Fennel, also known as Foeniculum vulgare, is an aromatic plant used throughout history for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Traditionally, fennel is a common herbal remedy for a variety of digestive ailments. Scientific research suggests that drinking fennel tea may help relax the smooth muscle in your intestines and relieve constipation.
Fennel is a flavorful herb with an anise-like aroma that is common in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. In traditional medicine, fennel has been used widely to improve digestion and appetite, to relieve flatulence, bloating and indigestion, and as a laxative. It has also been used to relieve colic in infants, to increase the milk supply of breast-feeding mothers and to treat glaucoma and hypertension.
A number of rigorous scientific studies support the use of fennel as a treatment for constipation. A 2012 review in the “International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition” noted that fennel increased gastric motility in animal models, reducing food transit time by 12 percent. In a 2010 placebo-controlled clinical trial reported in "BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine," individuals with chronic constipation increased their colonic transit time and number of bowel movements while consuming an herbal compound containing fennel for five days. The study’s authors concluded that the compound has a laxative effect and is a safe option for the treatment of constipation.
Dosage and Preparation
Fennel seeds make a tasty medicinal tea. To prepare your own, measure 1 teaspoonful of fennel seeds and bruise them using a mortar and pestle. Bruising the seeds helps release the active oils and compounds. Pour freshly boiled water over the bruised seeds, and allow them to steep for at least 10 minutes. If using a commercially prepared tea, follow the manufacturer’s directions.
Fennel is generally considered safe for consumption, especially in amounts used for culinary purposes. However, one of the main components of the essential oil of fennel, estragole, has been associated with development of malignant tumors in rodents. It is unclear whether estragole has similar effects in humans. Consult your doctor before using any herb for medicinal purposes.