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Fennel seeds (Xiao Hui Xiang) in Chinese Medicine

Fennel seeds

Chinese: 小茴香

Pinyin: Xiǎo Huí Xiāng

Parts used: Dried ripe fruits

TCM category: Herbs that warm the Interior and/or expel Cold

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): Pungent

Organ affinity: Spleen Stomach Kidney Liver

Scientific name: Foeniculum vulgare

Use of fennel seeds (Xiao Hui Xiang) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove impurities and dry

Dosage: 3 - 9 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Expels Cold and relieves pain. Regulates Qi of the Stomach.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which fennel seeds may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Abdominal pain Dysmenorrhea Abdominal bloating Loss of appetite Vomiting Diarrhea Testicular pain

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with Yin Deficiency with Heat signs or by those with Excess Heat.

Common TCM formulas in which fennel seeds (Xiao Hui Xiang) are used*

Nuan Gan Jian

Source date: 1624 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms the Liver and Kidneys. Promotes the movement of Qi. Alleviates pain.

Conditions targeted*: VaricoceleHydrocele and others

Xiao Hui Xiang is a king ingredient in Nuan Gan Jian. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Nuan Gan Jian, Xiao Hui Xiang warms the Liver and disperses Cold from the lower abdomen

Read more about Nuan Gan Jian

Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Expels Cold and warm the menstruation Blood. Stops pain. Invigorates Blood. Dispels Blood stagnation.

In Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang, Xiao Hui Xiang warms the Uterus and expels Cold

Read more about Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Key TCM concepts behind fennel seeds (Xiao Hui Xiang)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), fennel seeds are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that warm the Interior and/or expel Cold' category. Herbs in this category are used for Internal Cold with Qi Deficiency and/or Yang Deficiency. In the Yin and Yang system of thought Yang is Hot in nature. A deficiency of Yang will therefore lead to Internal Coldness since there will as a result be more Yin (Cold in nature) than Yang. In extreme cases this can lead to so-called 'Yang collapse' with convulsions or coma and these herbs are particularly indicated to treat such scenarios.

As suggested by its category fennel seeds are plants that are Warm in nature. This means that fennel seeds tend to help people who have too much 'Cold' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Hot in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Cold in their body are said to either have a Yin Excess(because Yin is Cold in nature) or a Yang Deficiency (Yang is Hot in Nature). Depending on your condition fennel seeds can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Fennel seeds also taste Pungent. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Pungent ingredients like fennel seeds tend to promote the circulations of Qi and Body Fluids. That's why for instance someone tends to sweat a lot when they eat spicy/pungent food.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such fennel seeds are thought to target the Spleen, the Stomach, the Kidney and the Liver. In TCM the Spleen assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body. The Stomach on the other hand is responsible for receiving and ripening ingested food and fluids. It is also tasked with descending the digested elements downwards to the Small Intestine. The Kidneys do not only regulate the urinary system but also play a key role in the reproductive system and the growth and aging process of the body. The Liver is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and the Body Fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on fennel seeds (Xiao Hui Xiang)

Fennel is an effective means to manage the symptoms of vaginal atrophy in postmenopausal women and is devoid of side effects.1

Fennel tea drinking after laparotomy for gynecological malignancis is safe, well tolerated and associated with faster recovery of bowel motility, shorter hospital stay and fewer complications.2

Fennel can use to relieve dysmenorrheal signs and menstrual duration.3


1. Yaralizadeh M, Abedi P, Najar S, Namjoyan F, Saki A. (2016). Effect of Foeniculum vulgare (fennel) vaginal cream on vaginal atrophy in postmenopausal women: A double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial. Maturitas. , 84:75-80. doi: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2015.11.005. Epub 2015 Nov 12.

2. Ma HW, Zhao JT, Zhao X. (2015). The Effect of Fennel Tea Drinking on Postoperative Gut Recovery after Gynecological Malignancies Operation. Sichuan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. , 46(6):940-3.

3. Ghodsi Z, Asltoghiri M. (2014). The effect of fennel on pain quality, symptoms, and menstrual duration in primary dysmenorrhea. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. , 27(5):283-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpag.2013.12.003. Epub 2014 Jul 30.

Use of fennel seeds (Xiao Hui Xiang) as food

Fennel seeds are also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Fennel Seed Roasted Cauliflower.