Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Botany, Geographical Distribution, and Horticultural Information of Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)


Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a flowering plant species in the carrot family. It is a hardy, perennial herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. The plant is characterized by its hollow, erect, and glaucous green stem, which can grow up to 2.5 meters (8 feet) tall. The leaves of fennel are finely dissected, with the ultimate segments being filiform (threadlike), about 0.5 millimeters wide. Fennel’s flowers are produced in terminal compound umbels, each with 20-50 tiny yellow flowers. The fruit of the fennel plant is a dry schizocarp, typically 4–10 mm long.

Geographical Distribution:

Fennel is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean but has become widely naturalized in many parts of the world, especially on dry soils near the sea-coast and on riverbanks. It has adapted to various climates and is now found globally, including in northern Europe, the United States, southern Canada, and much of Asia and Australia.

Horticultural Information:

Fennel is widely cultivated for its edible, strongly flavored leaves and fruits. It is known for its aniseed or liquorice flavor, which comes from anethole, an aromatic compound also found in anise and star anise. Florence fennel, a cultivar group of Foeniculum vulgare, is known for its swollen, bulb-like stem base used as a vegetable. This cultivar is smaller than the wild type and has a mild anise-like flavor, sweeter and more aromatic.

Fennel thrives in well-drained, fertile soil and prefers a sunny location. It can be grown from seeds, and once established, it can become quite hardy. The plant is also known for its ability to attract beneficial insects to the garden.

Fennel has become naturalized in various regions and is considered an invasive species in some areas, such as Australia and the United States, where it can alter the composition and structure of plant communities.


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4. Şükrü Erden Ergene, G. Aydin. “Calculation of biodiversity parameters of epigean Hexapoda species in different anise (Pimpinella anisum L.) and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Mill.) agro-ecosystems in Burdur Province” – https://dx.doi.org/10.46309/biodicon.2022.1198394


History, Traditional Herbal & Culinary Uses of Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)


Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) has a rich history that dates back to ancient times. It is indigenous to the Mediterranean region but has been naturalized and cultivated worldwide. The plant was well-known to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Chinese. Hippocrates and Dioscorides, prominent figures in ancient medicine, described fennel as a diuretic and emmenagogue and believed it could strengthen eyesight. The Greeks and Romans also used it as medicine, food, and insect repellent. Fennel tea was thought to give courage to warriors before battle, and according to Greek mythology, Prometheus used a giant stalk of fennel to carry fire from Mount Olympus to Earth. Emperor Charlemagne required the cultivation of fennel on all imperial farms.

Traditional Herbal Uses:

Traditionally, fennel has been used in various cultures for its medicinal properties. It has been used to treat digestive, endocrine, reproductive, and respiratory system ailments. Fennel is also known as a galactagogue agent for lactating mothers. The fruits and aerial parts of fennel have been used in traditional folk medicines for their carminative, stomachic, diuretic, emmenagogue, and galactagogue properties. They are reputed to promote menstruation and facilitate

birth. Pharmacologically, fennel has shown antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, diuretic, antihypertensive, antimicrobial, gastroprotective, estrogenic, hepatoprotective, and antithrombotic activities.

Culinary Uses:

Fennel is a highly flavorful herb used in cooking and is one of the primary ingredients of absinthe, an alcoholic mixture that originated as a medicinal elixir in Europe. The dried fruits, commonly referred to as seeds, are aromatic and used in various culinary traditions worldwide. Fennel seeds are a common spice in flavored Scandinavian brännvin, a group of distilled spirits that include akvavit. In many parts of India, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, fennel fruits are used in cooking. Fennel seeds are essential in Kashmiri cuisine and Gujarati cooking. They are used in sweet and savory dishes, as a spice in the Assamese/Bengali/Oriya spice mixture panch phoron, and in Chinese five-spice powders. Fennel leaves are also used as leafy green vegetables in some parts of India and in egg, fish, and other dishes in various cuisines.

Fennel has been used as a flavoring in some natural toothpastes, and its fruits are used in cookery and sweet desserts. The bulb, foliage, and fruits of the fennel plant are used in many of the culinary traditions of the world. The bulb is a crisp vegetable that can be sautéed, stewed, braised, grilled, or eaten raw. Fennel fruits are sometimes confused with those of anise, though they are smaller and have a slightly different flavor profile.


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5. Fatemeh Rafieian, et al. “Exploring fennel (Foeniculum vulgare): Composition, functional properties, potential health benefits, and safety.” – https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2023.2176817


Scientific and Medicinal Studies on Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Overview of Scientific Research:

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is extensively cultivated and valued for its significant commercial and pharmaceutical industry uses. It is one of the world’s most important medicinal plants and one of the oldest spice plants. Scientific studies have focused on its pharmacological qualities, including antibacterial, antidiabetic, anticancer, antihyperlipidemic, antioxidant, and other activities.

