Fennel – Foeniculum vulgare

by Jade Shutes

The aroma is the deepest manifestation of prana in a herb.
Arjun Das – Ayurveda class notes

While studying Ayurveda with my teacher, Arjun Das, I was struck by his poetic statements about Fennel.

Arjun shared: Fennel is about digestion and transformation. Fennel inspires us to accept our body and self. It provides nourishment and vitality. Relationships (both with self and others) are about digestion. Fennel supports us in ‘digesting’ another, perhaps come to a better understanding of ‘other’. (my words) Arjun recommends that when couples are having difficulty that they drink fennel tea together daily.

I think it is interesting to think about digestion based upon ayurvedic concepts. As my learning grows I begin to see how digestion occurs on every level of our existence: we digest with our eyes, ears, taste, touch, and smell. We digest our thoughts, our feelings, others, ourselves, the energy around us. Always we are taking in something and digesting it. Arjun says if a client has become a client/patient, it is because agni was/is not working.

According to Pole: “The concept of ‘fire’ or agni is at the center of Vedic religious life. It is the central hearth that maintains the warmth of life, the transforms and trasmutes substances and impressions. A healthy agni is the equivalent of good health.

Agni is seen as the metaphor for all metabolic functions of the body. It includes the digestive function, sense perception, cellular metabolism, digestion, perception, taste, touch, hearing, vitality, clarity, alertness, regular appetite, chemical combustion. It gives ojas or immunity, a sparkle in the eyes and luster to the whole body.”

He goes on to say that “when agni is balanced it causes emotions that are beneficial to health: courage, cheerfulness, lucidity, optimism, enthusiasm and intelligence. When out of balance, it causes emotions that are destructive to health: fear, anger, confusion, idiocy. This leads to low energy, congestion and an accumulation of waste.”

Sweet Fennel Foeniculum vulgare

And according to Ayurveda: congestion, low energy, and toxins can occur on many levels: mental, emotional, spiritual and energetic.

Fennel offers us the opportunity to release toxins, increase energy, release self limiting beliefs, and support our ability to ‘digest’ and ‘transform’ food/experiences/thoughts in a healthy way.

Let’s explore Fennel…..


fennelFennel is an erect, robust perennial herb that can grow up to 5-7ft tall. The leaf stalks form sheaths around the thick stems and the leaves are finely divided, giving them a feathery appearance. Small yellow flowers are borne in distinctive umbels which ripen to gray-brown greenish seeds.

Fennel is native to Southern Europe and Mediterranean region and is now widely cultivated throughout the temperate and tropical regions of the world.

Fennel has several subspecies and varieties including:

  • Foeniculum vulgare Mill. subsp. vulgare var. dulce (Mill.) Batt. (Sweet fennel)
  • Foeniculum vulgare Mill. subsp. piperitum (Ucria) Cout. (Bitter fennel)
  • Foeniculum vulgare Mill. subsp. vulgare var. azoricum (Mill.) Thell.
  • Foeniculum vulgare Mill. subsp. vulgare var. vulgare (Sweet fennel)

The essential oil is most commonly obtained from Foeniculum vulgare subsp. vulgare var dulce.


Sanskrit: Shatapushpa (what possesses a hundred flowers) and Madhurika (the sweet one)
Chinese: Xiao hue xiang


Fennel was used by the ancient Egyptians as a food and medicine, and was considered a snake bite remedy in ancient China. During the Middle ages fennel was hung over doorways to drive away evil spirits. (Herb Society of America) Fennel has been used since ancient times to treat menstrual disorders, dyspepsia, flatulence and cough, and to reduce the griping effect of laxatives.

Fennel fruits have been used as TCM for the treatment of infants suffering from dyspeptic disorders in China for centuries. It was also recommended for bronchitis, chronic coughs, kidney stones, dysmenorrhea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

According to http://tinyurl.com/7fy4l26, “The ancients believed eating the fennel herb and seeds imparted courage, strength, and conveyed longevity. In Imperial Roman times the physicians were in high regard of fennel for medicinal purposes. The ancient Greeks and Anglo-Saxons snitched on their fast days by nibbling a little fennel, which reduced the appetite. The ancients believed that myopic reptiles ate fennel to improve their vision and so used it themselves for this purpose. It is still prescribed as an eye-wash. Also, for failing eyesight, a tea was made from fennel leaves to be used as a compress on swollen eyes.

