- Family Umbelliferae
- Pimpinella anisum (Aniseseed, Sweet Cumin, Annissamen, Anise Cultivé, Spanish: Anís, Pericón)
- Illicium verum (Star Anise, Anís de Estrella [Spanish])
- Do not take the essential oil, except under professional supervision. Full strength anise seed oil can cause vomiting and seizures; and, as will most essential oils, it should not be ingested but only applied externally as aromatherapy.
- Other than in cooking, anise should not be used during pregnancy.
An annual growing to two feet, anise puts down a long taproot and produces small white and yellow flowers as well as a fruit that, when dried out, is referred to as aniseed. From this seed, a volatile oil is extracted. Today, the plant is cultivated throughout the world, but mainly in southern Europe, Turkey, central Asia, India, China, Japan, and Central and South America. Another plant, Pericón, the Mexican marigold, is sometimes called “Yerba de Anis” because of its peculiar aniselike aroma.
Anise has been cultivated in Egypt for at least 4,000 years. A reference was found in an Egyptian papyrus dating around 2000 BCE. Pharaonic medical texts indicate that the seeds were used as a diuretic, to treat digestive problems, and to relieve toothache.
Anise is mentioned in the works of Hammurabi. Hippocrates recommended it to clear the respiratory system. Dioscorides listed it as a medicinal plant and wrote, in the 1st century CE, that anise “warms, dries, and dissolves”.
Although mainly used in food, its licorice flavour has been used medicinally as a treatment for abdominal upsets and intestinal gas, as well as for a breath freshener. William Turner recorded in 1551 that “anyse maketh the breth sweter and swageth payne”.
Although rooted historically in the Mediterranean area, it is widely available in South America. Spanish colonists brought it to the New World in the 16th century; and Latin Americans have used it ever since, both as a culinary item and a medicinal herb.
Its fragrance was said to have been as valuable as a perfume.
In medieval times, anise was used as a gargle with honey and vinegar to treat tonsillitis.
Pliny recommended chewing it upon awakening to get rid of “morning breath”, but he also advised keeping it near the bed to stave off bad dreams.
The Romans used it as a form of currency; and Hippocrates used it to treat coughs, as did the healers before him.
In the 16th century, Europeans discovered mice were attracted to anise and baited their traps with it.
- repels insects
- fatty oil (30%)
- proteic substances (20%)
- volatile oil (70-90% anethole, as well as methyl chavicol and other terpenes)
- Essential oil from the seed
- Researchers have found that anethole is effective in helping to clear the airway by loosening mucous. Anethols also appear to aid digestion and calm intestinal spasms that can cause colicky cramps and nausea. These substances are thought to reduce gas production and lessen flatulence.
- The constituents dianethole and photoanethole are chemically similar to estrogen.
Anise seeds are well known for their ability to reduce gas and bloating and to settle the digestion. In Mexico, as well as elsewhere in the world, a tea made from the seeds is commonly given to infants and children to relieve colic and to people of all ages to relieve nausea and indigestion. Anise stimulates the flow of digestive juices in the stomach and intestines, increasing the effectiveness in which fats are broken down into fatty acids.
They are also used for the common cold, coughs, bronchitis, fevers, inflammations of the mouth and throat, dyspeptic complaints, and loss of appetite.
Their antispasmodic effect is useful in countering menstrual pain, asthma, bronchitis, whooping cough, and other spasmodic coughs.
Their expectorant action justifies using their being used for respiratory ailments. Many of today’s cough drops, syrups, and nasal inhalants contain anise.
Anise seeds are thought to increase breast milk production.
Anise oil is used for similar complaints as the seeds, but mainly for external use in ridding the body of lice and scabies. The volatile oil in anise seeds has been found to kill or repel some insects.
Anise tea is also used to lessen morning sickness.
Traditional herbalists have recommended using anise to reduce hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.
Homeopathic uses include for shoulder pain and lumbago.
A weak infusion also makes a good eyewash.
Anise, used with caraway, is especially effective in relieving gas and stomach cramps. Caraway contains carvacrol, a compound that eases muscle spasms.
A related species, Pimpinella major (Burnet Saxifrage, Pimpernell, Saxifrage) is another plant whose rhizome and roots are used medicinally. The fresh root smells rancid, suet, or carrot-like, while the taste is tangy at first, but then turns burning hot. The plant was introduced to North America, but grows all over Europe with the exception of Scandinavia and the southern Balkans. It is used similarly as anise seed and is effective in flushing out the bacterial infections of the urinary tract. Externally, it is applied to varicose veins, in mouthwashes for oral inflammations, and as a bath for poorly healing wounds.