Fennel, a hardy perennial native to the Mediterranean, produces delicate clusters of yellow flowers. Fennel tea, made from the flowers and seeds, has a licorice-like flavor and is used for a variety of purported health benefits, some of which have been substantiated in scientific studies. Consult your doctor or qualified health professional before using fennel to treat a health condition.
Fennel tea helps calm the digestive tract and may help relieve gas and alleviate symptoms of colic in babies. Breastfeeding mothers can pass the beneficial components of fennel to their babies through their breast milk by drinking three to six cups of fennel tea throughout the day. Fennel also increases the flow of breast milk. Alternatively, you can give one teaspoon of cooled fennel tea directly to your baby before and after feedings. Always consult your pediatrician before giving fennel or other herbs to an infant.
Its muscle-relaxing benefits make fennel useful for calming coughs and helping heal chronic bronchitis, according to George Mason University Academic Research System. Antioxidants in fennel may be partly responsible for these benefits, according to a study published in the October 2009 issue of the journal "Food and Chemical Toxicology." The test tube study found high concentrations of phenolic compounds, vitamin C and vitamin E in the young shoots of the plant. These antioxidants work by quenching free radicals that result from oxidative stress induced by the respiratory conditions. Common dosage is 1 to 3 cups per day of tea made by infusing 1 to 2 teaspoons of crushed fennel seeds per cup of boiling water, or 1 to 2 milliliters of tincture, which can be dropped into hot water and drunk as a tea.
Essential oils in fennel seed tea may offer natural antibiotic benefits against the bacteria that cause toxic shock syndrome, according to a study published in the April 2012 issue of the "World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology." In the test tube study, fennel essential oil inhibited growth of Staphylococcus aureus and, at low doses, may also neutralize bacterial toxins. Further studies are needed to confirm these preliminary results, however.
Fennel tea may result in neurological side effects, such as hallucinations and seizures, when used in high doses. Increased sensitivity to sunlight is also a potential side effect associated with fennel. A study published in the September 2011 issue of the journal "Epileptic Disorders" reported a case of seizure in a patient with medication-controlled epilepsy after eating cakes made with fennel essential oil. Researchers recommended proper labelling of products containing fennel oil.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Infantile Colic
- Food and Chemical Toxicology: Systematic Evaluation of the Antioxidant Potential of Different Parts of Foeniculumvulgare Mill. from Portugal
- World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology: Chemical Composition of Fennel Essential Oil and Its Impact on Staphylococcus Aureus Exotoxin Production
- Epileptic Disorders: Epileptic Seizure Induced by Fennel Essential Oil
Tracey Roizman, DC is a writer and speaker on natural and preventive health care and a practicing chiropractor. She also holds a B.S. in nutritional biochemistry.