Anise's therapeutic benefits and licorice-like flavor were recognized and used by many ancient civilizations. Today, many pharmaceuticals seek to take advantage of anise's benefits by adding the herb to certain drugs, like cough syrup and throat medications.1
However, as far as pharmaceuticals go, these drugs are neither all-natural nor safe. For you to maximize the benefits of this herb, I recommend you use it in its natural form, or as anise oil.
What Is Anise Oil?
Anise essential oil is derived from the perennial herbal plant anise or aniseed (Pimpinella anisum). Although anise originated from Asia, it is prevalent in Mediterranean nations. Today, it is produced in Spain, France and Russia, but also grows in the wild in other countries. It was the Romans who introduced anise to Europe, while early settlers brought it to North America.
One of its primary uses was to promote digestive health. In ancient Rome, anise was often added (together with cumin and fennel) to a cake that was eaten after meals, while the Egyptians used the herb as an ingredient in breads.
Anise is often confused with fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) because both plants come from the Apiaceae family and have a similar taste.2 Anise is also confused with another herb called Chinese star anise (Illicium verum), which is widely used in Asian countries and used to make the drug Tamiflu.
There is a wide range of uses for anise oil – from cooking to flavorings to medications. These uses include:3,4
Uses of Anise Oil
✓ Narcotic and sedative — Can help ease epileptic and hysteric episodes
✓ Pain reliever — Provides relief for arthritic pain
✓ Antiseptic — Used to clean wounds and help protect against infections
✓ Decongestant/expectorant — Helps eliminate congestion in the respiratory tract
✓ Flavoring agent — Used as a flavoring agent for food and beverages and an ingredient for salads and soups
✓ Food processing — Anise and anise oils are used in processed meats like pepperoni, pizza toppings, Italian sausage and similar food products
✓ Breast milk production — Has phytoestrogenic properties
✓ Libido enhancer — Used in ancient times as a sex driver enhancer and as an aphrodisiac
✓ Insecticide — The oil is toxic to insects
✓ For oral health — Added to toothpastes, mouthwashes and syrups
✓ Fragrance — Added to soaps, detergents, lotions and skin creams
Composition of Anise Oil
The composition of anise essential oil varies depending on where it is produced. However, in general, the oil has about 80 to 90 percent anethol, which is responsible for its odor as well as some of its beneficial properties.5 Anethol's structure is similar to the catecholamines adrenaline, nor-adrenaline and dopamine.
Other chemical components found in anise oil are estragol (makes up about 10 to 15 percent), eugenol p-eresol: propionic, butyric, myristic and anisic alcohol.
Benefits of Anise Oil
Anise oil and anethol have antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, stimulant and expectorant properties. This is why anise oil is often used or added to medicine, such as cough syrups and lozenges. Anise essential oil also displays potent antioxidant action. The antibacterial properties of anise oil make it useful against bacterial strains like Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, Escherichia coli and Corynebacterium ovis.
Anethol, aniseed's predominant constituent, has antimicrobial and antifungal activities, making it useful against Candida albicans and fungal strains like Alternaria, Aspergillus, Cladosporium, Fusarium and Penicillin.6 Anise oil is also effective against conditions that are associated with spasms, such as cramps, diarrhea, convulsions and muscle pains, thanks to its relaxant and anti-spasmodic effects.
The essential oil can also relieve indigestion, flatulence and acute chest pain and aid in promoting the elimination of excess gas in your digestive system.
Individuals suffering from colds, coughs and the flu can experience relief from using anise oil because of its expectorant and decongestant activities. The oil loosens mucus or phlegm in the respiratory tract and helps ease breathing troubles, asthma and other respiratory issues.
How to Make Infused Anise Oil
Large-scale production of anise oil involves the steam distillation of dried anise seeds. The entire process is called botanical terminology and produces a clear-colored oil. However, you may also create your own infused anise oil at home. If you're interested, below is a guide from eHow:7
What You Need:
• Dried anise seeds
• Carrier oil (e.g. almond oil)
• Mortar and pestle
• Glass container
1. Grind the dried seeds with the mortar and pestle to release the oil and scent of anise, but not too much that it will turn into a fine powder.
2. Transfer the oil into the glass container until it's almost full.
3. Pour the carrier oil into the container until the anise oil is completely submerged.
4. Seal the container and keep it exposed to the sun. The sun's heat will help release the oil from the crushed seeds.
5. Drain the oil through a cheesecloth to remove the anise seeds. Once done, store the finished product in a cool and dry place.
How Does Anise Oil Work?
Like other essential oils, anise oil should first be diluted before use. Essential oils are highly concentrated and may cause sensitizations in the user. Oil of anise should be first mixed with carrier oils like sweet almond oil, wheatgerm oil and jojoba oil.8 Once diluted, anise oil works best when inhaled or used in a diffuser. It can also be applied topically as a massage oil.
Is Anise Oil Safe?
The anethol and estragole found in anise seeds have a structure similar to that of a compound called safrole, a known hepatotoxin and carcinogen. While anethol and estragole have shown toxicity in rodents, anise oil is deemed generally safe for human consumption. It does not pose a threat to humans when it is consumed or used in moderation.
However, when used or consumed in heavy doses, it was found to aggravate certain type of cancers, as anise is an estrogenic agent.8,9 Pregnant and nursing women may benefit from using this essential oil, particularly to promote breast milk production and normal menstruation and to reduce pain. The oil may even benefit men by boosting their libido. However, I strongly advise consulting a physician before use.
Parents should also avoid administering anise oil or any essential oil directly on the highly delicate skin of infants and young children.
Side Effects of Anise Oil
As is the case with other oils, anise oil can cause allergic reactions in some people. Individuals with any type of skin condition should avoid using this oil. Avoid this oil if you have allergies to pollen, celery, or carrots. It can take 1 to 5 milliliters of anise oil to cause nausea, vomiting, seizures and pulmonary edema.
Immediately call your doctor if you experience any of these side effects upon the use of oil of anise:
• Any allergic reaction
• Mouth or lip inflammation
• Nausea, vomiting, or seizures
• Skin irritation