Sage Advice Blog

Fennel Tea for Post-Surgical Recovery

March 14, 2019

Alex Speers ND, MS


The first few days after a major surgery can be a difficult period for patients with cancer and as naturopathic doctors, we are always on the search for natural products to help patients during this time. Our options are often limited however because in a hospital setting, access to dietary supplements is more closely regulated than if the patient were at home. Therefore, the ideal post-surgical recommendation from a naturopathic perspective would be something that is simple, safe, and affordable. Something, like a cup of fennel tea.


Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is a plant from the carrot family that you are likely familiar with if you have any significant history of cooking experience, as it is known for its strong flavor. In herbal medicine, fennel has a long history of use for digestive issues such as heartburn, gas and bloating, and loss of appetite. In 2015, a group of Chinese researchers decided to investigate this common digestive aid and whether it could potentially help patients with gynecological cancers recover from major surgery.


The study included 159 women, who were randomized to a tea group or a control group. The tea group drank two cups of fennel tea per day, beginning the day after surgery and continuing until the first flatus (i.e. passing gas). The control group drank an equal amount of water during the same time period, in addition to their normal fluid intake. The researchers then compared the two groups on various post-surgical outcomes.


What the researchers found was that the addition of fennel tea in the post-surgical setting significantly improved multiple post-surgical outcomes. Length of hospital stay (5.6 days vs. 6.7 days), average time to flatus (53.1 hours vs. 64.2 hours), and average time to defecation (4.3 days vs. 5.4 days) were all significantly improved in the tea group compared to the control group. In addition, the control group was significantly more likely to have symptoms of ileus, a term referring to the lack of movement in the intestines, which can lead to intestinal obstruction. In summary, a cup of tea allowed women to leave the hospital and return home a full day earlier and significantly reduced their risk of complications. A cup of tea!


Fennel is generally considered a safe herb to take, but there are some notable cautions. First, due to estrogenic activity found in some of its components, a patient with a hormone receptor-positive cancer would be advised against taking fennel in large doses or over an extended period of time. Second, animal research suggests fennel in high doses may have some blood-thinning properties, so it would be best to avoid in the pre-surgical setting and in patients with bleeding disorders. Lastly, a patient who is allergic to celery, carrot, or mugwort should not take fennel. Despite these cautions, fennel tea appears to be an ideal post-surgical recommendation for patients undergoing surgery for gynecological cancers considering its simplicity, safety, affordability, and efficacy!


Reference: Ma HW, Zhao JT, Zhao X. The effect of fennel tea drinking on postoperative gut recovery after gynecological malignancies operation. Sichuan Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. 2015;46(6):940-943.


DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. There are no financial ties to any supplement companies, pharmaceutical companies, or to any of the products mentioned in this post. This post is not meant to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose conditions or diseases and is meant for educational purposes. As always, please consult your doctor before trying any new treatments or supplements.


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