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Fennel

Fennel

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a tall perennial herb native to the Mediterranean. It has a sweet licorice taste, and is widely used in Mediterranean cuisine. The leaves, bulb and stalk of fennel are edible (it looks like white celery); its seeds are used as both a spice in cooking and to make herbal medicines.

Fennel has been used to treat digestive ailments since the time of the ancient Egyptians. Recent studies support the traditional use of fennel as a digestive aid. It has been shown to relieve intestinal spasms and cramping in the smooth muscle lining of the digestive tract, which helps relieve uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. Commission E, an expert panel in Germany that evaluates the safety and effectiveness of herbs, endorses fennel for the treatment of digestive upsets including indigestion, wind pain, irritable bowel syndrome and infant colic.

The antispasmodic effect of fennel may help to relax other smooth muscles in the body, including the uterus. One study showed that fennel acts as a phytoestrogen in the body, simulating the effects of oestrogen in the system. It has traditionally been used to stimulate menstruation and milk production in nursing mothers and one study suggests that the herb does indeed have a mild oestrogenic effect. Perhaps this is why the herb has also traditionally been used to treat conditions associated hormonal imbalance in women, including premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause, low milk production and low libido.

Today, fennel is an active ingredient in many combination herbal formulas used to balance hormones in menopausal and premenstrual women. It is also included in some herbal formulas that claim to promote natural breast enhancement.

Fennel has also been used as a decongestant, and is said to help loosen phlegm in the bronchial passages. People suffering from bronchitis or unproductive coughs may want to try to ease their symptoms by drinking hot fennel tea. You can make your own by crushing 1 to 2 teaspoons of mashed fennel seeds (you can get them in the spice section of the grocery store) into a cup of hot water. Or, go to the health food shop and get some fennel seed extract - half a teaspoon of this in a cup of hot water may do the trick.

Fennel has a reputation as an appetite suppressant and promoter of weight-loss. Some studies have shown that fennel does indeed have some diuretic effect and may help reduce water retention.

Fennel is available in capsules, tinctures, and liquid seed extract. The usual dosage is 1 teaspoon of tincture three times a day or teaspoon of liquid seed extract daily. You can easily grow your own fennel, but be sure to keep it away from your tomatoes or caraway - these plants won't bear much (if any) fruit if they are grown too closely together. Isolated cases of allergic and asthmatic reactions to fennel have been reported.

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