Fennel is a sweet-smelling herb originally from the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Its flavor is similar to that of anise, or licorice. Fennel leaves, stalks, and bulbs are edible and have a crunchy texture. You can add it to salads, baked goods, pesto sauce, or even your next cup of tea.

There are many other potential ways to put the perennial fennel plant to use. This yellow-flowered, sweet-smelling plant can potentially improve your health.

According to a 2008 study, fennel contains estrogen-like compounds. These compounds act like estrogen in the body. They stimulate breast milk production in goats and are believed to do the same in women. This use dates back centuries, and many new mothers today still use herb-based drinks to boost their milk production.

Colic is a condition that causes newborns to cry inconsolably for hours at a time. There is no known cause for colic, but it can put enormous stress on parents. A study conducted in Russia found that fennel seed oil may reduce the intensity of colic, measured in hours of crying, by as much as one-quarter.

Gargling an infusion of fennel seed oil can loosen mucus in your lungs and relieve your cough or sore throat, according to researchers in Italy. Ask your healthcare provider if gargling once a day with 5 to 7 grams (between 1 and 1.5 teaspoons) of fennel seed could help ease your symptoms.

A recent study conducted in Iran found that the combination of fennel extract and vitamin E drastically reduced cramping pain from menstruation. The fennel mixture was actually more effective for study respondents than over-the-counter pain relievers.

In certain cultures, fennel has a tradition of being used to heal wounds and poisonous bites as well as eliminate ingested poisons. This is because the essential oil of fennel is believed by some to have properties that promote topical healing and possibly internal healing as well.

According to folklore, fennel can be used as an aphrodisiac, or a substance that boosts sexual drive. Unfortunately for lovebirds, there is not a lot of scholarly research to back up this particular claim so far.

Fennel can be distilled to create a volatile oil. Volatile oils typically have a pleasant smell and are easily absorbed by the skin. This means that fennel oil is ideal for soaps and perfumes. Fennel also has a pleasant flavor and is often used to improve the taste of medications.

Recent scientific studies show that simple spices, which include sweet fennel and red chili, are potentially effective in fighting and slowing the growth of certain bacteria associated with cholera.

The next time you add fennel to your salad or homemade bread recipe, take note of the other ways in which this herb is working to keep you healthy. If you’ve never tried a fennel remedy, consider talking to your healthcare provider about it.