FENNEL SEED Herb/EO/Hydrosol Profile

Synopsis: Fennel is an herb that is used in many ways, root in the kitchen, seed in the herbal formulary, pollen to make flavorful seasonings.


By Jeanne Rose ~ November 2017


Common Name/Latin Binomial ~ Fennel seed oil (Foeniculum vulgare) of the Family Apiaceae. A Mediterranean plant that is cultivated worldwide for food and medicine. It is mainly the oil of sweet Fennel seed or Roman Fennel seed that is steam-distilled while Guenther mentions an oil of Bitter Fennel seed that is cultivated and distilled in Romania and Russia but in other countries as well.

Countries of Origins ~ It is indigenous to the shores of the Mediterranean but has become naturalized world-wide.


Eden Botanicals Harvest Location ~ wild grown or cultivated in Egypt.


General description of Plant habitat and growth ~ A biennial or perennial herb up to six feet tall. Very pretty when given water, it has feathery leaves and a flower head that produces yellow pollen that has much use in culinary world. There are two varieties — Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare Azoricum Group; syn. F. vulgare var. azoricum) also called finocchio and is a cultivar group with inflated leaf bases which form a bulb-like structure that is a delicious edible and the other a highly aromatic and flavorful herb used both culinary and medicinally. Oil of Fennel is considered to be one of the most important all-around flavoring agents.


Portion of plant used in distillation, how distilled, extraction methods and yields ~ 800 pounds of seed can be produced per acre, dried and then is crushed or comminuted and then steam-distilled immediately for the essential oil.
Yield is 2 ½ to 5% depending on the quality of the seed.

Endangered or Not ~ Not at this time. Fennel is used as a food plant by the larvae of some butterfly species swallowtail and in North America it may be used by the anise swallowtail.


SUSTAINABILITY ~ Essential oils are just not sustainable for the environment in the amounts that we are now using. In my own lifetime, I have seen many oils be overused and then go out of use as they were not being replanted. Be selective in your usage of the plants essential oil. Be moderate. Often, the herbal use is preferred over the essential use.


Organoleptic Characteristics ~
Color –
colorless to pale, pale yellow
Clarity – clear
Viscosity – non-viscous
Intensity of odor – 4-5, depending on where harvested [the scale is 1-10]

Odor Description/ Aroma Assessment ~ The oil is pale, clear, gold colored and with sweet, honey and herbal licorice notes.

The sweet Fennel from Eden Botanicals is described as “very sweet-scented, anise/licorice-like, herbaceous and slightly camphoraceous and somewhat citrus back note, with earthy, peppery undertones; more intense and sharp than their organically grown Sweet Fennel –which is described the same but not as sharp as the conventional Sweet Fennel”.



Properties and Uses ~ The herb or seed tea is a mild carminative and the essential oil is a popular extract (diluted in alcohol) to flavor food. In this case it is often the herb tea that has the best medicinal benefits although the essential oil is used by inhalation for scent, relaxing the breathing, and helping lactation.

Application/ Skincare ~ Eating Fennel and adding the EO to a cream is considered to reduce hairiness or hirsutism. The cream was better than a placebo at 2%. (see Science Direct article in References).

SPA’s also use Fennel EO with herbs and other essential oils such as Star Anise and Sandalwood to make body scrub, skin-softening body mask, and facials and massage oils that will soothe sore joints, alleviate skin issues and warm the body. You can make these at home using unscented scrubs and masks to which you add your own essential oils.

Body Scrub.
70% by weight sugar, gritty sugar like Turbinado
30 % by weight oil such as Calendula Infused oil or any vegetable oil.
2% by weight of essential oils
This translates to about 1 cup of a nice gritty sugar like Turbinado + ½ oz. by volume of carrier oil (or more if needed) and 10 drops of essential oil blend (I have used 3 d. Fennel + 3 d. Star Anise + 4 d. Sandalwood).