Fennel is considered one of the oldest medicinal plants and culinary herbs. It is fairly certain that fennel was in use over 4000 years ago. It is mentioned in the famous Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian collection of medical writings made around 1500 BC. There it is referred to principally as a remedy for flatulence. Later authors of herbals, such as Pliny (AD 23-79), also describe fennel primarily as an aid to digestion. In the Middle Ages, it was praised for coughs.”

Current world producers of fennel essential oil include: Hungary, Egypt, Italy


Purchase some organic fennel seeds from a local natural food store or order from Banyan Herbs or Mountain Rose Herbs. **You may want to go ahead and order 4 ounces as this is a wonderful herb to utilize throughout the year. Have your Sweet fennel essential oil out as well.

Take some time to create a sacred moment in your day to sit quietly to experience fennel.

As you sit in this place take a few fennel seeds and place them in your mouth, keeping it towards the front teeth and gently bite into the seeds. Experience the sensation of the warming aniseed/fennel like taste that is released. Experience the aroma in the back of the throat that seemingly extends into the nose. Taste the licorice-like notes that are released. Then swallow the seed bits.

After a few moments, sit with the essential oil of Sweet fennel. Hold a bottle of the oil a few inches from your nose or use a smell strip (whichever you prefer), close your eyes and slowly inhale through the nose. Place one drop on the back of your hand and then lick off, tasting the essential oil of Sweet fennel.

What differences do you note? How did smelling the dried fennel seeds enhance your perceptions of the Sweet fennel essential oil? How did the essential oil taste compared to the dried seed? Note your observations.


The Herb: flavonoids (mainly rutin, quercetin, and kaempferol glycosides); coumarins (bergapten, imperatorin, xanthotoxin, and marmesin); miscellaneous: sterols, fixed oils, sugars (Hoffman)

The Essential Oil:

Sweet Fennel: 75-83% Trans-anethole, 4.6% fenchone, 3.9-5.1% estragole, 3.6-0.3% alpha-pinene, 2.2-3.8% limonene, 1.4% beta-myrcene.

Bitter Fennel: 55-75% Trans-anethole, 12-25% fenchone, 6% estragole, 1-10% alpha-pinene, 0.9-5% limonene, 0.5% cis-anethole, 2% anisaldehyde

Note: The sweetness of fennel is contributed to the presence of trans-anethole and estragole, either alone or in combination. (Mills and Bone)

(Chemistry of essential oils obtained from European Medicines Agency Assessment Report on Foeniculum vulgare Miller)

Component notes:

  • Trans-anethole is considered to estrogenic (EMA assessment report). According to Albert-Puleo, it is the polymers of anethole (dianethole and photoanethole) that are responsible for the estrogenic activity of Fennel.


Core therapeutic actions of the essential oil and herb include:
Anti-inflammatory, Antispasmodic, Carminative, Expectorant, Diuretic, Secretolytic, Antibacterial, Galactagogue, Antioxidant

Fennel as both a herb and essential oil are indicated for: Constipation, Gas (flatulence), Dyspeptic conditions of the upper GIT, including pain, nausea, belching and heartburn (Mills and Bone), infantile colic, chronic non-specific colitis with diarrhea (Mills and Bone), dysmenorrhea, low libido, and to increase milk production.

Other traditional uses according to Mills and Bone: digestive disorders (windy colic in infants, flatulent colic, griping pain, irritable bowel); suppressed lactation; obesity; topically for conjunctivitis, pharyngitis. Internal use and as an eye bath to strengthen eyesight and for inflammatory conditions of the external eye (such as conjunctivitis).


