Fennel, an aromatic plant native to Europe and Asia, is in the same plant family as carrots. The uses for this yellow, flowering plant range from flavoring food to repelling insects, specifically fleas. The herb may help promote lactation for breast-feeding women and may help ease digestive discomfort. While the stalk of the fennel plant is traditionally eaten as a vegetable, the seeds are crushed and used for medicinal purposes. People often make a tea or chew the seeds to help relieve gastrointestinal distress such as flatulence and infantile colic.
Fennel seeds may decrease the painful effects of abdominal gas, bloating, cramping and acid indigestion, according to Drugs.com. Fennel seeds may help soothe the irritated smooth muscle of the intestines and also expel excessive amounts of gas from the gastrointestinal tract, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The seeds also serve as a laxative and can help treat and prevent bouts of constipation.
Babies suffering from infantile colic may cry for several hours a day on at least three days a week but are otherwise healthy. Symptoms of infantile colic include frequently spitting up after eating and signs of gas pain, such as pulling legs close to the body and crying. Easing gastric distress may help a baby suffering from colic. Products containing fennel seeds, such as gripe water, may help relieve the painful symptoms, according to a study published in the "Archives of Disease in Childhood" in 2008. Making a tea from fennel seeds and administering 1 teaspoon before and after eating could help relax the gastrointestinal tract and relieve gas for the baby, according the University of Maryland Medical Center. Breast-feeding mothers can also make a tea from fennel seeds and pass along the benefits to their babies.
To make a soothing tea, boil 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds in 1 cup of water for five to 10 minutes. Strain the seeds and allow the tea to cool before drinking it. The seeds have a taste compared to anise or black licorice. A common practice in India is to chew fennel seeds to help aid in digestion following a meal. Younger, greener seeds from the fennel plant are better options for chewing, while older, yellow seeds are best for cooking.
Fennel seeds are herbs and are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. No research exists confirming the effectiveness of using fennel to treat digestive problems. Using fennel seeds may cause side effects or alter the effectiveness of medications. Possible side effects include hallucinations, nausea, skin rashes and sun poisoning; people suffering from epilepsy may be at a greater risk of seizures when using fennel, according to Drugs.com. Consult a health care professional before using any herbal supplements to treat a medical condition.
Abigail Adams began her freelance writing career in 2009, teaching others about medical conditions and promoting wellness by writing on online health and fitness publications. She is educated and licensed as a registered nurse, having received her degree from North Georgia College and State University.