‘Magical’ Fennel Seed Eyewash

  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seeds are used in eyewash formulations. I discovered that a simple combination of Fennel seed and Comfrey root was effective where the other usually recommended herbs had not been in sty eye or eye stress or any eye irritation. This remedy has been previously discussed in much of my work, as it is really quite powerful in its uses. It can be used on any eye problem, for any first aid problem, and should be kept freshly made in the refrigerator at all times. Make a decoction by simply taking 1 t. of Fennel seeds and 1 t. of cut & sifted Comfrey root and put into a small pot with ½ cup of water. Bring to a boil and simmer 2-3 minutes, turn off heat and cool. Strain carefully through silk or tight muslin. Wash eyes using an eyecup. Store excess in refrigerator. Use 2-3 times per day. Replace with new decoction every 3 days. [this is a living herbal formula and will grow bacteria, so make it, use it, replace it, every 3 days]. (from Jeanne Rose Herbal Studies Course and more)


            Steep 1 teaspoon of crushed Fennel seeds in 1/2 cup of Witch Hazel extract (the kind that you buy in a drugstore) for 1 week.  Strain, bottle, and label.  Use this as a compress when your eyes are tired, or dilute 1 teaspoon with an equal amount of water and use this to wash the eyes. Alternatively, compress with Witch Hazel hydrosol. (you may substitute Witch Hazel hydrosol, but since this has no alcohol to preserve, it too will need to be remade every 3 days).


Fennel seed and Licorice root, together, as a tea will quickly aid digestion, ease the overfed digestive system, and cure flatulence. When I was pregnant in 1973, I used Fennel Seed tea with other herbs as a lactogogue. It was quite successful.


Diffuse/Diffusion ~ I have never had the desire to use Fennel oil in a diffuser. If you wish to try it, first dilute with other EO such as Lemon and Lavender as the Fennel scent is very penetrating.


Jeanne Rose’s experience with this EO: In 1977, this oil was about $1.77 per ounce in 2017 it is about $10.00 per ounce.


Emotional/Energetic/Ritual Use ~ Fennel seed has a long and interesting ritual use. Scott Cunningham wrote about it often and mentioned that the fresh stalks were woven into chaplets with were used to crown Greek athletes. Fennel is one of the nine plants invoked in the Anglo-Saxon Pagan Nine Herbs Charm, recorded in the 10th century. The other herbs being Mugwort, Mayweed, Thyme, Lamb’s Cress, Cockspur grass, Plantain, Nettle, and Crab-Apple. Cunningham mentions that the scent of the fresh seeds is thought to increase life-span, to produce courage, and to purify the inner self.


Culinary/Herbal Use ~ There is plenty to love about Fennel seed in foods and medicine. It has a nice licorice-like taste and seasons breads, bakery goods, and many foods. I am currently madly in love with the pollen that drops from the ripened heads and use it in a recipe called “Fennel Pollen Encrusted Salmon”.  Dredge the salmon in the pollen with salt and pepper and corn meal, place in a shallow pan with olive oil and gently roast over a low flame until the salmon is cooked and the outside is nicely browned.



Fennel pollen



The herb and its pollen is very popular in foods, breads and pastries. Grieve says that Fennel is one of the most important spices in Kashmiri Pandit and Gujarati cooking.


Culinary Use of EO:  Perfumer & Flavorist Magazine states that “the sweet, anisic notes of this EO make it a useful addition to soda flavors like root beer, cola, cream soda and ginger ales. Sweet spice flavors and blends can be applied, including those for gingerbread, anise, pepper, cinnamon, clove and Italian sausage. Other flavors where this material will add sweetness and depth are cherry, mint, licorice, vanilla and those for cordials like ouzo, absinthe, anisette, etc.”

Chemical Components: The chemistry depends upon the plant variety used and whether it is the herb or the seed that is distilled. The primary component for seed is delta-alpha-pinene, anethole and fenchone and Guenther mentions also phellandrene and limonene.


BLENDS ~ Add drop by drop to your blends, succuss after each addition and carefully smell the blend before adding more Fennel seed EO, until the desired effect is achieved. Fennel seed oil is not much used in perfumery.

            Blends Well ~ Basil, Cardamom, Clary Sage, Coriander, Rose Geranium, Lavender, most Citrus oils, Rose, Rosemary and Sandalwoods.


