Fennel seeds are a large, easy to grow vegetable which makes it an ideal crop to start in an area not suitable for growing vegetables. Fennel is Mediterranean flowering plant species with yellow-green flowers and feathery green leaves. It's originally native to the coasts of the Mediterranean but is now become naturalized in a number of places, particularly on coastal soils near the ocean-coast and along riverbanks. Fennel has a lemony flavor which is good when mixed with tomato juice.
Fennel has a reputation as being good for the liver. This is based on a folkloreological explanation that foeniculum is a flower of a bird native to the Canary Islands (and known as "fauno") which is said to help liver disorders. The foeniculum flower is also associated with cures for nausea, indigestion, dyspepsia (a digestive problem) and liver troubles. Some folklorists believe that fenugreek, a common stomachburn remedy, can act as a liver stimulant. If this is true then it would explain why fennel seeds are often used in a digestive-aid for those suffering from a gastric-juice deficiency (which could account for the use of fenugreek in folk remedies). However, the evidence relating fenugreek to fennel seeds is rather unclear.
When you buy Fennel seeds or fennel tea first look for some indication of colour: purple, red or yellow. Look also for aroma: fresh, earthy or spicy. If you are cooking with the seeds be careful to use only freshly ground seed and never dried, boiled or smoked. Fennel seeds are very aromatic and their volatile oils can produce strong, unpleasant odours.
When buying Fennel seeds or Fennel tea remember that many herbalists advise diluting the herb by boiling the seeds in water rather than using a teaspoon of the herb. The reason for this is that the herb can alter its characteristic properties when mixed with water or milk. Many people believe that adding just a touch of Fennel seed oil to soups or stews will improve their taste: this may be true but it is not true for all foods. Many foods will do better without Fennel seeds.
If you are trying to relieve digestive problems to look for an alternative solution such as an appetite suppressant (such as hoodia gordonii) or a natural cure for indigestion, heartburn or acid reflux. Fennel seeds may help relieve occasional flatulence. It has no proven benefit for chronic constipation.
If you have occasional flatulence, or if you are suffering from occasional heartburn, colic or other digestive conditions then fennel seeds may help relieve these conditions. However, if you are suffering from chronic abdominal bloating, diarrhea or excessive gas then fennel seeds should be avoided. The reason for this is that they act as a strong diuretic and this can cause dehydration. This can result in further intestinal damage, which can eventually lead to perforation of the intestines. Fennel also acts as a stimulant and this can cause stimulation of the peristaltic muscles.
An interesting side effect of consuming Fennel seeds is that they are an anti-inflammatory. Fennel has traditionally been used to treat skin conditions such as eczema and acne. Some experts believe that it may also be useful as a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Some essential oils are reported to have anti-inflammatory properties, including tea tree oil. There are no trials concerning this, so it is best to read up on the subject before using any of these products.
When buying Fennel seeds or Fennel tea look for loose-crusted and containerized seed packs. The tea leaves will have a strong earthy flavor that some find unpleasant. For this reason, many people choose to use Fennel in capsule form. If you prefer capsules over tea or juice, then Fennel tea is likely to be more pleasant. The seeds are very strong and this may mean that you need to chew them prior to ingesting them, but the flavor of this herb is often enhanced when it is brewed into a cup of tea.