Anise is an annual culinary herb belonging to ajwain or celery family. Its fruit, known as aniseed, is one of the oldest spices. The seed is ground-grey to greyish-brown in colour, oval in shape and 3.2 to 4.8 mm in length. It has an agreeable odour and a pleasant taste. The anise plant grows upto a height of 75 ems. It requires sunshine and warmth and does not grow satisfactorily in the tropical lowlands.
Anise is a native of the Middle East. It was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, who valued its medicinal properties and culinary uses. It was also known to the early Greeks and Romans. It is now cultivated in Europe, Asia Minor, India and Mexico.
It contains moisture, substantial amount of protein, fatty oil and crude fibre besides essential oil, sugars, starch and ash. It also contains choline.
Anise oil is a colourless or pale-yellow liquid, with the characteristic odour and taste of the fruit. This oil has now replaced the fruits for medicinal and flavouring purposes.
The chief constituent of anise oil is anethole which is present in large quantity and is mainly responsible for the characteristic flavour of the oil. The oil also contains methyl, chavicol, p-methoxyphenyl acetone and small amounts of terpenes and sulphur compounds of disagreeable odour.
Aniseed is esteemed in medicine for its properties to relieve flatulence and to remove catarrhal matter and phelgm from the bronchial tube. These properties are due to the presence of its essential oil. The seed also induces copious perspiration and increases the volume and discharge of urine.
Aniseed is an ideal medicine for expelling wind from the stomach. It can also be taken, in combination with other digestives like ginger, cummin and pepper, in the form of an infusion. Gripe water for infants contains aniseed extract.
An easy way to prepare the infusion is to mix a teaspoon of aniseed in a cup of boiling water and leave it covered overnight The clear fluid is then decanted and taken with honey. This is an ideal treatment for indigestion, especially when there is gurgling in the abdomen. It is also useful in preventing gas and fermentation in the stomach and the bowels.
The herb is useful in the treatment of cataract. In such case, 6 grams of aniseed should be taken daily in the morning and evening. The other way of taking this herb is to powder an equal weight of aniseed and coriander seeds and to mix it with an equal weight of unrefined sugar. About 12 gram doses of this mixture is to be taken in the morning and evening.
Aniseed is considered beneficial in the treatment of asthma due to its expectorant properties.
Tea made from aniseed is considered beneficial in the treatment of sleeplessness. It is prepared by boiling 375 ml of water and adding a teaspoon of aniseed. The water should be covered with a lid and allowed to simmer for 15 minutes. It should then be strained and taken hot or warm. Honey and hot milk will improve the taste. It should be sipped either after meals or before going to bed.
Precautions: Aniseed should not be boiled too long as it may lose its digestive properties and essential oil during the process.
Aniseed is used externally as an insecticide against small insects such as lice, mites and vermin. It also has fungicidal properties.
The seeds are used to flavour curries, sweets, cakes, cookies and biscuits. Anise oil is employed in medicine as an aromatic carminative to relieve flatulence. Being a mild expectorant, it is used as an ingredient of beverages and liqueurs. It is a popular flavouring agent for dental preparations and mouth washes.