scientific name: Pimpinella anisum other common names: Anise
growing areas: While rooted historically in the Mediterranean area, it is widely available in South America. Spanish colonists brought it to the New World in the sixteenth century.
physical description: An annual plant that grows to a height of up to two feet, anise puts down a long taproot and produces small white and yellow flowers, as well as a fruit that when dried out is referred to as aniseed. The aniseed is processed to produce anise oil, a volatile oil, the main constituent of which is anethole. Another variety of the plant is known as star anise (Illicium vernum) and is reported to have common use in Hispanic folk medicine.
traditional uses: Anise is deeply rooted in history, and as an Old World herb was known to the ancient Egyptians and throughout the Mediterranean area. It was even mentioned in the works of Hammurabi, and botanical historians say Hippocrates recommended its use to clear the respiratory system. Dioscorides also listed it as a medicinal plant in his De materia medica. Its fragrance is also said to have made it valuable as a perfume. While used as a food additive—it has the taste of licorice—anise has been used medicinally as a treatment for abdominal upset and intestinal gas, as well as as a breath freshener. In medieval times, anise was used as a gargle solution with honey and vinegar to treat tonsillitis.
Within Hispanic cultures, particularly in Mexico, anise is one of the most common botanical substances used to treat colic in children. Commission E recommends its use for dyspeptic complaints as well as for catarrhs of the respiratory system. The commission reports that it has mild antispasmodic and antibacterial properties.
availability and dosage: It is found in a variety of sources, including lozenges, cough drops, and teas. Anise oil is also available commercially. Commission E reports an average daily dose of 3 grams of the drug for internal use, as well as a preparation for external use of 5 to 10 percent of anise essential oil.
contraindications: Commission E reports contraindications for allergy to anise and anethole, which is found in the essential oil.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes. Ingestion of anise oil has been known to cause vomiting, nausea, and pulmonary edema. Experts also caution about possible allergic reaction and contact dermatitis. Doctors and pharmacists have also warned pregnant women to steer clear of anise.
medical research: While Commission E generally considers anise to be safe, some experts in the United States do not believe there has been adequate scientific research done to justify some of the' claimed benefits attributed to it over the years. One animal study showed that anise oil had an effect on the smooth muscles of the tracheas of guinea pigs. But medical literature in the United States has not backed up the therapeutic uses of anise.