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Anise, Aniseed, Anise Plant, Common Anise, Hua-hsian, Sweet Cumin, Chinese anise

Pimpinella anisum

Anise is native to the eastern Mediterranean region, the Levant, Egypt and Southwest Asia. While being native to the Mediterranean area it is cultivated widely for its aromatic seeds and the oil from them used medicinally and as a flavoring in cookery.


Anise bears a strong family resemblance to the members of the carrot family, that includes dill, fennel, coriander, cumin and caraway.

Anise Seeds have an aroma and flavor reminiscent of liquorice, fennel and tarragon. The early Arabic name for Anise was anysum from which the Greek derived anison and then the Latin anisun.

Many of these relative plants have been described as having a licorice flavor, to some extent, but anise is the true taste of licorice. Anise oils are distilled into the flavoring for licorice candy and not from the herb licorice, which has a different taste.

The powerful flavor component anethole, is found in both anise and an unrelated spice called star anise (Illicium verum). The herb lends its licorice-like flavor to many dishes, drinks, and candies now popular around the world.

Anise in history

Anise is one of the oldest known spice plants and has been used both for culinary and medicinal purposes since ancient times.

In ancient Chinese Traditional Medicine (CTM) as well as the Indian or Ayurvedic system of medicine, anise has assumed a very popular stature and its used in various herbal medications in both systems for many centuries now.

Egypt has cutivated Anise for at least 4,000 years, and some of the Pharaonic medical texts show that the anise seeds were used as an herbal diuretic. Such remedies were also used in the treatment of different digestive problems, and as a therapy to relieve toothache and pain.

Even the ancient Greeks were familiar with the medicinal use of this herb. Early in the 1st century AD, the Greek scientist, Dioscorides wrote that the anise "warms, dries and dissolves" various symptoms in the body, he said the anise "facilitates breathing, relieves pain, provokes urine and eases thirst" in patients affected by such symptoms. This herb also saw widespread and popular use in the renaissance period.

To prevent indigestion and aid digestion, the Romans enjoyed anise-rich cakes, Mustacae, at the end of a rich meal. These cakes consisted of meal, with Anise, Cummin and other aromatics. Such a cake was sometimes brought in at the end of a marriage feast, and is, perhaps, the origin of our tradition of spiced wedding cake.

In the 1300's, anise was listed by King Edward I as a taxable drug and merchants bringing it into London paid a toll to help raise funds to maintain and repair London Bridge.

Although, there are several varieties of the aniseed-with more or less similar properties, the most commonly known type of anise is the ash colored variety from Spain. Today, Anise is used in the manufacture of many commercial cough syrups and sore throat medications, used to flavor other medicines and to scent soaps and perfumes.

Anise is used in many forms for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Anise can be readily purchased as essential oils, extracts, powdered, and whole seed. The seeds quickly lose flavor, so buy seeds whole and grind them as needed, keep out of light, and in an airtight container. To form a refreshing herbal breath sweetener try roasting the whole seeds lightly before chewing.

Culinary Use

Adding Anise Seed to seafood stews will impart a unique Mediterranean flavor to fish and shellfish. Make a quick sauce for grilled fish by combining melted butter, toasted Anise Seed, lemon juice, and minced green onion.

Aniseed has a wide range of culinary applications, both sweet and savory. In the Middle East and India, anise is used in seasoning blends like as curry, hoisin. In Europe you can find Anise in soups and stews, and used to season sausage and pepperoni. It is also used to compliment duck, pork or fish, either alone or sometimes in combination with cinnamon and bay leaves. It is used in much the same way as fennel to flavor fish, poultry, soups and root vegetable dishes.

Special chocolate anise soft chew cookies
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Anise is primarily associated with cakes, biscuits and confectionery, as well as rye breads. To add special flavor and texture to baked goods, brush rolls or sugar cookies with beaten egg white and sprinkle with Anise Seed before baking.

