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Helpful Herbs: Anise

Anise, or aniseed, is a pretty, easy to grow flowering herb with a distinctive odor and a boot-load of benefits.

Sowing anise in your herb garden will give you a tall, leafy plant that bears beautiful, small yellow flowers.

Typically grown from seed, anise likes full sun and well drained soil. Anise is not cold tolerant and should be planted after danger of frost, preferably in a warm spot. The plants need regular watering and rich soil, but do not require fertilization. Anise will also grow well in pots, as long as they are placed in an area with full sun. Because the stalks grow up to 24″ tall, anise plants will often need staking in a windy garden.

An annual, anise does need to be re-sown yearly. Contrary to rumor, anise and fennel are not the same thing. We’ll talk more about fennel in a future post, however anise is grown for its seeds while fennel is all about the large, white bulb.

You can clip off anise leaves throughout the summer for some licorice-like flavoring in a salad, but anise is primarily cultivated for its seeds. Seeds are harvested at the end of summer, after about 100 days of growth. The clusters of tiny yellow flowers will turn to ribbed, tear-drop shaped brown seed pods that can be plucked and dried. The easiest way to harvest the seeds is to simply clip the whole head of each former flower.

Once harvested, you’ll have a treasure trove of culinary and medicinal possibilities for your aniseed. The seeds are highly aromatic and are a common ingredient in many teas, and are used to flavor liquors such as sambuca, root beer, and absinthe. A pinch of ground aniseed gives a distinct flavor to cookies, soups, breads, and scones.

Aniseed is well regarded for its numerous health benefits. Chewing aniseed can ease indigestion and stomach aches. As an essential oil, anise has a somewhat narcotic and sedative effect, and it can be used as a sedative or to treat anxiety and depression. Because of these properties, it has also been used to treat epilepsy and nervous afflictions. Anise stimulates the circulation, making it a treatment for rheumatism and arthritic pains. A note of caution: because of its narcotic effects, anise should only be taken in small doses. It can be poisonous to some animals, so store aniseed in a safe place.

Anise has a rich history of use in herb-lore throughout the centuries. Pliny the Elder chewed aniseed and honey to freshen his breath and claimed it was a cure for nightmares, and Pythagoras used it as a remedy for epilepsy. During the Civil War, anise was used as an antiseptic on the battlefield. Treasured as a spice in Ancient Rome, anise was a key ingredient in traditional wedding cakes.

The benefits of anise in history also include increasing your physic abilities, and averting the Evil Eye. The artificial hare used in greyhound racing is dipped in aniseed oil, as were sacks used to start the trail in a foxhunt. In fact, it’s rumored to have a similar effect on dogs as catnip does on cats. Aniseed is still used to scent fishing lures, as the scent is said to attract fish.

A powerful herb that packs a punch of flavor, aroma, and health, anise is a great plant to add to your herb garden. The bright yellow flowers can brighten your garden in the summer, and the seeds will continue to illuminate your cooking throughout the winter months.


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