Skip to main content
Herb Gallery

Xiao Hui Xiang (Foeniculum vulgaris)

  • Botanical name: Foeniculum vulgaris
  • Common name: Fennel seed
  • Literal name translation: small return fragrance
  • Family: Apiaceae, parsley family
  • Part used in Chinese medicine: fruit
  • Major Chinese medicine actions:
  • Disperses cold, warms Liver and Kidneys,
    regulates qi and harmonizes Stomach, alleviates pain
Foeniculum vulgaris
Foeniculum vulgaris
Foeniculum vulgaris

Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Foeniculum vulgaris; 03/2004; author Carsten Niehaus; permission under GFDL
Photo 2: Foeniculum vulgaris; 07/2007; author Kenpei; permission under GFDL
Photo 3: Foeniculum vulgaris; author Javier Martin; permission under Creative Commons

Growing and Propagation

Fennel is a short-lived perennial growing 3-6 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide, with pretty, dark green foliage that is fine-textured and feathery. It prefers full sun and rich, moist well drained soil, but will tolerate drought and a wide range of pH. Yellow blooms appear in August to October, starting about 90 days from seeding in the spring. Plants can be cut back to increase their bushiness, and should be deadheaded to prevent aggressive re-seeding.

Though each plant is short-lived, it reseeds prolifically, therefore is easy to propagate. Seeds can be planted directly into the garden in the spring or fall, or planted in pots inside. Soaking the seeds for 4-5 days prior to planting increases the germination rate. Plants can also be divided in the fall, though disturbing the long taproot usually leads to less vigorous plants than those grown from seed. Plants can be cut to the ground in the fall, and in warm climates will sprout back in the spring if given adequate moisture. They are hardy in USDA zones 4-9.

Harvesting and Preparation

Seeds are harvested after ripening in October. For medicinal use, good quality Xiao Hui Xiang seeds are yellowish green in color and have a strong fragrance. They may be dry fried (chao hui xiang) at medium temperature until they become a darker yellow color and even more aromatic, which enhances the herbs ability to warm and “revive” the Spleen to treat nausea, vomiting and stomach upset.


Xiao Hui Xiang, commonly known as fennel seeds, are native to southern Europe and the shores of the Mediterranean, then they spread in commerce eastward to Asia and were eventually adopted into Chinese medicine. The fennel plant is grown in many gardens for the seeds, bulb, and leaves, all of which have a strongly flavored, anise-like taste. It has also naturalized along roadsides around the world as it propagates easily by seed. In the U.S. and Australia it is considered an invasive species and noxious weed. Once planted, it may be difficult to get rid of unless the seed heads are removed before they ripen and seeds spread.