What Is Anise? A Guide to Its Uses and Benefits

Are you interested in anise? Southeast Asia and the eastern Mediterranean are the natural home of this flowering plant, sometimes referred to as aniseed.

Organic Dry Star of Anise

Anise belongs to the Apiaceae family, which also includes prominent herbs and spices like fennel, cumin, dill, and caraway.

The anise plant’s seeds are utilized in both culinary and medicinal preparations because of its sweet, licorice-like flavor.

The use of anise in traditional medicine has a long history. While the Greeks and Romans thought anise may aid with respiratory disorders, the ancient Egyptians employed it to cure digestive problems.

Some cultures still utilize anise to cure coughs, colds, and other respiratory conditions today. Anise is a popular flavoring for confectionery, liqueurs, and baked goods in addition to its medical purposes.

In fact, it is a crucial component of many classic holiday confections, including German springerle biscuits and Italian biscotti.

What is Anise?

If you’re not familiar with anise, it’s a flowering plant in the family Apiaceae that is native to the eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia.

Anise is also known as aniseed or pimpinella anisum. The plant produces small, brown seeds that are used as a spice in cooking and baking.

Anise flower field

Anise is closely related to other spices in the same family, including cumin, dill, caraway, and fennel. While anise and star anise may sound similar, they are not related at all. Star anise comes from a completely different plant species.

Anise seeds have a distinct licorice flavor and aroma. They are commonly used in sweet and savory dishes, as well as in drinks such as teas and liqueurs. In addition to its culinary uses, anise has also been used for medicinal purposes for centuries.

Anise contains several chemical compounds that are believed to have health benefits. For example, anethole, the main component of anise oil, has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

Anise may also help relieve symptoms of digestive issues, such as bloating and gas.

Overall, anise is a versatile and flavorful spice that can add a unique taste to a variety of dishes. Whether you’re using it in baking, cooking, or as a natural remedy, anise is a great ingredient to have on hand in your kitchen.

History and Production

Anise has a long history of use in various cultures around the world. It is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region and was cultivated in ancient Egypt and Greece.

The plant was highly valued by the ancient Egyptians for its medicinal properties and was used to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive issues and coughs.

Traditional Chinese medicine with herb and spices

In Latin and Middle Eastern cultures, anise has been used for centuries as a spice and flavoring agent in cooking. In the Middle East, it is commonly used to flavor coffee and tea.

Anise was brought to Europe for its medicinal value and eventually became a popular ingredient in liqueurs, such as absinthe and ouzo.

Today, anise is primarily produced in the Mediterranean region, particularly in Spain, Turkey, and Egypt. The United States also produces a significant amount of anise, with California being the largest producer.

Anise is an annual herb that grows up to 2 feet tall and produces small white flowers in the summer.

The plant prefers light, fertile, well-drained soil and should be planted as soon as the ground warms up in the spring. The seeds are harvested in the fall and are then dried and used as a spice or flavoring agent.

Anise seeds contain an essential oil that is responsible for its distinctive flavor and aroma. The oil is used in a variety of products, including soaps, perfumes, and toothpaste.

It is also used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, including digestive issues, coughs, and colds.

Overall, anise has a rich history and is still widely used today for its unique flavor and medicinal properties.

Anise Plant

Anise plant (Pimpinella anisum) is a herbaceous annual plant that belongs to the Apiaceae family. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia.

Anise plant is known for its licorice-like flavor and aroma, which makes it a popular ingredient in many culinary dishes, such as curries, baked goods, and liqueurs.


Anise plant grows up to 2 feet tall and has a bushy, upright growth habit. It has feathery, fern-like leaves that are bright green in color and grow up to 3 inches long. The plant produces small, yellow flowers that grow in umbels, which are clusters of flowers that grow on a single stem.

Flowers and Fruit

The flowers of anise plant are small and yellow in color. They grow in umbels that can have up to 30 flowers. The flowers bloom in mid-summer and produce small, oval-shaped fruits that are about 1/8 inch long and 1/16 inch wide.

a close up on anise flower plant

The fruits are green when they first form and turn brown as they ripen. Each fruit contains two small, brown seeds that are about 1/8 inch long and 1/16 inch wide.

Leaves and Seeds

Anise plant’s leaves are feathery and fern-like, with a bright green color. They are finely divided into small, narrow segments that give the plant a delicate, lacy appearance. The leaves have a sweet, licorice-like aroma and flavor that is similar to the plant’s seeds.

Anise seeds are the most commonly used part of the plant. They are small, brown, and have a sweet, licorice-like flavor and aroma. The seeds are used as a spice in many culinary dishes and are also used to flavor liqueurs, such as ouzo and anisette.

Anise plant grows best in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. It prefers full sun to partial shade and can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, from cool to hot.

Anise plant is a great addition to any herb garden and can attract pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, with its fragrant flowers.

Anise Flavor

Anise is known for its distinct licorice-like taste and aroma. This flavor is due to the presence of anethole, a compound that is also found in other herbs and spices like fennel, dill, and star anise. Anethole is responsible for the sweet, warm, and slightly spicy taste of anise.

closeup details of star anise on a wooden spoon

The licorice-like taste of anise makes it a popular ingredient in candies, pastries, and liquors. Its unique flavor can add depth and complexity to many dishes, making it a favorite among chefs and home cooks alike.

