Anise or aniseed, which has the scientific name Pimpinella anisum, is an herb that comes from the family Apiaceae, or carrot family. This herb is most well known for its aromatic seeds. The taste of the seeds resembles that of fennel, which comes from the same family; or licorice, which comes from a different plant family. Aniseed oil is often used to enhance the flavor of licorice candy.
This plant might have originated in Asia, but it has since spread to Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East and North America. Ancient Egyptians and Romans used it as a spice. It also has been used throughout history for medicinal purposes and for its fragrance.
Like the other members of its family, anise is a tall plant with feathery green leaflets. It grows to a height of 1.5 to 4 feet (46 to 122 cm). The flowers are white, and the fruit, which looks like ribbed seeds and is often referred to as seed, is grey-green or greenish-brown when ripe.
An annual, Pimpinella anisum doesn't transplant well, so is best planted in place and thinned to about 12 inches (31 cm) apart, depending on the variety. The leggy stems might require support to avoid breakage, and stringing along each side of the rows is one solution. The fruit takes months to ripen.
Food and other uses
The stem of this plant, which has the same characteristic flavor as the seeds, can be eaten as a vegetable. The seeds are often used in cookies such as Italian biscotti and German springerle as well as in bread and sausage. They also are used as seasoning in curry and hoisin. This plant's oil is used in several liqueurs, including anisette and ouzo, as well as in the liquor absinthe. The oil also is used in toothpaste, chewing gum, cough syrup and soap, among other products.
This plant's seeds can be used to prepare a tisane or herbal tea, which has been recommended as a lactation aid. There are some commercially available teas that include anise extract with other components. There might be a possibility of a toxic reaction to anise in newborns, however, so mothers who are breastfeeding their babies should check with their pediatricians before consuming this type of tea.
After harvesting, this plant's seeds should be dried. A short stint in an oven set at 100° Fahrenheit (38° Celsius) is recommended to ensure that the seeds don't harbor insects. The seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place.
Although star anise has a similar name, it is a completely different plant. Star anise comes from the Illiciaceae family. It does, however, contain the same distinctive aromatic compound as anise, called anethole.