of the world. Presently, the largest cultivator of fennel seeds is India. Other fennel producing countries include Russia, Romania, Germany and France.

Most cooking enthusiasts are quite aware of fennel seed usage, but do you know that the entire fennel plant can be used for different purposes. The flowers and leaves can be used for garnishing, the leaves and stalks are used in salads and as sprinklers on pizzas. Dried fennel fruit is usually chewed to increase the production of saliva. It is also used as a flavouring in alcohols, soups, sauces, meat items, and pastries.

Just when you think that’s all, these seeds have several medicinal uses too. Fennel seeds are primarily used as antacids and as a mouth freshener to keep off bad breath. Boiled fennel seeds and their broth can help get rid of flatulence and aid weight loss. Fennel seeds can also be used as a painkiller and for reducing swelling. Additionally, these seeds are considered to be good for eyes.

Let us have a look at the nutritional and healing miracle that are fennel seeds.

Basic Facts about Fennel Seeds:

  • Botanical name: Foeniculum vulgare
  • Family: Apiaceae
  • Common Name: Saunf
  • Sanskrit name: Madhurika
  • Parts used: Seeds, stalks, leaves, flowers, bulbs
  • Native region and geographical distribution: Fennel is cultivated all over the world. India accounts for about 60% of the total world production of fennel. Major fennel seeds producing states in India include Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana
  • Interesting facts: Fennel seeds are also referred to as the ‘meeting seeds’ because in the olden days, people used to carry these seeds to munch on them during long church services.
  1. Fennel seeds nutrition facts
  2. Fennel health benefits
  3. Fennel seeds side effects
  4. Takeaway

Fennel seeds are rich in dietary fibre. One tablespoon of fennel seeds contain about 2.3 g of fibre. This fibre content help ease constipation and keeps the digestive system healthy. 

Apart from this, fennel seeds are loaded with nutrients. They are a great source of minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, copper, iron and manganese. They are also packed with vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin B6 and vitamin C.

As per the USDA Nutrient Database, one tablespoon of fennel seeds contain the following nutrients:

Nutrient Value, 1 tbsp
Water 0.51 g
Energy 20 kcal
Protein 0.92 g
Fats 0.86 g
Ash 0.48 g
Carbohydrate 3.03 g
Fibre 2.3 g
Mineral  
Calcium 69 mg
Iron 1.08 mg
Magnesium 22 mg
Phosphorus 28 mg
Potassium 98 mg
Sodium 5 mg
Zinc 0.21 mg
Copper 0.062 mg
Manganese 0.379 mg
Vitamins  
Vitamin B1 0.024 mg
Vitamin B2 0.02 mg
Vitamin B3 0.351 mg
Vitamin B6 0.027 mg
Vitamin C 1.2 mg
Fats  
Saturated 0.028 g
Monounsaturated 0.575 g
Polyunsaturated 0.098 g

Fennel seeds is highly beneficial for health, particularly for the digestive system. Let us have a look at some of the science backed health benefits of fennel seeds.

  • For digestive issues: The most pronounced effects of fennel seeds have been on the digestive system. The intake of these seeds helps to reduce the incidence of indigestion, abdominal cramps and even aids in the elimination of gas. Due to its antispasmodic and digestive properties, fennel seeds are commonly consumed after food and even help in relieving constipation and ulcerative colitis.
  • For high blood pressure: Fennel seeds are rich in potassium and lower in sodium, thus helping to lower blood pressure, particularly systolic blood pressure.
  • Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties: Due to these properties, fennel seeds help to prevent stomach infections and food poisoning.
  • For women: The intake of fennel seeds has benefits for both, women in the reproductive age and those who have experienced menopause. It helps to relieve the symptoms of dysmenorrhoea or pain during menstruation and even helps to improve menstrual cycles, while at the same time, it helps to improve bone density in postmenopausal women, reducing the risk of bone loss due to osteoporosis.
  • For respiratory disorders: The use of fennel seeds is good for a variety of respiratory disorders like a chronic cough, bronchitis and COPD. It also reduces the excessive buildup of mucus.

Fennel seeds for digestive problems

Carminatives are those agents that can help prevent the formation of gas or help in the removal of the gas from the gastrointestinal tract. Research suggests that fennel seeds have carminative properties. According to a study, a decoction prepared from fennel can prevent indigestion. A combination of fennel, cumin and coriander decoction can aid in the expulsion of gas from the stomach. Fennel seeds can also help in relieving abdominal cramps.

