Also known as Anisum vulgare, A. officinarum, Anise, Anisum, Anisi fructus, Common Aniseed.
Aniseed is an annual herb that is cultivated in many countries, but is indigenous to Turkey, Greece and Egypt. It was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians and Romans, and well known to the Greeks. In the middle Ages, its cultivation spread to central Europe, and it is now grown in Europe, Middle East Asia, India and Mexico.
Aniseed is an annual and grows up to 60cm in height. It is umbelliferous in appearance, with bright green secondary feather-like leaflets and dainty white flowers. The fruits are covered with short hairs and each contains two dark seeds, which taste sweet and spicy with an aromatic odour. The ripe fruits/seeds, harvested between July and September, are used medicinally.
Aniseed contains 1.5 – 4.0% of fragrant, syrupy volatile oil (about 80 - 90% antheole), coumarins, glycosides, fixed oils, 30% fatty oils and choline.
Oil of Anise, distilled in Europe from the fruits of Pimpinella anisum (Anise), and in China from the fruits of Illicium anisatum (Star Anise), is colourless, or very pale yellow, with a taste and odour like the fruit. The oils obtainable from these two fruits are identical in composition, although Star Anise fruit congeals at a lower temperature. The powdered drug from Star Anise is administered in India as a substitute for the official fruit, and the oil is employed for its aromatic, carminative and stimulant properties. The bulk of the oil in commerce is obtained from the Star Anise fruit in China.
Aniseed is a relaxing expectorant, spasmolytic, carminative, antiseptic and parasiticide.
The volatile oil in aniseed is considered one of the best herbal medicines to provide relief from griping, intestinal colic and flatulence, and because of its expectorant and antispasmodic properties, for bronchitis, persistent irritable coughs, and the symptoms of whooping cough. It is greatly used in the form of lozenges, and the seeds have also been used for smokers, to promote expectoration.
Aniseed oil is a good antiseptic and is used, often mixed with oil of Peppermint or Gaultheria, to flavour aromatic liquid dentifrices.
Aniseed's mild oestrogenic effects, thought to be due to the presence of diantheole and photoantheole, explain the use of this plant in folk medicine to increase milk secretion, facilitate birth and increase libido.