Fennel is a tall, graceful member of the Umbelliferae family and, although native to Mediterranean countries, grows freely throughout Europe. The plant is widely used in cookery, where its feathery leaves and celery-like stems impart a delicious flavor to many recipes. It tastes similar to aniseed. Fennel seed is an important ingredient in Indian cookery. (Fennel oil)
As with many of the herbs that are used in cookery, fennel has a beneficial, regulatory and balancing effect on the digestive system. It is anti-flatulent, antispasmodic and gently laxative. Fennel tea is a popular digestive aid and anti-colic treatment. The herb is also thought to stimulate lactation in breastfeeding mothers.
Fennel oil is extracted by steam distillation from the seeds of the plant. It is very strong in odor, and in color is clear with a slightly yellow tinge. It has bactericidal properties and is an ingredient in some toothpastes and mouthwashes, as it combats some of the bacteria that cause tooth decay.
Its antibacterial, laxative and carminative properties have made it popular with the pharmaceutical industry where it is used extensively. It is also an ingredient in some perfumed products.
Used in massage, particularly over the lower abdomen and back, fennel oil will soothe a nervous indigestion or irritated bowel. Flatulence and bloating can also be helped with gentle massage. Those who have problems with micturation often find that fennel helps to produce a steadier stream of urine. Its mild diuretic action can help with excessive fluid retention. Because of its strong odor, you may well find that fennel does not make a pleasing blend with other oils, but as its use tends to be more therapeutic than sensual, there is no need to blend fennel oil with other oils. Always dilute it well as it is strong and can irritate the skin – a 1 per cent dilution is quite sufficient.
Fennel can be used in vaporizers and because of its expectorant qualities is thought to help catarrhal coughs. Fennel has an effect similar to that of the hormone estrogen -this is why it is used to stimulate lactation and increase milk production – and it is not suitable for use during pregnancy.
Suitable methods of use
- Vaporizer/ diffuser.
Sweet fennel can cause sensitization and should be well diluted before use. Warning: Sweet fennel can be narcotic if used in quantity. Do not use during pregnancy. Not to be used on people suffering from epilepsy. Bitter fennel (Foeniculum vulgare van amara) should be avoided. It is stronger and more likely to cause sensitization.