Another study revealed that fennel essential oil can help prevent colitis, a condition in which the inner lining of the colon gets inflamed. A preclinical study suggested that aqueous extract of fennel can be used for the treatment of gastric lesions. These benefits are attributed to the presence of phytochemicals, flavonoids, phenolic compounds and fatty acids in fennel seeds.

Fennel is generally eaten as an after-meal snack mainly because it aids in digestion. Ever wondered if this fact has some scientific evidence? Research reveals that phytoconstituents in fennel seeds such as anethole, limonene, pinene, fenchone and cineole possess carminative, antispasmodic (relieve muscle spasms) and digestive (aid in digestion) properties. Fennel also helps in the production of digestive juices and in the absorption of nutrients from the food. The presence of oils in fennel seeds can act as a laxative, thereby preventing constipation.

Read more: How to improve digestion

Fennel seeds for healthy bones in women

Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by a low bone density and reduction in new bone development. This is especially common among postmenopausal women due to a reduction in estrogen levels. Estrogen is known to reduce bone loss and promote new bone formation.

Studies suggest that fennel extract is rich in phytoestrogen, a type of phytochemical and it can help prevent the disease among postmenopausal women by acting as a natural substitute for chemical estrogen supplements.

According to research, oral administration of fennel seed extract for a period of 6 weeks led to a decrease in ovariectomy-induced bone loss. These studies indicate the potential of fennel seeds to prevent bone loss due to osteoporosis.

Read more: Bone density test

Fennel seeds for respiratory diseases

The term respiratory diseases is mainly used to denote conditions that affect the lungs and airways. Studies suggest that fennel seeds can help prevent respiratory disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).

One research demonstrated that fennel can help prevent the excessive buildup of mucus in the nose and throat (catarrh).

Preclinical studies have also revealed that fennel seeds exhibit a positive effect on the elevated respiratory rate and it also helps relieve COPD inflammation by increasing the number of macrophages, a type of WBC.

According to a systemic evaluation published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, the antioxidant properties of fennel seeds can be effective in the treatment of chronic cough and bronchitis.

Read more: Lung disease symptoms

Fennel seeds for menstrual cramps

Dysmenorrhea is a term used to denote painful periods. While abdominal pain is the primary symptom of this problem, it may also be associated with, bloating, sore breast, nausea and headache. In a clinical study, sixty students with this condition were given oral fennel drops during their period. The results revealed that fennel was effective in decreasing the symptoms of dysmenorrhea.

Furthermore, fennel seeds are known to be an estrogenic agent, which can help promote menstruation. A preclinical study showed that the presence of compounds such as dianethole and photoanethole in fennel helped induce menstruation.

Fennel seeds for high blood pressure

Blood pressure is the force with which the heart pumps blood to the other parts of the body. Although high blood pressure does not have any immediate symptoms, It increases the risk of heart diseases and stroke in the long term. Fennel seeds are rich in magnesium, which is a mineral known to be important for regulating blood pressure.

Additionally, they have a good balance of potassium and sodium. Studies claim that a high potassium, low sodium food can help reduce blood pressure. Traditionally, fennel leaves are chewed to reduce the symptoms of hypertension. In a preclinical study, fennel seeds extracts were found to reduce systolic blood pressure by acting as a diuretic (increase water expulsion from the body).

Read more: How to use blood pressure machine

Fennel seeds have anti-inflammatory properties

Inflammation is a physical condition caused by an infection or an injury wherein the affected area becomes swollen, painful and exhibits redness.

According to research, the essential oil of fennel seeds contains several flavonoids that have anti-inflammatory properties. The oil also contains flavonoids such as eriodictyol-7-rutinoside, quercetin-3-rutinoside and rosmarinic acid that are useful for reducing inflammation. 

Animal studies indicate that a methanol extract of fennel seeds, at a dose of 200 mg/ Kg, can be used to inhibit inflammation.

Read more: Inflammatory diseases types

Fennel seeds antibacterial properties

The whole fennel plant is known to possess potent antibacterial activity. Research indicates that the essential oil from fennel fruits can prevent diseases caused due to bacteria such as E. coli and S. aureus.

Extracts from the fennel plant and seeds also exhibit potent antibacterial properties against bacteria that cause food poisoning and stomach infection. The antibacterial properties of fennel are attributed to the presence of components such as Dillapional and scopoletin.

