How Safe Is Anise in Pregnancy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Small amounts of anise in pregnancy can be safe, but patients should avoid anise essential oil and other concentrates. Patients with high-risk pregnancies also may be advised to avoid anise altogether to reduce the chances of going into premature labor. It is also important for people to be aware that anise (Pimpinella anisum) and star anise (Illicium verum), sometimes also called Chinese star anise, are two different herbs that should be handled differently. Chinese star anise comes with some additional risks.

Small amounts of anise are typically considered safe in pregnancy, but women are advised to talk with their doctor regarding any food ingredient concerns.
Small amounts of anise are typically considered safe in pregnancy, but women are advised to talk with their doctor regarding any food ingredient concerns.

Anise is a food ingredient used in a variety of things to add a slightly licorice-like flavor. It’s common in sweets and can also be used in main courses to make the taste more complex and interesting. Plain anise seeds as used in small amounts in herbal teas and cooking are generally safe in pregnancy and breastfeeding because exposure is relatively low. Essential oil and concentrates, however, are more dangerous, and should be avoided because of concerns that they might trigger contractions.

Anise can cause early labor and premature birth.
Anise can cause early labor and premature birth.

Patients who use anise in pregnancy could develop uterine stimulation which might cause early labor. This could result in pregnancy loss in the early stages of the pregnancy, and might cause complications for more progressed pregnancies. Premature birth carries a number of risks for both mother and child, and should be prevented if possible. Avoiding concentrated anise while pregnant, along with other herbs known to promote contractions, is advisable.

Anise or aniseed (Pimpinella anisum).
Anise or aniseed (Pimpinella anisum).

With Chinese star anise, there is cause for additional concern. Some sources of this herb use a related product, Japanese star anise, that is actually toxic and not safe for either culinary or medicinal use. If patients do not have a pure source of the herb, they could be at risk of exposure to the more toxic form, which could cause illness and complicate the pregnancy. For safety reasons, it can be advisable to avoid Chinese star anise in pregnancy, unless a source is known and verified as safe.

A dessert bread made with anise.
A dessert bread made with anise.

Any questions about the use of food ingredients and herbal preparations in pregnancy can be discussed with an obstetrician. Much of the research on these subjects is incomplete because it is difficult to perform clinical trials without running into ethical problems, since scientists don’t want to endanger expecting mothers and their babies. Regulatory agencies may indicate that anise in pregnancy is of unknown safety, reflecting a general lack of data. An individual health care provider might have opinions for a patient based on experience or medical history.

Pregnant women may be advised to avoid products containing anise extract because it can stimulate uterine contractions.
Pregnant women may be advised to avoid products containing anise extract because it can stimulate uterine contractions.
A pregnant woman should always consult her gynecologist for a list of common foods that mothers-to-be should avoid.
A pregnant woman should always consult her gynecologist for a list of common foods that mothers-to-be should avoid.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

burcinc

My doctor told me that many herbs can cause premature contractions and birth. Anise, fennel, licorice and cumin are among them.

fify

@turquoise-- I would urge you not to consume anything with star anise during pregnancy or breastfeeding. It is extremely difficult to differentiate between Chinese, Indian or Japanese star anise. They look exactly the same and taste the same. So it's better to avoid it completely.

I did not have anything with anise or aniseed during my pregnancy. Some relatives advised me to drink anise tea during breastfeeding saying that it helps relieve the baby of gas. But my doctor told me not to, so I avoided it during breastfeeding as well.

For nausea, I would suggest ginger candies for your friend. It's safe and effective.

turquoise

I'm four months pregnant and I love Indian food. I've noticed that many Indian dishes have star anise in them. Is it dangerous if I eat food cooked with star anise? I eat from high quality restaurants so I doubt that it's the Japanese variety that's toxic.

A friend of mine is also pregnant and she was asking me about anise candies. Apparently, anise candies are good for morning sickness and my friend has it very bad. Is it okay if she were to have one or two anise candies in the morning?

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