Anise, Pimpinella anisum, is a slow-growing annual herb of the parsley family (Apiaceae, formerly Umbelliferae). It is related to other plants prized for their aromatic fruits, commonly called seeds, such as dill, cumin, caraway, and fennel. It is cultivated chiefly for its licorice-flavored fruits, called aniseed. Although it has a licorice flavor, anise is not related to the European plant whose roots are the source of true licorice. It has been used as a medicinal and fragrant plant since ancient times.
The plant reaches from 1–3 ft (0.3–1 m) in height when cultivated, and has finely divided feather-like bright green leaflets. The name Pimpinella (from the Latin dipinella) refers to the pinnately divided form of the leaves. The plant bears white to yellowish-white flowers in compound umbels (umbrella-like clusters). When ripe, the fruits are 0.125 in (3 mm) long and oval-shaped with grayish-green coloring.
While the entire plant is fragrant and tastes strongly of anise, it is the aniseed fruit that has been highly valued since antiquity. Seed maturation usually occurs one month after pollination, when the oil content in the dried fruit is about 2.5%. Steam distillation of the crushed aniseed yields from 2.5 to 3.5% of a fragrant, syrupy, essential, or volatile, oil, of which anethole, present at about 90%, is the principal aromatic constituent. Other chemical constituents of the fruit are creosol, alpha-pinene, dianethole, and photoanethole.
In addition to its medicinal properties, anise is widely used for flavoring curries, breads, soups, cakes, candies, desserts, nonalcoholic beverages, and liqueurs such as anisette. The essential oil is valuable in perfumes and soaps and has been used in toothpastes, mouthwashes, and skin creams.
Anise is endemic to the Middle East and Mediterranean regions, including Egypt, Greece, Crete, and Turkey. It was cultivated and used by ancient Egyptians, and used in ancient Greece and Rome, when it was cultivated in Tuscany. Its use and cultivation spread to central Europe in the Middle Ages, and today it is cultivated on a commercial scale in warm areas such as southern Europe, Asia, India, North Africa, Mexico, and Central and South America.
The medicinal properties of anise come from the chemicals that are present in the fruits. The anethole in
As a medicinal plant, anise has been used as an antibacterial, an antimicrobial, an antiseptic, an antispasmodic, a breath freshener, a carminative, a diaphoretic, a digestive aid, a diuretic, an expectorant, a mild estrogenic, a mild muscle relaxant, a parasiticide, a stimulant, and a stomachic.
Anise may be helpful in the following conditions:
- Anemia. Anise promotes digestion, which may help improve anemia due to inefficient absorption of iron.
- Asthma. Essential oil of anise may be inhaled through the nose to help ease breathing and relieve nasal congestion.
- Bad breath. It can be used in mouthwash or tea to sweeten breath.
- Bronchitis. Aniseed may be used as an expectorant and essential oil of anise may be inhaled through the nose to help ease breathing.
- Catarrh. Drinking aniseed tea soothes mucous membranes.
- Cold. Aniseed can be used as an expectorant and drinking aniseed tea soothes the throat.
- Colic. Drinking anise tea or using essential oil can alleviate gas.
- Cough. Can be used as an expectorant, especially for hard, dry coughs where expectoration is difficult.
- Croup. Aniseed can be used to alleviate a persistent cough in a child.
- Emphysema. Essential oil of anise may be inhaled through the nose to help ease breathing and relieve nasal congestion and tea with aniseed will soothe mucous membranes.
- Gas and gas pains. Drinking aniseed tea helps relieve gas, gas pains, and flatulence.
- Menopause. Aniseed tea can help alleviate menopausal symptoms.
- Morning sickness. Tea made from anise can help alleviate morning sickness during pregnancy.
- Nursing. Aniseed tea can help a nursing mother's milk come in.
- Sore throat. Drinking aniseed tea alleviates pain of sore throat.
Aniseeds. May be added to foods when cooking to flavor and aid digestion, or may be taken whole in doses of 1-3 tsp of dried anise seeds per day.
Tea. One tsp of crushed aniseeds can be steeped in a cup of hot water, then combined with fennel and caraway to help relieve gas and gas pains. To help relieve a cough, coltsfoot, marsh mallow, hyssop, and licorice can be added to the tea. Infants should only receive 1 tsp of boiled, prepared tea.
Essential oil. Preparations of essential oil of anise can be used for inhalation. The essential oil may be taken orally at a dose of 0.01 oz (0.3 g) per day. In addition, the liqueur anisette, which contains anise essential oil, may be administered in hot water to help relieve problems in the bronchial tubes, such as bronchitis and spasmodic asthma. One to three drops of essential oil administered on sugar may help relieve colic.
Persons allergic to anise or anethole, its main ingredient, should avoid using aniseed or its essential oil. It is also possible to develop an allergic sensitivity to anise. Care should be taken to monitor the quantity of aniseed oil given to infants. A 2002 report noted an infant brought to the emergency department with seizures as a result of multiple doses of aniseed oil tea.
Although anise is generally considered safe, the side effects of its estrogenic property have not been fully studied. Anise oil may induce nausea, vomiting, seizures, and pulmonary edema if it is ingested in sufficient quantities. Also, contact of the skin with the concentrated oil can cause irritation.
It is important to note that Japanese Star Anise is not the same herb—it is poisonous.
No interactions have been reported.
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Melissa C. Mcdade
Teresa G. Odle