Aniseed is a member of the Umbelliferae plant family, which includes several other commonly used herbs such as angelica, dill and fennel. The plant is native to the warmer climes of Egypt and Greece, and is now also grown in several other countries, including Spain and Mexico. The seeds of the plant have a pleasant liquor-ice taste and, as a result, aniseed is used in the confectionery industry and also as a flavoring for-throat lozenges and cough preparations. Alcoholic beverages such as Pastis and Pernod are aniseed-flavored and aniseed can be used as an ingredient in some recipes for home cooking.
Like fennel and dill, aniseed can have beneficial effects on the digestive system, combating flatulence, indigestion and colic. Aniseed also has a deodorizing effect on the breath so is used in breath-freshening preparations. Other properties of the plant have enabled it to be used since the times of the ancient Romans as an aphrodisiac, an antiseptic and a stimulant to the production of breast milk in nursing mothers. Aniseed also has a decongestant effect on the upper respiratory tract.
The essential oil is obtained from the seed by steam distillation. The oil is very pale yellow in color and has a sweet and spicy smell. It is used extensively in the pharmaceutical and food and drinks industries.
Aniseed oil is used therapeutically in the treatment of respiratory and digestive problems but has a relatively high level of toxicity. Although the plant and seeds have culinary and medicinal uses, the essential oil is not recommended for domestic use.
Can cause drowsiness and dizziness in large doses and is an irritant, causing skin problems such as dermatitis in some people.
Warning: Not recommended for use in the home, unless on the advice of a trained therapist.