This innocuous household spice can be used as a natural remedy for many ailments. Though it’s native to the Mediterranean region, fennel is grown all over the world, generally in dry soil near the coast. It’s a perennial herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. Fennel is often characterized by its rather strong aroma, and tastes similar to anise (which tastes like black licorice, for the uninitiated).

So what is fennel good for? A, lot actually. Read on.

It can help with colic.

When my oldest was a baby, I would bounce him up and down for hours each night, trying to calm him. I dreaded feeding time, which only made it worse, because breast milk and formula seemed to cause him intense intestinal discomfort. My pediatrician recommended I try a few things, including fennel tea. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the benefits of fennel for treating infantile colic are well-documented. Fennel has been shown to reduce intestinal spasms and can also increase the motility of the small intestine.

You can make a cup of fennel tea with hot water, let it steep, and subsequently let it cool. Then store it in the fridge and give your little one a 2-ounce serving warmed to room temperature (by putting his bottle in a cup of hot water, not in the microwave) in the evening. It should be noted that fennel contains the compound estragole which has been indicated to be carcinogenic in high doses. The amounts of estragole vary in each preparation of fennel, depending largely on geographic origin and how it has been prepared. For this reason, it’s important that if you use fennel, you only use it on a short-term basis. Another alternative to fennel for colic? Chamomile tea, which some say works just as well and is safer for long term use.

It has anti-fungal properties.

When grown next to plants often attacked by fungus, fennel will help prevent fungal growth on those plants. Those beneficial effects can be seen in people too. Research published in the Indian Journal of Dental Research found that taking fennel capsules can be just as effective at fighting off a fungal infection as taking a synthetic antifungal agent and might be a cheaper and safer alternative.

It can help to minimize the effects of aging.

Topical creams with fennel extract as one of the key ingredients could help to reduce wrinkles, fine lines and the effects of aging. Sea fennel is rich in chlorogenic acid, which can help fight off the effects of free radicals on the skin.

Fennel is rich in nutrients.

Spices are second only to organ meat in terms of their nutrient density — meaning that the nutrients they contain are easily absorbed by the human body. It is for this reason that Ethiopian-grown fennel, which is rich in nutrients like magnesium and calcium, is considered safe as a natural supplement, particularly for children and pregnant women.

If you haven’t explored the benefits of fennel yourself, it might be time to see what it can do for you. Check out some great recipes that use the spice, including Creamy Fennel, Spinach and Asparagus Soup and Fennel Bulb and Orange Salad.

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