Foeniculum vulgare, commonly known as fennel, is a flavorful medicinal plant.
Fennel plants are green and white, with feathery leaves and yellow flowers.
Both the crunchy bulb and the seeds of the fennel plant have a mild, licorice-like flavor. Yet, the flavor of the seeds is more potent due to their powerful essential oils.
Aside from its many culinary uses, fennel and its seeds offer a wide array of health benefits and may provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial effects.
Here are 10 benefits of fennel and fennel seeds, based on science.
Both fennel and its seeds are packed with nutrients. Here’s the nutrition for 1 cup (87 grams) of raw fennel bulb and 1 tablespoon (6 grams) of dried fennel seeds ():
|Fresh fennel bulb||Dried fennel seeds|
|Fiber||3 grams||2 grams|
|Vitamin C||17% of the RDI||2% of the RDI|
|Calcium||4% of the RDI||7% of the RDI|
|Iron||4% of the RDI||6% of the RDI|
|Magnesium||4% of the RDI||6% of the RDI|
|Potassium||10% of the RDI||3% of the RDI|
|Manganese||8% of the RDI||19% of the RDI|
As you can see, both fennel and fennel seeds are low in calories but provide many important nutrients.
Fresh fennel bulb is packed with vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin critical for immune health, tissue repair, and collagen synthesis ().
Vitamin C also acts as a potent antioxidant in your body, protecting against cellular damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals ().
Both the bulb and seeds are loaded with the mineral manganese, which is important for enzyme activation, metabolism, cellular protection, bone development, blood sugar regulation, and wound healing ().
Aside from manganese, fennel and its seeds contain other minerals vital to bone health, including potassium, magnesium, and calcium ().
Summary Fennel and fennel seeds provide important nutrients, such as vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and manganese.
Perhaps the most impressive benefits of fennel and fennel seeds come from the antioxidants and potent plant compounds that they contain.
Essential oil of the plant has been shown to contain more than 87 volatile compounds, including the polyphenol antioxidants rosmarinic acid, chlorogenic acid, quercetin, and apigenin ().
Polyphenol antioxidants are potent anti-inflammatory agents that have powerful effects on your health.
Studies demonstrate that people who follow diets rich in these antioxidants have a lower risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, obesity, cancer, neurological diseases, and type 2 diabetes ().
What’s more, over 28 compounds have been identified in fennel seeds, including anethole, fenchone, methyl chavicol, and limonene.
Animal and test-tube studies note that the organic compoundanethole has anticancer, antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties ().
Finally, the plant extract limonene helps combat free radicals and has been shown to protect cells from damage caused by certain chronic diseases, including cancer (, ).
Summary All parts of the fennel plant are rich in powerful antioxidants like chlorogenic acid, limonene, and quercetin — all of which may benefit health.
Fennel seeds may not only add depth and flavor to your recipes but also help curb appetite.
A study in 9 healthy women demonstrated that those who drank 8.5 ounces (250 ml) of tea made with 2 grams of fennel seeds before eating lunch felt significantly less hungry and consumed fewer calories during the meal than those who drank a placebo tea ().
Anethole, a major component of fennel essential oil, may be behind the appetite-suppressing qualities of the plant.
That said, another study in 47 women found that those who supplemented with 300 mg of fennel extract daily for 12 weeks gained a small amount of weight, compared to a placebo group. The also did not experience reduced appetite ().
Research in this area is conflicting and more studies are needed to fully understand the potential appetite-suppressing properties of fennel.
Summary Fennel seeds may be effective in reducing appetite, yet current study results are conflicting, and more research is needed.
Eating fennel and its seeds may benefit heart health in a number of ways, as they’re packed with fiber — a nutrient shown to reduce certain heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol.
A 1-cup (87-grams) serving of raw fennel bulb packs in 3 grams of fiber — 11% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI).
Diets high in fiber have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. A review of 22 studies associated a greater dietary fiber intake with a lower risk of heart disease. With every additional 7 grams per day of fiber, heart disease risk was reduced by 9% ().
Fennel and its seeds also contain nutrients like magnesium, potassium, and calcium, which play important roles in keeping your heart healthy ().
For example, including rich sources of potassium in your diet may help reduce high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease ().
Summary Fennel and its seeds are packed with fiber, potassium, magnesium, and calcium — all of which are essential to heart health.