While anise has a similar flavor to licorice, it is important to note that it is not the same thing. Licorice is a plant that is also used for its sweet flavor, but it has a stronger and more intense taste than anise.

In addition to its flavor, anise is also known for its aroma. The scent of anise is often described as sweet and warm, with hints of spice and herbs. This aroma can be found in many products that contain anise, such as perfumes, soaps, and candles.

Overall, anise is a versatile ingredient that can add a unique and delicious flavor to many dishes. Whether you are using it in candy, pastries, or savory dishes, anise is sure to add a touch of warmth and sweetness to your food.

Anise Oil

Anise oil is derived from the seeds of the anise plant through a process called steam distillation. The oil has a sweet, licorice-like aroma and is commonly used in cooking, as well as in perfumes, soaps, and aromatherapy.

Anise oil is known for its various health benefits, including its ability to aid digestion, relieve menstrual cramps, and alleviate symptoms of coughs and colds. It is also believed to have antifungal and antibacterial properties.

Essential aroma anise oil in a glass bottle with dried star anise on wooden spoon and background

When using anise oil, it is important to dilute it properly before applying it to the skin, as it can cause skin irritation in some people. It is also not recommended for use during pregnancy or by those with certain medical conditions, such as epilepsy.

Anise oil can be used in a variety of ways, including as a flavoring for food and beverages, as a natural remedy for various health issues, and as an ingredient in cosmetic and personal care products. It is important to always use high-quality, pure anise oil to ensure its effectiveness and safety.

Anise Liqueur

Anise liqueur is a type of alcoholic drink made or flavored with aniseed or star anise. Most of these types of liqueurs are clear with a strong black licorice taste.

Many countries produce types of anise-based liquors. These can be served a number of ways, including straight up and on ice.

Traditional arabic alcohol drinks Raki with anise and a rustic wooden background

When it comes to anise liqueurs, there are many different varieties to choose from. Some of the most popular include:

  • Sambuca: This is a sweet, syrupy liqueur that is often served as a digestif after a meal. It is typically clear in color and has a strong anise flavor.
  • Anisette: This is a clear, sweet liqueur that is also made with aniseed. It is often served as an aperitif before a meal.
  • Ouzo: This is a Greek liqueur that is made with aniseed and other herbs. It is typically served with water, which causes it to turn a milky white color.
  • Arak: This is a Middle Eastern liqueur that is similar to ouzo. It is typically made with aniseed and distilled from grapes.

Anise liqueurs can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Some people prefer to drink them straight up, while others like to mix them with other ingredients to create cocktails. Here are a few popular anise liqueur cocktails:

  • Sambuca con la Mosca: This is a traditional Italian cocktail that is made with sambuca and coffee beans.
  • Anisette Frappe: This is a refreshing cocktail that is made with anisette, lemon juice, and soda water.
  • Ouzo Lemonade: This is a simple cocktail that is made with ouzo and lemonade.

Overall, anise liqueurs are a popular choice for those who enjoy the taste of licorice. Whether you prefer to drink them straight up or mixed into a cocktail, there are many different varieties to choose from.

Health Benefits

Anise seed is a powerful plant that offers many health benefits. Here are some of the ways anise seed can benefit your health:

May Help Regulate Blood Sugar Levels

Anise seed may help regulate blood sugar levels, making it a potentially useful supplement for people with high blood sugar.

old man checking his blood sugar with a glucometer

According to a review study, people with type 2 diabetes who took anise seed powder experienced lower fasting blood sugar levels and lower total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. However, more research is needed to confirm these effects.

May Relieve Menopause Symptoms

Anise seed may help relieve some symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes. The plant contains phytoestrogens, which are compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. This can help alleviate hot flashes and other symptoms associated with menopause.

May Aid Digestion

Anise seed has been traditionally used to aid digestion and relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), such as bloating and constipation. The plant’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties may help reduce inflammation and fight harmful bacteria in the gut.

Rich in Nutrients

Anise seed is rich in many important nutrients, including iron, manganese, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc. These nutrients are essential for maintaining good health and preventing nutrient deficiencies.

Antioxidant Properties

Anise seed is a rich source of antioxidants, such as anethole, which can help protect the body against oxidative stress and prevent damage to cells and tissues.

It is important to note that while anise seed may offer some health benefits, more research is needed to fully understand its effects on the body.

As with any supplement, it is always best to talk to your healthcare provider before adding anise seed to your diet.

Please drink responsibly, be fully accountable with your alcohol consumption, and show others respect.

Written by Paul Kushner

I have always had a deep interest in the restaurant and bar industry. My restaurant experience began in 1997 at the age of 14 as a bus boy. By the time I turned 17 I was serving tables, and by 19 I was bartending/bar managing 6-7 nights a week.

In 2012, after a decade and a half of learning all facets of the industry, I opened my first restaurant/bar. In 2015, a second location followed, the latter being featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

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