Like just about every other scent, anise is one of those smells that you either love or desperately hate. If you're not familiar with anise, think licorice; although the plant is not directly related to licorice, it has a very similar taste and smell.
Anise has many uses throughout history that extend into modern day. From its use in medicine and food to an inventive use in train building, anise has been valued by an abundance of professionals throughout time.
When you think about anise, you are likely picturing the star-shaped fruit and you're not technically wrong. True anise actually belongs to the same family as parsley, while star anise belongs to the magnolia family. The common compound that unites them is anethole, which is responsible for that yummy (or yucky) licorice flavor with which we are all familiar.
Anise or pimpinella anisum, is a white-flowered plant that is native to Egypt as well as Greece. True anise produces small seeds, and these are used to produce the licorice flavor. Egyptians are said to have used anise as early as 1500 B.C., and was also mentioned by famous Greek physicians Dioscorides and Pliny. In fact, it was so valued that it was also used as currency!
Star anise is native to the warmer areas of south China as well as Indochina. Used commonly in Asian cuisine, it is one of the most important ingredients in the popular Chinese 5-Spice.
Anise is widely used as a flavoring and can be found in many liquors (including the infamous absinthe), baked goods, tea, black jelly beans, and many more commonly consumed items. Although true anise and star anise are not the same spice by any means, they can be used interchangeably—just make sure to account for the potency of star anise in comparison.
Besides being used as a flavoring, anise has also been used throughout history for medicinal purposes. A few of the ailments said to be eased by anise include:
- bug repellent
- stomach ache
- menstrual cramps
Anise was also used for/as an:
- pest bait
- lure for fish
- lure for dogs
Remember: this information is being provided strictly for educational purposes. The FDA has not approved anise or star anise for medical use. The HSCG does not give medical advice and does not advise using or advertising anise or star anise for medicinal purposes.
Steam locomotive builders in Britain also used aniseed oil in bearings so that the smell would alert the engineer in the case of overheating.
Whew! There are lots of different historical uses for this common oil; but how is it made?
Anise essential oil can be produced using either supercritical carbon dioxide extraction methods or steam distillation. The oil is obtained from the fruit of the plant, and the oil is primarily produced in Europe and China.
But, should you choose true oil of anise, or star anise essential oil? That's a matter of preference. Currently star anise is more widely produced and may cost marginally less then oil of anise (also called aniseed oil).
Love it or hate it, the historical uses and benefits of anise give it an interesting past. There are those who even believed anise had the power to repel the "evil eye"—while we aren't sure this is the case, anise and star anise can make a great addition to your product line. Try using it with floral or citrus scents to add a new depth to your favorite fragrances!