The wide array of powerful plant compounds in fennel may help protect against chronic diseases, including certain cancers.
For example, anethole — one of the main active compounds in fennel seeds — has been found to have cancer-fighting properties.
One test-tube study showed that anethole effectively suppressed cell growth and induced apoptosis, which is programmed cellular death, in human breast cancer cells ().
Another test-tube study observed that fennel extract stopped the spread of human breast cancer cells and induced cancer cell death ().
Animal studies have also demonstrated that extract from the seeds may protect against breast and liver cancer ().
Although these results are promising, human studies are needed before fennel or its extract can be recommended as an alternative treatment for cancer.
Summary Test-tube and animal studies have shown that fennel may have anticancer properties. However, it’s uncertain whether the same effects would be seen in humans.
Fennel has been shown to have galactogenic properties, meaning it helps to increase milk secretion. Research suggests that specific substances found in anethole, such as dianethole and photoanethole, are responsible for the galactogenic effects of the plant ().
Small studies found an increase in parameters like milk volume, milk fat content, and infant weight gain with fennel treatment.
In one study, breastfeeding women were assigned to drink tea containing 7.5 grams of fennel seed powder and 3 grams of black tea, or 3 grams of black tea alone, three times daily for four weeks.
After four weeks, the infants whose mothers drank the fennel tea had greater increases in feeding frequency, number of wet diapers, frequency of defecation, weight gain, and a slightly greater increase in head circumference than the infants in the control group ().
Other studies have shown that fennel may increase milk secretion and serum prolactin concentrations. Prolactin is a hormone that signals the body to produce breast milk ()
However, other studies found no effect on milk secretion or infant weight gain. Negative side effects, such as poor weight gain and difficulty feeding, have also been reported in infants whose mothers drank lactation teas containing fennel (, , ).
For these reasons, breastfeeding women should consult their doctor before using fennel to stimulate milk production.
Summary Some studies suggest that fennel may increase milk secretion and weight gain in breastfeeding infants, yet other studies have shown no benefit.
Aside from the benefits mentioned above, fennel and its seeds may positively impact your health in the following ways:
- May have antibacterial properties. Studies show that fennel extract effectively inhibits the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, such as Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Candida albicans ().
- May reduce inflammation. The powerful antioxidants in fennel, such as vitamin C and quercetin, can help reduce inflammation and levels of inflammatory markers ().
- May benefit mental health. Animal studies have found that fennel extract may reduce aging-related memory deficits ().
- May relieve menopausal symptoms. A review of 10 studies noted that fennel may relieve hot flashes, vaginal itching, dryness, pain during sex, sexual function, sexual satisfaction, and sleep disturbance in menopausal women ().
It’s important to note that many of these studies used concentrated doses of the plant, and it’s unclear whether eating small amounts of fennel or its seeds would offer the same benefits.
Summary Fennel has antibacterial properties and may improve mental health, relieve menopausal symptoms, and reduce inflammation. Still, it’s unclear whether amounts commonly consumed of fennel or its seeds would offer the same effects.
Though fennel and its seeds are likely safe when eaten in moderation, there are some safety concerns over more concentrated sources of fennel, such as extracts and supplements.
For example, fennel has strong estrogenic properties, meaning that it acts similarly to the hormone estrogen. While this may be helpful for relieving menopausal symptoms, it may be unsafe for pregnant women.
Due to its estrogen-like activity, there is concern over the plant’s potential teratogenicity — the potential to disturb fetal growth and development.
A study that evaluated the teratogenicity of fennel essential oil showed that high doses may have toxic effects on fetal cells ().
Although eating fennel and its seeds is likely safe, pregnant women should avoid taking supplements or ingesting the essential oil of this plant.
Fennel may also interact with certain medications, including estrogen pills and certain cancer medications, so always consult your healthcare provider before taking high doses from, for example, supplements, essential oils, or extracts ().
Summary Although eating fennel and its seeds is likely safe, consuming higher doses in supplement form may react with certain medications and is unsafe for pregnant women.
Both the flavorful, crunchy bulb and the aromatic seeds of the fennel plant are highly nutritious and may offer an abundance of impressive health benefits.
Adding them to your diet may improve heart health, reduce inflammation, suppress appetite, and even provide anticancer effects.
In order to reap the benefits of fennel and its seeds, try incorporating raw fennel bulb into your salads or using the seeds to flavor soups, broths, baked goods, and fish dishes.