Anise (pimpinella anisum)

Anise, a member of the same family as parsley and carrots, is widely grown throughout North America, Europe, and Asia for its seeds, which are used medicinally and in cooking. The herb has been recommended for health problems since at least the 6th century BCE, when the mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras (ca. 580–ca. 500) suggested that holding it could prevent epileptic seizures.

The 1st-century Roman herbalist Pliny the Elder (23–79 CE) stated that anise “removed all bad odors from the mouth, if chewed in the morning.” The Romans mixed anise seed with other savory spices and meal to make a cake called mustaceum, a digestive aid and dessert served after heavy meals.

Dogs love the scent of anise: In greyhound racing, the artificial hare is scented with this herb.


Plant profile

Common Names: Anise, Aniseed

Description: Stems, 2 feet tall, topped with yellowish white flower umbels; feathery, divided leaves; flattened oval gray-brown seeds up to 1⁄8 inch long

Hardiness: Annual

Family: Apiaceae

Flowering: Summer

Parts Used: Seeds and leaves

Range/Habitat: Native to the Mediterranean region and western Asia; widely cultivated

Culinary use

Anise imparts a licorice flavor to foods. The seed can be used whole or ground with eggs, fruit, cheese, spinach, or carrots, as well as in bread or crackers. Anise seed intensifies the sweetness of desserts. Anise liqueurs, including the Greek ouzo, are made all over the world. To make anisette, combine equal parts anise, coriander, and fennel seed, and steep them in vodka; sweeten with simple syrup (one part sugar dissolved in one part boiling water).

Medicinal use

John Gerard, in his Herball, or Generall Historie of Plantes, published in 1597, noted that anise seeds were good for the treatment of intestinal gas (“winde”) and “belching and upbraidings of the stomacke.” He counseled that the seeds could be chewed to make the breath “sweete,” and when eaten with bitter almonds (a wild almond related to the cultivated species), anise would “helpe the old cough.”

Anise seed is used today to relieve gas, bloating, nausea, bad breath, and indigestion. It has antispasmodic and expectorant properties, which may make it helpful in the treatment of menstrual cramps and respiratory complaints such as asthma, coughs, and bronchitis.

How to grow it

Sow anise seeds directly in your garden in light, well-drained soil and full sun. Harvest whole seed heads after the seeds have ripened, but before the heads open, clipping them directly into a bag so the seeds do not scatter. Dry the seeds in the sun or in a warm, dry area indoors. Store the dry seeds in airtight containers. Start new plants from the saved seeds.