The Fantastic Flavor of Fennel Oil
I thought it may be time for a little break from exploring the emotionally-charged and controversial topic of healthism. Today the focus is on a subject we can all agree on, the power of plants, specifically the transformational effects of the essential oil of a well-known herb, fennel.
Every few months, I like to alternate and find new essential oils as flavorings for my favorite dishes. I’ve found that fennel vitality oil’s sweet taste perfectly contrasts my daily plate of steamed bitter greens. For this reason, it’s become a mainstay in my kitchen cabinet.
The use of fennel oil for flavoring is just a small sample of its many applications. Below is an overview of some of the numerous articles I’ve been exploring about its versatile actions.
An Overview of Fabulous Fennel Oil
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a biennial plant with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. This medicinal and aromatic herb belongs to the Apiaceae (Umbelliferaceae) family, which is also known as the celery, carrot, or parsley family. Its origins are from the Mediterranean, but it is widely cultivated worldwide. (1, 2, 3, 4)
The composition of pharmacological grade fennel oil is standardized in the European Pharmacopoeia to not less than: 60% anethole, 15% fenchone and a maximum of 5% estragole with the seed containing not less than 4% of the total volatile oils. The official fennel oil is Foeniculum vulgare (bitter fennel) versus Foeniculum dulce (sweet fennel). Anethole is responsible for sweet taste; whereas fenchone, is bitter.
The Soothing Smell of Fennel for the Digestive and Respiratory System
Fennel oil is known for promoting digestive and respiratory comfort and to soothe spasms. According to the Expanded German E Commission by the American Botanical Council, this essential oil has a wide array of applications for all ages:
The Commission E approved the internal use of fennel oil preparations for peptic discomforts, such as mild, spastic disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, feeling of fullness, and flatulence; and also for catarrhs of the upper respiratory tract. Fennel honey was recommended for catarrhs of the upper respiratory tract in children. ESCOP approves the use of fennel syrup or fennel honey for catarrh of the upper respiratory tract in children (ESCOP, 1997).
In Germany, fennel seed is licensed as a standard medicinal tea for dyspepsia. It is also used in cough syrups and honeys (antitussives and expectorants), and stomach and bowel remedies, especially in pediatrics, as aqueous infusion, water (Aqua Foeniculi), drage (lozenge), juice, and syrup. It is often used in combination with aniseed (Leung and Foster, 1996; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994). In the United States, it is also used as a component of galactagogue preparations. Indications for use of fennel oil are similar to those for fennel seed. In Germany and the United States, fennel oil is used as an expectorant component of cough remedies, and also as a carminative component of stomach and bowel remedies in dosage forms including honey and syrup. Traditionally, it is combined with laxative or purgative herbs to counteract or modify their harsh griping effects in the bowels (ESCOP, 1997; Leung and Foster, 1996; Nadkarni, 1976; Wichtl and Bisset, 1994). The Commission E limits the use of fennel seed and fennel oil for up to two weeks and then recommends consulting a physician.
In a study with 125 infants, the authors concluded, “that fennel seed oil emulsion is superior to placebo in decreasing intensity of infantile colic.” (Please see my articles on the safe use of essential oils for infants and children here.)
The Flavor of Antioxidant and Microbe Inhibiting Power
A review article in the Arabian Journal of Chemistry discussed the health supporting properties of the herb of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) for the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, liver, circulatory system, and to ward off unwanted microbes. The authors also highlighted the essential oil’s antioxidant effects and its role for internal use as a flavoring (or “flavouring” if you’re European). The abstract summarizes the reviews’ findings are follows (bold emphasis mine):
Foeniculum vulgare (Apiaceae) commonly known as fennel is a well known and important medicinal and aromatic plant widely used as carminative, digestive, lactogogue and diuretic and in treating respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders. Its seeds are used as flavourings in baked goods, meat and fish dishes, ice cream, alcoholic beverages and herb mixtures. Phenols, phenolic glycosides and volatile aroma compounds such as trans-anethole, estragole and fenchone have been reported as the major phytoconstituents of this species. Different pharmacological experiments in a number of in vitro and in vivo models have convincingly demonstrated the ability of F. vulgare to exhibit antifungal, antibacterial, antioxidant, antithrombotic and hepatoprotective activities, lending support to the rationale behind several of its therapeutic uses. Phenolic compounds isolated from F. vulgare are considered to be responsible for its antioxidant activity while the volatile aroma compounds make it an excellent flavouring agent. The present review is an up-to-date and comprehensive analysis of the chemistry, pharmacology, traditional uses and safety of F. vulgare.
Ingesting Essential Oils- Safety Considerations
It’s important to remember that essential oils have been used for years as flavorings and have a history of ingestion for healing purposes. If you are using essential oils for any application, especially internally, the quality of the oil, experience, and your current knowledge are important qualifiers for safety and the determination of the best type of application for you.
Later this week, I will go into more detail on ingesting essential oils and a balanced view on the safety considerations that are often exaggerated and unfounded by media.
More About Fennel Oil
Fennel oil is more than a digestive and respiratory system enhancer, antioxidant, and microbe inhibitor. Learn more about the versatility of fennel oil including its role as a liver protector, hormonal balancer, and a holistic healing tool. Click here for part 2 on my Healing, Health, and Wellness blog.
Expanded German E Commission (ABC). Fennel Oil: http://cms.herbalgram.org/expandedE/Fenneloil.html
Foeniculum vulgare: A comprehensive review of its traditional use, phytochemistry, pharmacology, and safety. Arabian Journal of Chemistry. November 2016. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1878535212000792
Fennel. Natural Standard Database. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=311
Fennel Oil. Examine. https://examine.com/supplements/fennel-essential-oil/#summary1-1
Alexandrovich I, Rakovitskaya O, Kolmo E, Sidorova T, Shushunov S. The effect of fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare) seed oil emulsion in infantile colic: a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Jul-Aug;9(4):58-61.
Badgujar SB, Patel VV, Bandivdekar AH. Foeniculum vulgare Mill: A Review of Its Botany, Phytochemistry, Pharmacology, Contemporary Application, and Toxicology. BioMed Research International. 2014;2014:842674. doi:10.1155/2014/842674.
Protective effects of fennel oil extract against sodium valproate-induced hepatorenal damage in albino rats. Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences. May 2017. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319562X16301450
The effect of fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare) seed oil emulsion in infantile colic: a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Altern Ther Health Med. 2003 Jul-Aug;9(4):58-61.
Foeniculum vulgare Mill: A Review of Its Botany, Phytochemistry, Pharmacology, Contemporary Application, and Toxicology. BioMed Research International. 2014;2014:842674. doi:10.1155/2014/842674.
In vitro antifungal activity and mechanism of essential oil from fennel (Foeniculum vulgare L.) on dermatophyte species. J Med Microbiol. 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25351709
Anethole suppressed cell survival and induced apoptosis in human breast cancer cells independent of estrogen receptor status. Phytomedicine. June 2012. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phymed.2012.02.017
Evaluation of anxiolytic activity of the essential oil of the aerial part of Foeniculum vulgare Miller in mice. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4156641/
Pharmacological Overview of Galactogogues. Veterinary Medicine International. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/vmi/2014/602894/
The effect of fennel essential oil on uterine contraction as a model for dysmenorrhea, pharmacology and toxicology study. J Ethnopharmacol. 2001. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11448553
Safe Ingestion References
FDA. Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. Part 182- Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=182.20
Disclaimer: This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)