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Fennel: Culinary Uses and Health Benefits, Especially Regarding Women

Updated on September 15, 2016
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Beverley has a degree in science and additional certifications in nutrition and aromatherapy. She's published on and offline.

Fennel, called an herb and a vegetable, has creamy white bulbs, light green celery-like stalks, and fine needle-like green leaves called fronds. Its scientific name is Faeniculum vulgare and it belongs to the Apiaceae family. Fennel is a perennial plant, which means its life cycle continues from year to year. Origins can be traced back to the Mediterranean as early as 961 A.D. The plant later spread to India and other parts of the world. Varieties include common or wild, sweet, German, Russian, Indian, and Japanese. Fennel is available year-round, but best purchased between fall and spring.

Fresh fennel (plant)
Fresh fennel (plant) | Source

Culinary Uses

Fresh fennel should be selected unblemished with heavy bulbs, firm stalks, and green fronds. It can be refrigerated unwashed and in a plastic bag for up to 10 days. If there are tough outer layers on the bulb, they should be removed before cooking. The bottom should also be cut off. The rest of the herb/ vegetable could be chopped up or stalks separated like celery, depending on culinary use.

Bulbs and stalks can be eaten raw, grilled, roasted with other vegetables, meat, poultry or fish, combined with pasta, added to salads, stews, and soups or served with dips. Fronds and seeds can be used as seasonings. Seeds can also be brewed for tea. Whatever meal you prepare, odor will be fragrant, and taste will be refreshingly sweet with a crunchy texture, depending on cooking time. Fennel’s flavor is similar to anise and licorice.

Health Benefits, Especially Regarding Women

Fennel is loaded with phytoestrogens -chemical compounds that act like the hormone estrogen, which is necessary for several functions in the female body, especially regarding sex and fertility. Because of the way these estrogen-mimicking compounds work, fennel has been used:

- To increase a lethargic or non-existent libido.

- To treat amenorrhea: a woman’s lack of menstruation during her reproductive years.

- To decrease cramps.

- To increase the flow of milk in nursing moms.

- To enlarge breasts.

- To suppress menopausal symptoms: hot and cold flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood swings or irritability.

- As an alternative to hormone replacement therapy.

The phytoestrogens also promote strong bones and heart, lower the risk of strokes, and support weight loss by decreasing the appetite and increasing urination (so, good for those with water retention concerns as well).

Fennel is also rich in fiber, vitamins A, B-3 (niacin), B-9 (folate), C, and E, minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, iron, manganese, phosphorous, copper, and sodium, and low in cholesterol and fat. They help the phytoestrogens perform some of the functions mentioned as well as the following: treat colic in infants, bloating, flatulence, heartburn, other digestive ailments, respiratory concerns as asthma, bronchitis, coughs (fennel is often a component of cough medication), laryngitis, and sore throat, gout, vision, repair the digestive tract of cancer patients who had chemotherapy or radiation, and detoxify the liver and spleen.

Fennel seeds
Fennel seeds

Other Current and Ancient Uses for Fennel, Including Non-medicinal

Fennel is also currently used as poultice or tea for snake and insect bites. Non-medicinal uses include flavoring for food and beverages, fragrance in cosmetics and soaps, and flea deterrent. The ancients too used it for snake and insect bites. Ancient Romans used it as elixir for longevity. Europeans in the Middle Ages used it as a staple herb to aid the fast during the Lenten season, and to prevent witchcraft. They would hang it in their doorway to ward off evil spirits on Midsummer’s Eve: celebration of the beginning summer and longest day of the year.

Fennel Side Effects

Allergy would be a common side effect. Symptoms would include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. According to, the phytoestrogens could cause breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer, fibroids or endometriosis in women who are sensitive to the estrogen compound. They could also reduce the effectiveness of contraceptives already containing estrogen as some birth control pills, and some antibiotics as Cipro.


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