Are you familiar with the Chinese star anise? It comes from a tropical tree that can reach up to 10 meters in height. The woody fruit of the Chinese star anise is composed of several lobes that give this spice a characteristic star shape. In each lobe is a seed of Illicium verum (star anise), which are used in both cooking and pharmaceutical products.
Not to be confused with the Japanese star anise, (Illicium religiosum), also known as shikimi, a plant in the Magnoliaceae family whose small fruits are highly toxic.
Properties of Chinese star anise
Its characteristics are all found in the active ingredient, anethole, one of the main compounds of the essential oil.
Thus, this spice has carminative and antibacterial properties as well as eupeptic and antiviral properties. It is a true natural antibiotic. However, it is also capable of acting as a digestive aid. It is a good diuretic, a depurative, and seems to be able to stimulate hunger.
This spice is also used as a expectorant and anti-inflammatory,
But what about the taste? Chinese star anise tastes very similar to licorice.
Growing Chinese star anise
Chinese star anise does not require much care, but cannot withstand frost. It can be grown either in pots or in the ground, the important thing is that the soil is acidic (a mixture of sand and peat will do). Best to keep it indoors as early as autumn, however, and water it abundantly, especially in summer.
It prefers semi-shade and can be reproduced by layering. It should be planted in spring. One variety particularly suitable for cultivation is Illicium floridanum. Native to Florida, it does not exceed 2 meters in height and gives reddish flowers in summer.
Differences between common anise and Chinese star anise
The plant of common anise (Pimpenella anisum), also called aniseed, belongs to a different plant family. Star anise also comes from the East and has very similar uses and benefits to aniseed, although their characteristics are almost entirely different.
Uses in medicine, home and cooking
Shikimic acid – of which Chinese star anise is one of the main sources – is used to make a flu medication. But Chinese star anise is especially popular with oriental cuisine, where it is used both as a spice to flavor foods and beverages, either whole or ground.
It is in fact known as a component of the so-called “5 Chinese spices”, which also include green anise, cinnamon, peppery anise (Sichuan pepper) and cloves. It is also used for the production of liqueurs such as sambuca, pastis, ouzo and mistrà.
Back in the16th century, it was a well-known rat bait, not surprisingly the scientific name is “Illicium” (meaning “baiting”). It is an excellent moth repellent, but it can also be used as a profumer of cabinets and drawers, soaps and toothpastes. It is a must-have ingredient in any self-respecting pot puorri.
Chinese star anise should be boiled and then pounded and added at the end, never while cooking. It is one of the main ingredients in Garam Masala, and in the mixture used to lacquer pork, duck and goose (especially in China).
It also goes well with vegetables, soups, and soft drinks such as herbal teas. Just 1 gram of star anise powder in a 250-mL cup is enough and should be left to steep for at least 10 minutes.
Star aniseed in pregnancy and breastfeeding
This spice can be considered an ally of breastfeeding women. In fact, it turns out to be able to stimulate the production of prolactin, the enzyme responsible for lactation.
However, its use during pregnancy is not recommended.
As always in the case of essential oils, care must be taken with overdosing. In fact, Chinese star anise could cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and, in severe cases, convulsions.
Where is Chinese star anise found?
This spice apparently originates from Japan, (where it is considered a sacred plant), Vietnam and China, from where it was introduced, in Europe, around the 17th century.
Today, in addition to herb stores, it can be found online, normally dried, either whole or powdered.
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