Star Anise

Star anise

Illicium verum Illiciaceae Also called Chinese anise

Native to southern China and northern Vietnam, this evergreen can grow to a height if 18m. Star anise has white, aromatic bark and its leaves taper to a point. The single flowers are greenish or whitish yellow and followed by star-shaped fruit, hence its common name. The fruit has a strong aroma and a sweet, sugary flavour. A single fruit is made up of 8 to 12 seedpods, each containing a brown, shiny seed.

Parts used

  • Fruits
  • The tree can live for 80 years but the fruit is not harvested during the first ten years. The fruits are picked when still green and not fully ripe.
  • After being dried in the sun the fruits turn a reddish brown colour.


The fruit contains a large quantity of essential oil (5-10 per cent), which is rich in anethole. This is mainly in the form of E-anethole.

Medicinal uses

Anethole is thought to be the source of many of the therapeutic properties associated with star anise. Traditionally, the plant is used to relieve digestive and intestinal problems and is particularly useful for treating colic. The effects of the fruits vary according to the amount of anethole present. In small doses it stimulates the appetite, promotes digestion, helps to expel wind and calms intestinal spasms. In large doses it can stimulate the central nervous system to such a degree that it causes trembling and convulsions.

Like anise, star anise possesses oestrogenic effects: it promotes menstruation, eases childbirth and stimulates milk secretion. A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 1980 suggests that the active ingredients are based on anethole polymeric units. Star anise is also believed to increase libido in both men and women.

The plant is reputed to possess stimulant and diuretic properties and can be beneficial in conditions such as lumbago. Like anise, it is often present in cough remedies. Japanese and Indian researchers have found that star anise is effective against various strains of bacteria, yeast and fungi and could therefore be useful in fighting off infections.


Care must be taken not to confuse the fruit of star anise with the poisonous fruit of Japanese anise. Although the fruits are quite similar in appearance, the fruit of Japanese anise is smaller and more irregular than that of star anise. The fruit also has a sharp, bitter odour, whereas star anise smells and tastes like aniseed.


For internal use

TO TREAT digestive problems INFUSION Put 1 teaspoon of dried fruit into a cup of boiling water and leave to infuse for 10 minutes, then strain. Drink 2 cups a day before meals.



Plant in moist, well-drained, neutral to acid soil in a slightly shaded position.


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