The seeds, according to ayurveda, are sweet and pungent in taste, cooling, and are good for all doshas: vata, pitta, and kapha. In Ayurvedic medicine fennel seeds are used to support digestion, strengthening Agni without aggravating Pitta. Like its Western herbal applications, fennel is used to stop cramping and dispel flatulence (gas). Fennel seed preparations are indicated for digestive weakness.

In Ayurvedic medicine Fennel is indicated for:
Digestive discomfort, flatulence, cramps, nausea and low agni. A specific for inguinal hernias and lower abdominal pain. It is also indicated for nervous tension in mamsa dhatu and contraction in the smooth muscle system restricts the flow of vata. It has a nourishing effect on majja dhatu tonifies the brain and nervous system. Fennel is useful in vata-kapha obstruction type coughs and helps to clear phlegm by reducing aggravated avalambaka kapha that congest the alveoli and bronchioles. Useful in menstrual difficulty caused by vata and kapha obstruction in the lower abdomen with pain, cramps, and a dragging sensation. (Pole, 2006)


In TCM, fennel spreads liver qi, warms the kidneys, expels cold and alleviates pain thereby treating lower abdominal pain.  May also be combined with cinnamon bark or litchi nut.

Regulates qi and harmonizes the stomach to treat indigestion, abdominal pain, reduced appetite and vomiting due to cold.  Combine with ginger for stronger effect. (http://meridianflowacupuncture.blogspot.com/2010/09/spice-of-life-health.html)

Dosages of the herb and essential oil:


  • Weak tea for infants to treat colic: 1/2 gram of lightly bruised seed to one cup of water. Give one teaspoon to infant as needed.
  • Regular fennel tea: 1 ounce herb to 32 ounces of hot water (gently crush seeds before infusing)
  • Strong infusion: 1 ounce of fennel seeds to 16 ounces of hot water.

Tincture: 3-6ml of 1:2 liquid extract (tincture) per day, 7-14ml of 1:5 tincture per day
Essential oil: 1-2 drops per day for up to one week. Use the tea/honey for internal use and fennel essential oil externally.

Daily dosage as outlined by the German Commission E:
0.1 – 0.6 ml, equivalent to 0.1 – 0.6 g of herb; equivalent preparations.

Fennel honey syrup with 0.5 g fennel oil/kg: (NOTE: this is about 17 to 18 drops e/o to a kilogram (32 ounces) of honey)
10 – 20 g; equivalent preparations.


Considered non-toxic when used appropriately.


Psychological and Spiritual affects
The aroma of Sweet Fennel essential oil ignites transformation and inspires a healthy perception of the world around. Fennel is a seed and as such supports one in manifesting ones potential.


‘I Accept love and nourishment’ massage oil

  • 1oz Organic Jojoba oil with:
  • 7 drops Sweet Fennel   (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce)
  • 5 drops Neroli   (Citrus aurantium flos)
  • 5 drops Ylang ylang  (Cananga odorata)
  • 7 drops Mandarin  (Citrus reticulata)

Combine all ingredients and use as a body massage oil after a warm shower or bath.

Relieve pain and cramps: Dysmenorrhea

  • 1 ounce jojoba
  • 7 drops Sweet fennel   (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce)
  • 7 drops Sweet marjoram  (Origanum marjorana)
  • 5 drops Clary sage   (Salvia sclarea)

Combine all ingredients and massage lower abdomen and lower back as needed or desired.

Relieve Muscle Spasms

  • 7 drops Tarragon   (Artemisia dracunculus)
  • 7 drops Fennel    (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce)
  • 5 drops Lavender    (Lavandula angustofolia)

Combine all essential oils together in a 1 ounce bottle and fill with 75% Jojoba and 25% St. Johns Wort herbal oil.

Menopausal emotional upheaval with a feeling of coldness (emotionally or physically)

  • 7 drops Fennel  (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce)
  • 5 drops Ginger CO2    (Zingiber officinale co2)
  • 5 drops Sage  (Salvia officinalis)

Combine into 1 ounce of jojoba oil and massage around neck and shoulders and abdomen OR place drops into a cup of sea salt (mix well) and take an aromatic bath. OR place drops in a 1ounce spritzer bottle, shake and spritz into environment as needed.

