I have written before about anise and fennel is like it’s better known cousin. Fennel is used more for culinary purposes than medical but just like anise, it has a lot of uses. Some are similar to anise, and some are not. One big similarity is the smell and taste, this is another one of those licorice-y plants.
In historical texts there is a bit of confusion between fennel and anise, and that can cause a modern mix up when researching benefits for either. The do have some similarities in how they help but for pain the really the big difference you need to remember if you are taking this for pain – is anise is for numbing and fennel is for spasms.
Fennel was used and grown by historical cultures, Romans grew and ate it. Pliny wrote about it and had multiple uses, and believed serpents ate it before shedding. Most traditional uses are for stomach complaints, or for other culinary uses. Romans ate the young shoots, and it was frequent in French and Anglo-Saxon cooking prior to the Norman conquest. Otherwise, it is usually added to foods for the same stomach calming effects, like if you are eating cabbage, or other “hard to digest” foods like anise assists with.
Fennel though is great for spasms, the oil is great to use for those painful spasms that just won’t release. For me a massage of fennel oil into a tight muscle helps alleviate some of the pain and helps it to let go. It is also great to rub into muscles that feel tight after intense stretching or working out. I do like to rub the oil direct into muscles but you can make a massage mix for sore muscles with other oils for added muscle relaxing goodness.
Sore Muscle Massage Oil
- 1 oz Carrier oil – any good quality oil will do, just make sure it is as pure as possible.
- 20-30 drops Fennel oil
This is just for a straight fennel oil, which is warming, so it can be too much for delicate skin. So you may need to increase or decrease from 20 to 50 as you find works for you, but you can add in other oils in the below lists to add any of their properties.
The amounts below are in parts, you should not go above 50 drops per 1 oz of oil, so use this measurement to determine the amount of drops for each part to go in your ounce of oil. This should make it easier to increase these recipes to make larger batches, and easy to calculate if you chose to only use one oil or multiple oils depending on your needs. Make your own blend that works best for you, get creative!
- 1 part Lavender oil
- 1 part Roman Chamomile
- 1 part Nutmeg
- 1 part Wintergreen
- 1 part Eucalyptus
- 1 part Tarragon
- 1 part Frankincense
- 1 part Clove
- 1 part Arnica
Remember some of these oils are warming as well and you will need to test and find out how sensitive you are, and a few of these oils we will be covering in later posts.
As I said previously, fennel is also great for easing stomach complaints and you can make a tea from fennel seeds to ease stomach cramping and pain.
Fennel Seed Tea
- 2 teaspoons Fennel seeds, slightly crushed
- 8 oz Boiling water
- optional: add a teaspoon of coriander seeds, chamomile, or peppermint to increase relief
Steep for 5 to 10 minutes and drink, should ease pain fairly quickly and is a great remedy for holiday over indulgence as that time of year is fast creeping up on us.
You can also include fennel in your food preparations to help with digestion, extra boost of pain relief, and even lactose intolerance. I like to include fennel seeds on pizza when I make them to help deal with my lactose intolerance, and it helps to reduce the pain and cramping that comes with eating dairy. You can also include it with things like the previously mentioned cabbage to decrease the “wind” that most cabbage causes. Another way is eating the fennel bulb, it does contain the same oil but you do need to consume more. It tastes so good though that is not much of a chore, as long as you don’t hate licorice, and I love this recipe I got from Williams-Sonoma, Braised Fennel with Olive Oil and Garlic and since it has garlic, it is a great meal to help take the edge off pain.
- 4 fennel bulbs, about 2 lb. total
- 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tsp. ground fennel seeds
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 2 cups water
- 1 lemon peel strip, about 2 inches long
- 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
- Lemon wedges for garnish
Cut off the stalks and feathery fronds from the fennel bulbs. Reserve the stalks for another use. Chop enough of the feathery fronds to measure 1 Tbs. and reserve some of the remaining fronds for garnish. Set aside. Remove any damaged outer leaves from the bulbs and discard. Cut each bulb into quarters lengthwise and trim away the tough inner core.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute; do not brown. Add the fennel quarters and the fennel seeds. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel begins to soften, about 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the water and lemon peel, cover and cook until the fennel is tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fennel to a serving platter and keep warm. Increase the heat to high and cook until only 3/4 cup liquid remains, about 5 minutes. Discard the lemon peel. Add the lemon juice, then taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.
Drizzle the sauce over the fennel and garnish with lemon wedges. Sprinkle with the chopped fennel tops and garnish with the whole fennel fronds. Serve immediately. Serves 6.Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Seasonal Celebration Series, Autumn, by Joanne Weir (Time-Life Books, 1997).