HYDROSOL ~ The hydrosol is very fragrant and I like to use it in the bath and on foods. It is useful as a digestive (use 1 t. per glass of water) and has other uses as well.
Harman shows the GC/MS of the hydro-distilled hydrosol to be mainly Estragol (60 mg/L), Fenchone (52 mg/L), Anisaldehyde (24 mg/L) and other components such as cinnamon aldehyde, cineole, and more.  Become a member of the Circle H Institute to get the full values and more information on the hydrosol.

PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be specifically distilled for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or even a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil, or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers specifically distill for a product by using plant material that is fresh.


HISTORICAL USE ~ According to the Greek legend of Prometheus, Fennel was thought to have bestowed immortality. Fennel seeds are a common cooking spice, particularly for use with fish. After meals, they are used in several cultures to prevent gas and upset stomach. Fennel has also been used as a remedy for cough and colic in infants. http://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hn-2089002

            A Modern Herbal by Grieve states that Fennel was well known to the Ancients and was cultivated by the ancient Romans for its aromatic fruits and succulent, edible shoots. Pliny had much faith in its medicinal properties, according no less than twenty-two remedies to it, observing also that serpents eat it ‘when they cast their old skins, and they sharpen their sight with the juice by rubbing against the plant.’


Interesting Information ~ In addition to its medicinal uses, aerial parts, namely, leaf, stem, and fruit/seed of F. vulgare, are extensively used as galactagogue not only for increasing the quantity and quality of milk but also for improving the milk flow of breastfeeding mothers. From ancient times, Fennel seeds have been used as an ingredient for removing any foul smell of the mouth. The natural light green dye obtained from leaves is used in cosmetics, for coloring of textiles/wooden materials and as food colorant. — https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137549/


Contraindications ~ Tisserand recommends “We advise the use of Sweet Fennel for short periods of time and only when highly diluted – while it is safe and effective when properly administered, it should be avoided by those who are pregnant/breastfeeding, who have endometriosis, estrogen-dependent cancers, who take certain medications (diabetic, anti-coagulant, hormone replacement), who have peptic ulcers, hemophilia, other bleeding disorders, or who have had major surgery, and by children under five years of age (including herbal fennel tea).”


Key Use~ Digestive and to flavor liqueurs


Patch Test: If applying a new essential oil to your skin always perform a patch test to the inner arm (after you have diluted the EO in a vegetable carrier oil). —Wash an area of your forearm about the size of a quarter and dry carefully. Apply a diluted drop (1 drop EO + 1 drop carrier) to the area. Then apply a loose Band-Aid and wait 24 hours. If there is no reaction then go ahead and use the oil in your formulas. —The Aromatherapy Book, Applications & Inhalations, p. 64
Arctander, Steffen. Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. Arctander. 1960
Circle H Institute at https://circlehinstitute.com/gcms-analyses/
Cunningham, Scott. Magical Aromatherapy. Llewellyn Publications, 1989.
Grieve, M. A Modern Herbal: the …Properties, …with their Uses. Brace & Company, Harcourt, 1931
Guenther, Ernest. The Essential Oils. Krieger Publishing. Florida. 1976
Harman, Ann. Harvest to Hydrosol.  IAG Botanics. 2015 (supporter of testing hydrosols)
Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose & Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1992
Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.
Rose, Jeanne.  375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols.  Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999
Rose, Jeanne.  The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations.  San Francisco, California
Perfumery & Flavorist. Vol. 42, June 2017
Tisserand, R. and Rodney Young. Essential Oil Safety, 2nd ed., 2014, pp. 277-8.
Antihirsutism activity of Fennel (fruits of Foeniculum vulgare) extract. Phytomedicine, vol. 10, 6-7, 2003. P. 455-458


Fennel from an old herbal

DISCLAIMER:  This work is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for accurate diagnosis and treatment by a qualified health care professional. Dosages are often not given, as that is a matter between you and your health care provider. The author is neither a chemist nor a medical doctor.  The content herein is the product of research and personal and practical experience. Institute of Aromatic & Herbal Studies – Jeanne Rose©


Fennel – 40-year history with seed and pollen
Fennel EO 2000; Fennel seed 2017; Manheimer Fennel EO 1977; Eden Botanicals EO 2017;
Fennel Pollen & cut Fennel tops









~ JR ~

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