Fennel, scientific name Feoniculum vulgare, is an aromatic plant of the Apiaceae family. There are two variants of fennel, the first, of which we will speak in the post, is wild fennel, a spontaneous variety, while the second is the sweet or cultivated fennel.
Compared to sweet fennel, the wild one shows a stronger antioxidant activity thanks to a higher quantity of phenolic and flavonoid compounds (Faudale et al, J Agric Food Chem, 2008). The main active ingredient of wild fennel is anethole, characterized by antibacterial, carminative, antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, thus being useful in case of digestive problems, airway diseases but also to fight skin aging processes (Zhang et al, Mol Med Rep, 2018 - Sharopov et al, Foods, 2017).
Fennel, uses in cooking and as a herbal medicine
Fennel seeds are added to culinary preparations to flavor fish dishes, meat dishes or even pasta. In adition to this, the seeds are an ingredient to prepare herbal teas with a purifying and digestive action, which can then be used to treat stomach pain, colic, heartburn and intestinal bloating. Given the antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory action, a fennel herbal tea also helps with coughs and airway diseases. Here's how to prepare the fennel seed tea. Bring a cup of water to a boil, remove from heat and add a teaspoon of wild fennel seeds, leave to brew for 10 minutes, filter and drink after meals.
Fennel as a beauty product
Also thanks to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action, fennel seeds are also useful to create beauty cosmetics such as, for example, exfoliating and illuminating scrubs in case of delicate, sensitive, but also mature and dull skin. Coarsely mince a handful of fennel seeds, add them to a tablespoon of jojoba oil and use on the face as a scrub. Then rinse thoroughly, spray a floral water and apply your face cream.
Wild fennel, warnings and risks
A few years ago there was a great stir after the conclusion that wild fennel, like sweet fennel, could be carcinogenic since it contains estragole, a substance that, in high doses and in vitro, has proved to cause cell degeneration. However, later studies (Gori et al., Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012) have better analyzed the action of fennel and have come to the conclusion that fennel is absolutely safe since estragole is in small quantity and in addition it is inserted in a matrix of other substances with a powerful antitumor action such as epigallocatechins, anethole and flavonoids, which therefore cancel the action of estragole. In fact, the first work had only studied the action of estragole isolated from the context and without considering the synergy with the other substances. Another potentially risky compound is given by the furocumarine, contained in fennel and considered phototoxic. This means that, if activated by sunlight, these substances can cause skin reactions such as redness, irritation and tumors in the long run. However, studies (Kerekes et al, Moelcules, 2019) have confirmed that the quantity of furocumarine in fennel is very low and that for adults the use of fennel is absolutely safe, without exceeding the doses, the threshold is set at 7,5 grams per day of fennel seeds which clearly are a quantity that cannot be reached with food. No problem for scrubs as they are rinse off products.