Anise is also used whole or crushed in cakes, cookies, pastries, sweet breads and candy. Italian biscotti and Springerle, a German cookie are traditionally flavored with Anise.

The licorice flavor complements eggs, fruit, cheese, pastries, cakes, and cookies. The leaves are used in salads or as a garnish and dried for teas

Star anise (which is generally used in Chinese dishes) has very similar ingredients and medicinal properties as Anise. Chinese star anise (Illicium verum) is a plant native to China which's seeds are also widely used in traditional medicine, and cooking.

Anise is available in tea, and the whole seeds are used in cooking. All foods containing anise are thought to offer some of the same benefits as the teas and capsules, although foods are generally less effective than supplementation.

Anise in Liquor around the world

Anise is used to flavor Middle Eastern Arak, Colombian Aguardiente, French spirits Absinthe, Anisette and Pastis, Greek Ouzo, Bulgarian Mastika, German Jägermeister, Italian Sambuca, Dutch Brokmöpke, Peruvian And Spanish Anís, Mexican Xtabentún And Turkish Raki. In these liquors, it is clear, but on addition of water becomes cloudy, a phenomenon known as the Ouzo effect. It is believed to be one of the secret ingredients in the French liqueur Chartreuse. It is also used in some root beers, such as Virgil's in the United States.

Herbal and medicinal use

Anise is from the parsley family and, like parsley, has been used for thousands of years as a natural breath freshener. Anise seeds can be steeped in boiling water at home to produce a natural mouthwash; many mouthwashes and toothpastes sold in natural foods stores also contain anise.

Anise may be used for its aromatic qualities in oil and potpourris, and with crushed seeds added to sachets.

Anise has been shown to act as an expectorant in the body. The essential oil extracted from ground anise seeds helps loosen phlegm in the throat and lungs. Teas containing anise are very effective at helping make coughs more productive, and have even been used to treat asthma. Anise's expectorant effect encourages the secretion of excess fluids from the digestive system, and this herb has also been shown to reduce flatulence (gas) in both children and adults.

Remedies derived from anise seeds are very commonly used with infants and children to induce relief from cases of colic, and these remedies are also given to people of all ages to help in relieving the symptoms associated with indigestion and nausea arising as a result of different reasons. Another beneficial effect of the anise seeds, mainly their antispasmodic properties are very helpful in effectively dealing with the symptoms of menstrual pain, with the discomfort during asthma attacks, in the treatment of the whooping cough, as well as in the treatment of other spasmodic coughs, and cases of bronchitis in different patients.

The volatile oil, mixed with spirits of wine forms the liqueur Anisette, which has a beneficial action on the bronchial tubes, and for bronchitis and spasmodic asthma, Anisette, if administered in hot water, is an immediate palliative.

The essential herbal oil is also a topical remedy, and it is used for the external treatment accorded to lice and to treat cases of scabies in patients. It is suggested that the essential oil must be consumed by patients when they are under careful and responsible professional supervision.

Women in the term of pregnancy must also abstain from taking anise, with the exception of minute amounts, such as those normally used during cooking.

  • Anise, like fennel, contains anethole, a phytoestrogen.
  • Anise can be used to relieve menstrual cramps.
  • The main use of anise in European herbal medicine was for its carminative effect, as stressed by John Gerard in his Great Herbal, his encyclopedia of early modern herbal medicine.
  • The essential oil is reportedly used as an insecticide against head-lice and mites.
  • It is also claimed that anise is effective bait for rats and mice and the distilled oil dabbed onto a fishing lure will improve a fisherman's chances.
  • Dogs are also attracted by anise and often an ingredient in dog food.
  • Anise seeds may be used to lay drag hunt trails and also to attract fish to fishing lures

Anise is most famous for the licorice flavor of its leaves and seeds. Use the leaves fresh in salads, and the seeds for flavoring cookies, pastries, and confections. Adding anise to your spice collection will expand your repertoire. Try seasoning fish, soups and stews, eggs, marinade, confectionaries and many other dishes.