With records of its first use dating back to 1550 BC in the famous Ebers Papyrus, anise, commonly called aniseed, has had a long history of medicinal and culinary use across cultures. Although it is often confused with star anise and tastes similar to star anise, liquorice, and camphor, they are all completely unrelated!
Originally found in Egypt and Greece, aniseed is now found in India, Japan, southern Russia, Lebanon, Spain, and South America due to its preference for temperate environments.
Faiths and Cultures
Aniseed has been used primarily in food and medicine, and was originally used as a medicinal herb in both ancient Egyptian and traditional Iranian medicines. In Ancient Greece, aniseed was thought to treat bad breath by removing ‘evil breath’ after eating and has actually been found to contain bacteriostatic properties, which inhibits the reproduction of bacteria in the mouth.
Ancient Romans used aniseed in bread, and the Spanish island of Majorca used aniseed in cakes that were baked to celebrate Christmas.
Purported to have a wide range of medicinal capabilities, the first record of the use of aniseed as a medicinal herb dates back to the Ebers Papyrus, created in 1550 BC. Aniseed has been used as an appetiser, aphrodisiac, and to treat flatulence. Because of these positive effects of aniseed, it has been used across the world, including as a post-meal digestive aid by both the Romans in mustaceum, a kind of bread, and by Indians in Mukhwas, a selection of seeds which is also used as a mouth freshener.
Aniseed also has carminative effects, and can help reduce inflammation and promote sputum secretion in the treatment of respiratory issues such as bronchitis and asthma. This is due to the essential oils present in aniseed, which are also used in toothpastes, mouthwash, and perfumes.
However, the use of any essential oils carries several risks, such as causing dermatitis or blisters when used by people with allergies or skin diseases, and can be toxic if consumed in high doses or by pregnant or nursing women and young children.
You can find out more about the effects of aniseed here, and in consultation with your doctor or naturopath.
With a long history of use in cooking, aniseed is also rich in calcium and vitamins, including C, B6, B12, A, and D. While aniseed leaves can be used for seasoning, the seeds are most commonly used, especially in European recipes for cookies, breads, and teas, and in Asian recipes for curries. The use of aniseed also varies within France, Germany, and Italy, being used in Italian schiacciata di pasqua, or ‘Easter bread’, as well as in cakes, apple sauces, sausages, and fish.
Aniseed is also a key ingredient in a variety of drinks, including liquors across Europe and the Middle East, such as Sambuca, Absinthe, kibib, and Raki. In Syrian cooking aniseed is used to make miglee chai, a tea made with various spices and nuts, as well as in fig jam.
The first British recipe for the modern cake also contained bruised ‘Aniseedes’ and was published in Countrey Contentments, in 1623 by Gervase Markham. Prior to this, recipes for cake contained yeast, due to their origin in bread recipes.
If you’re interested in using aniseed in your own cooking, click through the links below:
Being an annual, herbaceous plant, anise prefers plenty of sun and has difficulty growing in windy areas or in humid soils, only needing to be watered when flowering or during dry weather. Anise can grow up to almost a metre in height and has umbels of yellow or white flowers and small fruits that are harvestable in summer.
As a companion plant, anise can be planted alongside coriander and beans to improve their germination and growth, but should be planted away from basil, carrots, and rue. Although anise does attract wasps, it also repels aphids and can provide shade for surrounding low-growing plants.