A team of researchers isolated 22 compounds in anise essential oils, and found some phenylpropanoid compounds that were unique to anise, and four of the compounds had never before been identified in any plant.
Aside from effectively controlling aphids and the plant fungus Colletotrichum, the compounds also showed promise for human health problems. Specifically, some of the compounds were effective against:
- Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes malaria in humans.
- Mycobacterium intracellulare, a bacterium that can cause illness in people with compromised immune systems.
The researchers suggested that compounds in anise essential oils may be useful for developing pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. Anise has been used since ancient times in Europe, the Middle East and Asia for both therapeutic benefits and taste. Traditionally, this licorice-flavored herb is said to help with digestion, which is why it’s part of a blend of seeds typically offered at the end of an Indian meal.
Anise was also popular in Rome during the first century, when it was used to make a spice cake called mustaceum that was served after feasting to prevent indigestion.
In the United States, anise (Pimpinella anisum) is often confused with fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), a similarly flavored vegetable that looks like a white bulb with green feathery leaves (that also produces fennel seeds). Anise is also a different herb from Chinese star anise (Illicium verum), which is used to make the dangerous flu drug Tamiflu.
Is Anise Healthy?
Like many herbs and spices, anise offers a unique set of benefits. In traditional medicine, anise is used to calm upset stomachs and help reduce gas, and its effectiveness in treating stomach cramps has been proven scientifically.
Anise essential oils also have phytoestrogen properties, which may explain why it is said to help new mothers stimulate breast milk production and in ancient times was used to increase libido. These essential oils, which are antibacterial, antifungal, and insecticidal, can also naturally get rid of head lice (a far safer alternative to using chemical lice treatments).
Rest assured, however, that pharmaceuticals developed with isolated active components of this herb will bear little resemblance to the natural plant. For instance, it takes 10 different steps for star anise to be made into Tamiflu, according to this New York Times article, and some of the steps are “potentially hazardous because they involve the use of sodium azide, the chemical that makes automobile air bags inflate in an explosive rush.”
So while you may very well enjoy a bit of anise seed sprinkled on your soup, please do not mistake an anise-containing drug to be all-natural or safe.
When Using Herbs, Listen to Your Body
Herbs and spices are a great way to add flavor, and often health benefits, to your food. But if a certain spice doesn’t agree with you, then take a pass. This is your body’s way of letting you know that it’s not the best spice for you, and in this case, your body always knows best.