Mother Earth Living

Fresh Clips: Growing Anise and Mustard from Kitchen Scraps

Grow anise and mustard plants from leftover spices.
By Deborah Peterson
August/September 2012
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Anise, or aniseseed, tastes similar to fennel, and is not the same as star anise (Illicium verum).
Photo by luchezar
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When spices are seeds, such as anise and mustard, put them to work by planting a few. Charlemagne described herbs as “the friend of physicians and the pride of the cook.” And, I would humbly add, the joy of the kitchen gardener.

Why grow herbs?

Many are beautiful to look at and most offer a harvestable crop. With herbs and spices, marvelous new flavors can be added to standard dishes.

Getting Started with Growing from Kitchen Scraps

Herbs are available everywhere, and they are cheap. Most of all, they are easy to grow. The next time you are at the grocery store, look carefully inside the jars and containers of herbs and spices, and you will see that many of them contain seeds. Most will grow, some will bloom and a few will actually yield seeds.

Where to Find Seeds

You can easily find anise, mustard, caraway, celery, dill, fennel, sesame, and other herbs and spices while grocery shopping. (Or you can pick up seed packets at a garden center.)

Anise (Pimpinella anisum)

Family: Apiaceae
Plant Type: annual herb
Method: from seed
Growth Rate: quick-growing
Light: bright sun

What Anise Looks Like
The first leaves of anise are round and toothed, but later leaves are deeply lobed. The flowers, which appear later, are white, delicate and lacy, like those of Queen Anne’s lace. Outdoors, anise grows up to 2 feet. Indoors, it seldom reaches more than 1 foot.

Growing Anise
Start the seeds in peat pellets, sowing thickly. Anise seeds germinate in one week. The seedlings do not transplant well, so thin them out to one per pot when they are a few inches tall. After the seedlings have three sets of leaves, transplant them. Place each pellet in a 4-inch pot and place in bright sun.

Time to Taste
The seeds, which have a distinctive licorice flavor, are used in bread, pastries, candies and liqueurs, such as anisette, Pernod and ouzo. In India, they are used in some curries and also chewed after meals to sweeten the breath and cure indigestion. The French enjoy the leaves with cooked carrots. You can also add them to salads and stews.

Anise’s History
Anise originated from Greece, Crete and Egypt. The Ebers Papyrus, a famous Egyptian medical manuscript dating back to 1500 B.C., lists anise as a medicinal plant. The Greeks considered anise a medicine, and the Romans favored its use in many seasonings and sauces. The old herbals had much to say about anise. They claimed that anise was both a stimulant and a relaxant; that it was an aromatic, diaphoretic and tonic; and that it was helpful for lung and stomach troubles. Today, anise is still used as a home remedy: Anethole, the oil of anise, is used in modern cough mixtures, to help stomach ailments and to help relieve asthma and bronchitis.

Mustard (Brassica spp.)

Family: Brassicaceae
Plant Type: annual herb
Method: from seed
Growth Rate: quick-growing
Light: bright sun

Mustard Recipes
Garlic Pickled Mustard Greens
Jalapeño Mustard
Tarragon Mustard
Whole-Grain Mustard
The Magic of Mustard 

What Mustard Looks Like
Mustard foliage is rough and crumpled-looking, but attractive. The plant will produce four-petaled yellow flowers and, when not crowded, grow up to 2 feet.

Growing Mustard
Fill a shallow container three-quarters full with moist potting soil. Scatter a tablespoonful of seeds evenly on the soil’s surface and cover with a light dusting of soil. Slip a plastic bag over the container and put it in a warm, sunny window. The seeds germinate rapidly. Remove the bag when the seedlings are 4 inches high.

You can keep the container of seedlings as an attractive plant or, if you want to grow a plant to maturity, remove one seedling from the container and transplant it to a 4-inch pot filled with potting soil. Take care to gently loosen the soil underneath the seedling with a pencil and lift the plant out by the leaves. (A plant can always regenerate new leaves but not a stem.) Use a pencil to make a hole deep enough to receive the roots, and cover about an inch of the stem with soil. Water well and place the pot in a sunny window. If your light is good, the plant will produce flowers.

Time to Taste
Mustard has many uses. Cut the leaves when the plant is 3 inches high and use as a garnish for steaks, salads and soups. The larger, older leaves can be cooked like spinach, but you will find that mustard greens have a more bitter taste. Grind the seed to make mustard powder, and use the whole seed as a pickling spice.

Mustard’s History
Mustard originated from Europe and Asia. Since antiquity, mustard seeds have been used to cure ailments, as well as to preserve perishables. Mustard poultices are still used as a household remedy for bronchitis and muscular aches.


Excerpted from Don’t Throw It, Grow It © Deborah Peterson used with permission from Storey Publishing. 


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