Even if you’ve never heard of anise, you’ve definitely come across it before. It’s commonly referred to as anise seed or aniseed—all of which refer to the same Mediterranean plant that has a strong taste usually likened to licorice or fennel. It’s an herb and spice that can be found most often as a seed or in leaf form.
“Anise is a culinary cousin of caraway, cumin, and dill,” says Dana Nahai, RDN. “The flavor profile of anise will range from fruity to bitter depending on the variety of the plant.” She adds that it’s an ingredient that’s been used across cultures for thousands of years.
Although this spice isn’t a household name the same way turmeric is, it’s quietly been hiding in some pretty common drinks and recipes. Star anise is one of the spices in Starbucks’ Lightly Sweet Chai Latte, it’s a useful addition in a healthy coconut corn broth, and is commonly found in fall and winter cocktails.
If you’re looking to reap the benefits of anise in a more direct fashion, there are a number of teas (like this one from David’s Tea, this one from Kusmi Tea, and this one from Palais des Thes) that count it is a main ingredient.
There are no common side effects to anise but Nahai advises that you pay attention to serving sizes when using the spice (or any spice), and to refer to your health-care practitioner should you be trying to use the ingredient medicinally. With that in mind, this is everything you need to know about anise.
5 health benefits of anise
1. It’s anti-inflammatory
“The anti-inflammatory effect of anise is both historically and scientifically documented,” Nahai says, citing a study that showed that anise capsules improved symptoms in people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
2. It can help keep you regular
If you have heard of (or used) anise, it’s likely as a digestive aid. Nahai says that this is one of its most common uses, adding “it assists human digestion by inhibiting bacterial fermentation in the stomach and intestines, reducing gas production and abdominal distention.” Although it’s digestive properties are mostly known anecdotally, recent studies have looked into this property and found anise can help keep your gut happy, though researchers did call for more clinical trials to collect further evidence.
3. It’s an antimicrobial superstar
“Anise seed has a strong anti-microbial effect in the plant in which it’s found, which translates to the health of our food supply,” Nahai says, adding “it has shown promise as a natural food preservative to inhibit the growth of unwanted microbes.”
4. It could be an immune system booster
Although the research on this aspect of anise seed is preliminary, a number of small studies have found that anise seed does seem to improve immune system functions, which is one of the ancient health benefits associated with the herb.
5. Anise has unique phenylpropanoids (AKA health multitaskers)
“Anise is flush with a particular class of phytochemicals called phenylpropanoids, which help reduce oxidative and cellular damage in the plant,” Nahai says. This is noteworthy for your health because according to Nahai, “like other plant antioxidants, phenylpropanoids appear to extend their physiological cellular protection to humans.”
A study found that these phenylpropanoids have a range of benefits which include combatting fungal growths and infections, an ability to prevent the growth of a parasite that leads to malaria, and phytoestrogen properties (which have been found to alleviate symptoms ranging from menopause-related hot flashes to period pain relief).
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