Divine Meditation Oil

  • 5 drops Rosa damascena essential oi
  • 7 drops Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce
  • Add to 1 tablespoon sesame or jojoba oil. Massage onto face and hands prior to meditation. Also, can place on heart chakra.

Respiratory diffusor synergy

  • 10 drops Peppermint  (Mentha x piperita)
  • 20 drops Fennel  (Foeniculum vulgare var. dulce)
  • 14 drops Rosemary ct. cineole  (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Combine essential oils into a small 5ml bottle with orifice reducer. Shake well. Then add appropriate number of drops to electric or candle diffusor.

Fennel Licorice Cough syrup


Fennel Cough Syrup ingredients

  • 1 ounces licorice root and 16 ounces of water
  • 1 ounces fennel seed and 16 ounces of water

Prepare a decoction of the licorice root by placing 1 ounces of dried licorice root into 16 ounces of cold water. Allow the roots to sit in the cold water for at least 1 hour or longer. Then gently bring to a boil, turn heat down and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes.


Licorice roots Glycyrrhiza glabra


Licorice in Water

Next, prepare the fennel seed infusion. Lightly bruise/crush the fennel seeds. Place all 1 ounces in a 16 ounce canning jar. Bring 16 ounces of water to a boil then pour over fennel seeds. Place cap on jar and allow to sit for 10- 15 minutes. Strain.


Fennel Seeds


Fennel seeds infusing in hot water

Once both teas are made prepare a double boiler. Place 1/2 cup fennel tea and 1/2 cup of licorice root tea and 2 cups honey into the top pot. Heat gently until the honey and herbal teas have mixed together.


Honey and Fennel/Licorice teas in double boiler

Pour into a sterilized canning jar, label and use within one year. You can also add essential oils to this. I add: 7 drops Eucalyptus radiata, 7 drops Fennel and 5 drops Peppermint. Mmmmm…..


Cough Syrup Bottled

Fennel Honey


Fennel Honey Ingredients

Fill 1/4 to 1/2 of an 8 ounce sterilized canning jar with gently crushed organic fennel seeds. Cover with local honey then stir with chop stick making sure all the seeds are covered.


Pouring honey over fennel seeds


Fennel and Honey stirring

You will need to add in more honey and continue to stir until seeds and honey are mixed well. Be sure to top off with more honey. Then secure lid. Be sure to label jar with the ingredients and date it was made. Each day you can open the jar and stir a bit. Let infuse for 2-4 weeks.


Fennel seeds in honey

To decant: Place jar into water in the top part of a double boiler. Bring water in the bottom pot of double boiler to a gentle boil. This will heat the water on top, but don’t let it boil. High temperatures denature the honey.


Fennel honey infusion

When the honey appears a bit thinner you can then strain through a fine mesh strainer. And voila, beautiful fennel honey to add to teas or take a little teaspoon to soothe dry irritated spasmodic coughs.


Alberrrt-Puleo, M. Fennel and Anise as Estrogenic Agents. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 2 (1980) 337 ·344
© Elsevier Sequoia S.A., Lausanne – Printed in the Netherlands

Foster, S. (nd). Herbal Renaissance. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith.

Herb Society of America (2005). Fennel. Kirtland, OH. www.herbsociety.org

Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

Lad V and Frawley D. (2001). The Yoga of Herbs. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Mills, S., and Bone, K. (2000). Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. London: Churchill Livingstone.

Pole, S. (2006). Ayurvedic Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

Romm, Aviva. (2010). Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. St Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

Van Wyk, B., and Wink, M. (2004). Medicinal Plants of the World. Oregon: Timber Press.

Wood, M. (2008). The Earthwise Herbal: A complete guide to old world medicinal plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.


Interesting videos:
Making Herbal Honeys http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFVKJl_0evA

Great article on How to make Herbal honeys