The entire fennel plant, Foeniculum vulgare, can be used for various culinary and medicinal purposes. This member of the parsley family has feathery leaves that are used as flavoring in cooking. Eat the bulb and stalks as a vegetable, and use fennel seeds in cooking and for medicinal purposes. Fennel and fennel seeds contain phytochemicals and antioxidants that may provide cancer protection, although studies are limited. Rich in minerals, the seeds contain potassium, calcium and magnesium. Fresh fennel seeds have a chewy, nut-like texture, with a pleasant, sweet flavor.
Fennel seeds contain volatile oils which relax the smooth muscles of the digestive tract. Chew fennel seeds after a meal to improve digestion, soothe indigestion and reduce heartburn and gas. Simply chew about 1/2 tsp. of seeds after a meal as you would chew gum. When you break down the seeds by chewing them, you release the beneficial volatile oils directly into your digestive system. Fennel tea is another way to reap the digestive benefits from fennel seeds. Simmer 1 cup of water with 2 to 3 tsp. of crushed fennel seeds for 10 to 15 minutes. Crush the seeds in a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle. Try adding crushed fennel seeds to your favorite herbal tea blend.
For an effective breath freshener, chew fennel seeds. They have a licorice or anise flavor. Chew the seeds without swallowing them. The longer you chew them, the more freshening power they impart.
Fennel is anti-microbial, effective against bacteria such as Staphylococcus and E. coli, as well as different fungus species and yeasts. An eyewash treatment for conjunctivitis is made by infusing fennel seeds, and fennel water can be applied topically to soothe skin irritations.
Fennel seeds contain phytoestrogens that increase milk production in lactating mothers. If the mother chews fennel seeds, the volatile oils are passed to the infant through breastmilk. The oils can help relieve digestive disturbances and colic in the infant. The phytoestrogens in fennel seeds also help relieve menstrual pain and PMS.
Cough syrup made from fennel juice or fennel seeds has an expectorant action to effectively loosen phlegm and help relieve bronchial congestion. It calms coughs and helps open nasal airways.