Read more: Bacterial infections symptoms

Fennel seeds benefits for teeth

Dental caries or tooth cavities occur due to the production of acids by the bacteria in teeth. Untreated cavities could cause severe toothache, tooth and gum infection and gradually lead to the loss of teeth. Research suggests that essential oil from fennel can help prevent cavities caused due to oral bacteria such as S. mutans and L. casei. It can also help prevent the formation of plaque caused due to these bacteria. The research concluded that fennel is an excellent anti-caries herb that can inhibit the growth and spreading of oral bacteria.

Read more: How to get rid of bad breath

Although fennel seeds have numerous health benefits, these seeds do have a few side effects in some people. Therefore it is recommended that people with any of the below-mentioned conditions consult a doctor before adding fennel seeds to your diet.

1.   Expecting mothers should avoid fennel  

A few compounds in fennel have a structure similar to that of the female hormone estrogen. It also hampers the clotting of blood which might lead to excessive bleeding. Emmenagogue foods tend to stimulate blood flow in the pelvic regions, thus leading to menstruation. Since fennel seeds have this property, it could lead to miscarriage in pregnant women. Its antispasmodic properties might cause premature contractions. Hence it is advisable to eat fennel seeds moderately or as adviced by gynecologists during pregnancy.

2.   Fennel may cause allergies in some people

Research indicates that people who are allergic to peach are often allergic to fennel too. The study identified the presence of lipid transfer protein (LTP) to be the allergen responsible for allergic reactions.

Read more: Allergy symptoms

3.   Interaction of fennel seeds with medicines

If you are on certain medications, fennel seeds could possibly interfere with these medicines and lead to negative reactions in the body. Fennel seeds interfere with antibiotics, contraceptives, estrogens, certain heart medications, antifungals etc. It is advisable to maintain at least 2 hours gap between the consumption of these medicines and fennel seeds. Also speaking to your medical advisor before consuming fennel seeds during your medication is highly recommended.

4.   Fennel oils may cause hallucinations and seizures

There was one reported case of a 38-year-old epileptic patient who developed a seizure after consuming cakes that contained fennel essential oil.

Fennel seeds have been used for medicinal and culinary purposes for ages. Be it Ayurveda or ancient Roman and Greek medicine, fennel seeds and other parts of the fennel plant are extensively used for their antacid and diuretic properties and their ability to relieve pain, inflammation, respiratory and menstrual disorders. These seeds are packed with nutrients with very few side effects. However, some people may be allergic to fennel seeds. if you face any side effects after consuming fennel seeds, immediately seek the help of a doctor.


Medicines / Products that contain Fennel

References

  1. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Basic Report: 02018, Spices, fennel seed. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release [Internet]
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  4. Kim TH, Kim HJ, Lee SH, Kim SY. Potent inhibitory effect of Foeniculum vulgare Miller extract on osteoclast differentiation and ovariectomy-induced bone loss. Int J Mol Med. 2012 Jun;29(6):1053-9. PMID: 22447109
  5. Mona T. M. Ghanem et al. Phenolic compounds from Foeniculum vulgare (Subsp. Piperitum) (Apiaceae) herb and evaluation of hepatoprotective antioxidant activity. Pharmacognosy Res. 2012 Apr-Jun; 4(2): 104–108. PMID: 22518082
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  8. Mahshid Bokaie, Tahmineh Farajkhoda, Behnaz Enjezab, Azam Khoshbin, Karimi Zarchi Mojgan. Oral fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) drop effect on primary dysmenorrhea: Effectiveness of herbal drug. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2013 Mar-Apr; 18(2): 128–132. PMID: 23983742
  9. Health Harvard Publishing, Updated: May 3, 2019. Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Key minerals to help control blood pressure. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  10. El Bardai S, Lyoussi B, Wibo M, Morel N. Pharmacological evidence of hypotensive activity of Marrubium vulgare and Foeniculum vulgare in spontaneously hypertensive rat.. Clin Exp Hypertens. 2001 May;23(4):329-43. PMID: 11349824
  11. Kornsit Wiwattanarattanabut, Suwan Choonharuangdej, Theerathavaj Srithavaj. In Vitro Anti-Cariogenic Plaque Effects of Essential Oils Extracted from Culinary Herbs.J Clin Diagn Res. 2017 Sep; 11(9): DC30–DC35. PMID: 29207708
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