Herb to Know: Anise

| October/November 1994

• Pimpinella anisum (pim-pin-NEL-uh AN-iss-um)
• Family Umbelliferae
• Annual

Anise is one of the world’s oldest and best-loved spices, flavoring the food, drink, and medicines of many cultures since ancient times. Anise, which is in the same family as parsley, cilantro, fennel, sweet cicely, dill, lovage, and angelica, is not commonly grown in U.S. herb gardens. Things have changed since the early European settlers of Virginia were required by law to plant a few seeds of anise in their gardens.

• Anise Recipe: Anise Hard Candy 

The plant is native to Egypt and the Mediterranean region. It is now cultivated commercially in many parts of Europe, India, Mexico, southern Russia, and Turkey, as well as the United States. Where conditions are favorable, it has escaped from cultivation.

The smooth, grooved stems of anise grow 1 to 2 feet tall. As with those of cilantro, the leaves are of two types: the lower ones are larger and pinnately divided into oval, coarsely toothed leaflets while the upper ones are small and ferny. (The generic name Pim­pinella is derived from bipinella, “twice-pinnate”, referring to the division of the leaves.) Tiny white or yellow flowers are borne in 2-inch-wide lacy umbels in midsummer, and the 1/8-inch-long seeds (technically fruits) are grooved, gray, and roundly ovate with one side flattened. They hang from the thin stems in pairs.

Anise’s medicinal powers have been appreciated for centuries. Some early claims were extravagant. It was said to ward off the evil eye and prevent scorpion bites, epilepsy, and bad dreams. Sixteenth-century herbalist John Gerard summarized the principal medicinal uses of anise:

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