Phytochemical Composition and Health Benefits:

Fennel contains various phytoconstituents such as volatile compounds, flavonoids, phenolic compounds, fatty acids, and amino acids. These compounds are utilized as remedies for many illnesses. Phenolic chemicals in fennel are particularly beneficial to human health. Bioactive substances identified from fennel include trans-anethole, estragole, fenchone, and quercetin. These chemicals have been linked to potential benefits for human body systems.

Pharmacological Properties:

Fennel has demonstrated efficacy in several in vitro and in vivo pharmacological studies. Its properties include antimicrobial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, antinociceptive, antipyretic, antispasmodic, antithrombotic, apoptotic, cardiovascular, chemomodulatory, antitumor, hepatoprotective, hypoglycemic, hypolipidemic, and memory-enhancing effects. These findings support the traditional uses of fennel and indicate its potential as a source for the development of new drugs and future clinical applications.

Clinical Applications:

Fennel has shown effectiveness in treating various conditions such as infantile colic, dysmenorrhea, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and in enhancing milk production. Its broad range of pharmacological activities makes it a valuable herb in traditional and modern medicine.


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4. O. M. Filipiuk, L. I. Vishnevskaya. “Study of some pharmacotechnological, physico-chemical and pharmacognostic properties of common fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) fruit” – https://dx.doi.org/10.32352/0367-3057.4.22.09


Specific List of Phytochemicals in Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), a common Mediterranean plant, is widely used as a medicinal and aromatic herb. It contains a variety of individual phytochemicals, contributing to its diverse pharmacological properties. The following is a list of specific molecular compounds identified in fennel:

1. Trans-anethole: A major component in fennel, contributing to its characteristic aroma and flavor.

2. Estragole: Also known as methyl chavicol, found in significant amounts in fennel.

3. Fenchone: A phytochemical contributing to the aromatic profile of fennel.

4. Quercetin: A flavonoid present in fennel, known for its antioxidant properties.

5. Rosmarinic Acid: A phenolic compound found in fennel with various health benefits.

6. Luteolin: A flavonoid detected in fennel, contributing to its health-promoting properties.

7. Limonene: A volatile compound present in fennel, contributing to its aroma.

8. Petroselinic Acid: A fatty acid identified in fennel.

9. Myristic Acid: Another fatty acid present in fennel.

These individual phytochemicals contribute to fennel’s antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and other medicinal properties, making it a valuable herb in both culinary and medicinal applications.


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2. Elaheh Sadat Hosseini, et al. “Genetic variability for phytochemical components in Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Mill.) genotypes” – https://dx.doi.org/10.1002/csc2.20619
3. G. Yaldiz, M. Çamlıca. “Variation in the fruit phytochemical and mineral composition, and phenolic content and antioxidant activity of the fruit extracts of different fennel (Foeniculum vulgare L.) genotypes” – https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.indcrop.2019.111852
4. F. Ferioli, et al. “Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Mill. subsp. piperitum) florets, a traditional culinary spice in Italy: evaluation of phenolics and volatiles in local populations, and comparison with the composition of other plant parts.” – https://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jsfa.8426


Contraindications and Safety of Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)


Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), a member of the Apiaceae family, is a perennial herb known for its aromatic properties and medicinal uses. While fennel is widely used in traditional medicine and culinary practices, understanding its safety profile and potential contraindications is essential for its responsible use.

Safety Profile:

Fennel is generally considered safe when used in typical culinary amounts. However, its seeds and essential oil, especially when used in concentrated forms, should be approached with caution. Fennel seeds and essential oil are widely used as flavoring agents in food products and as ingredients in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products. Fennel infusions are traditionally used for nursing babies to prevent flatulence and colic spasms. In Europe and Mediterranean areas, fennel is used for its antispasmodic, diuretic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and other medicinal properties.


1. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Due to limited safety data, high doses of fennel or its essential oil should be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

2. Allergic Reactions: Individuals with known allergies to fennel or other members of the Apiaceae family should exercise caution.

3. Medication Interactions: Fennel may interact with certain medications, including anticoagulants and drugs metabolized by the liver. Consultation with a healthcare provider is advised before using fennel in medicinal doses if on medication.

4. Estragole Content: Fennel contains estragole, a compound that has raised concerns due to its potential carcinogenicity. However, recent research suggests that the risk is mitigated when estragole is consumed as part of a matrix of substances, such as in a decoction.

5. Infant Use: While traditionally used for infantile colic, caution is advised due to the presence of estragole and the lack of comprehensive safety data for infants.


Fennel is a beneficial herb with a good safety profile for culinary use. However, caution is advised when using concentrated forms like essential oils, especially in vulnerable populations. Awareness of potential interactions and contraindications is crucial for the safe use of fennel in herbal practices.


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3. “Protocol for the Scientific Opinion on the evaluation of the safety in use of preparations from the fruits of sweet and bitter fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Mill. and Foeniculum piperitum (Ucria) C.Presl)” – https://dx.doi.org/10.2903/sp.efsa.2023.en-8245
4. L. Gori, et al. “Can Estragole in Fennel Seed Decoctions Really Be Considered a Danger for Human Health? A Fennel Safety Update” – https://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2012/860542