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Star anise
Latin Name:

Illicium verum




Star anise, an evergreen shrub or small tree with aromatic bark and star-shaped fruits1  , is native to southern Asia. The leaves are pointed and oval. The flowers are yellowish-white with a red or pink tinge and are followed by star-shaped, eight-pointed, woody fruits.1  It is cultivated in China, Japan, India, and Vietnam,2  with China being the main producer.3  

History and Cultural Significance

The Chinese have used star anise for 1,300 years.3  Star anise has been known to be used as a stimulant, to prevent gas, and to enhance sexual desire. Furthermore, the anise oil is reported to have a weak antibacterial activity. Star anise is used as an expectorant in cough mixtures and lozenges. It has been used internally for dyspeptic (stomach upset) complaints.3  The star anise oil is mainly used as a flavoring and/or to ease stomach aches in China.4  The seeds are sometimes chewed after meals to aid digestion5  and to sweeten the breath.6  Star anise has been used in a tea to sooth and ease discomfort.7  The seeds are also used internally as a diuretic. In Japan, the star anise tree is planted on tombs and in temples where the pounded bark is used as incense.6  Star anise is used orally to ease loss of appetite, stomach discomfort, gas, and bloating.8  Star anise oil, which is obtained by steam distillation, can be used to mask undesirable odors in drugs and cosmetic products.3  It is also used as a fragrance component in toothpaste, perfumes, soaps, detergents, creams and lotions. The oil is also utilized as a flavoring ingredient in all major categories of foods such as in alcohols, liqueurs, dairy products, gelatins, puddings, meats, and candies.3  The FDA has recognized Chinese star anise as safe for food use.7  

Modern Research

The German Commission E has approved the use of star anise seeds as a bronchial expectorant for coughs, irritations and congestion of the respiratory tract.9  They have also approved its use to soothe gastrointestinal complaints.

Future Outlook

One trial indicates that compounds from the star anise fruit have natural insecticidal activity and may prove useful for fumigation.10  


1  Bown D. The Herb Society of America New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London: Dorling Kindersley Limited; 2001.

2  Van Wyk BE, Wink M. Medicinal Plants of the World. Portland, OR: Timber Press, Inc; 2004.

3  Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. 2nd ed. New York: Wiley-Interscience; 1996.

4  Jordral M. Illicium, Pimpenella, and Foeniculum. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2004

5  Star anise. Wikipedia encyclopedia website. Available at: Accessed on 12/13/04 and 12/9/2005.

6  Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol 1. New York: Dover Publications Inc; 1971.

7  Anon. American Botanical Council clarifies safety issues on star anise tea. HerbalGram 2003; 60: 65.

8  Jellin J, Gregory P, eds. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 5th ed. Stockton, CA: Therapeutic Research Facility; 2003.

9  Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Riggins CW, Rister RS, eds. Klein S, Rister RS, trans. The Complete German Commission E Monographs¾Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Boston: Integrative Medicine Communication; 1998.

10  Chang K, Ahn Y. Fumigant activity of (e)-anethole identified in Illicium verum fruit against Blattella germanica. Pest Management Science. 2002:58(2);161-166.

11  Lee S, et al. Preventive agents against sepsis and new phenylpropanoid glucosides from the fruits of Illicium verum. Planta Medica. 2003:69(9);861-864.