The Health Benefits of Anise

This herb may help ease menstrual cramps and menopause symptoms

Anise oil, extract, and spices

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Anise is an herb (Pimpinella anisum) that has a long history of use as a medicinal aid. Anise seed, anise oil, and—less frequently—the root and the leaf, are used to make medicine to treat digestive issues and other problems. According to some sources, anise was used in Egypt as early as 1500 B.C.

Anise is also commonly used to flavor foods, beverages, candies, and breath fresheners, and it is often used as a fragrance in soap, creams, perfumes, and sachets. You may be familiar with its licorice-like taste and scent.

Also Known As

Anise is known by several different names, including:

  • Anis vert
  • Aniseed
  • Anisi fructus
  • Graine d'Anis vert

Anise is not the same as star anise, even though the names sound similar.

Health Benefits

Research on the health effects of anise is fairly limited. Certain chemicals in anise may have estrogen-like effects and impact menstrual and menopause symptoms.

Here's a look at several findings on the potential health benefits of anise extract.

Menstrual Pain

A combination of anise extract, saffron, and celery seed may help alleviate menstrual pain, according to a study published in the Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health in 2009.

For the study, 180 female students (ages 18 to 27) were split into three groups: one group received the anise/saffron/celery seed mixture, one group received mefenamic acid (a type of anti-inflammatory drug), and one group received a placebo. Starting from the onset of their menstrual bleeding or pain, each group took their assigned treatment three times a day for three days.

After following the participants for two to three menstrual cycles, the study authors found that those assigned to the anise/saffron/celery seed combination experienced a significantly greater reduction in menstrual pain compared to those assigned the other two treatments.

Hot Flashes

In a study published in the Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research in 2012, researchers found that anise may help relieve hot flashes in women going through menopause.

The study included 72 postmenopausal women, each of whom took either anise extract or potato starch in capsule form daily for four weeks. Compared to the control group, those treated with anise extract had a significantly greater reduction in the frequency and severity of their hot flashes.

Digestive Issues

Taking a combination of anise, fennel, elderberry, and senna may help ease constipation, suggests a small study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2010.

In a clinical trial that included 20 patients with chronic constipation who were treated for a five-day period, researchers found that the anise-containing herbal combination was significantly more effective than placebo in increasing the number of evacuations per day. The authors noted that the herbal combination may help fight constipation by producing a laxative effect.

Other Uses

Anise is used in herbal medicine as a natural remedy for the following health problems:

  • Asthma
  • Cough
  • Diabetes
  • Gas
  • Insomnia
  • Neurological disorders (such as epilepsy)
  • Upset stomach

Anise is also said to stimulate the appetite, increase the flow of milk in lactating women, promote menstruation, and enhance libido.

When applied topically (i.e., directly to the skin), anise extract is thought to aid in the treatment of conditions like lice and psoriasis.

However, there is not enough scientific evidence to know if anise can provide relief or aid in the treatment of any of these conditions.

Possible Side Effects

Anise is likely safe when consumed in amounts typically found in food. There is not enough evidence to know if anise is safe when used medicinally.

You may experience an allergic reaction to anise if you have an allergy to a related plant such as asparagus, caraway, celery, coriander, cumin, dill, and fennel.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid the use of medicinal anise because there is not enough scientific evidence to know if it is safe for them.

Anise may have estrogen-like effects, so there's some concern that the use of anise supplements may be potentially harmful to people with hormone-sensitive conditions, such as hormone-dependent cancers (breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer), endometriosis, and uterine fibroids.

Anise may also interact with certain medications including birth control pills, estrogen, and tamoxifen. Speak to your healthcare provider before consuming anise if you are taking these or any other medications.

Anise spices

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

You'll find anise in almost any grocery store, generally in the spice aisle. Anise seed is sold whole or ground. Many Middle Eastern, Italian, German, and Indian recipes call for it.

Store anise like you do other spices: in an airtight container and away from heat and light. Whole seeds usually last three to four years. Ground anise seed usually lasts two to three years.

You can purchase anise extract or anise oil for medicinal use in many natural-foods stores and shops specializing in dietary supplements, as well as online.

Read labels carefully. Star anise oil—which is from a completely different herb—is also commonly sold and may be labeled as anise oil. To ensure you are purchasing anise, look for a product that specifies Pimpinella anisum or anise seed on its label. (Tip: If the bottle has a star-shaped brown fruit on its label, it is likely sourced from star anise.)

Also, keep in mind that supplements like anise are largely unregulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to government standards, it is illegal to market a dietary supplement as a treatment or cure for a specific disease or to alleviate the symptoms of a disease.

But these products are not tested by the FDA for safety or effectiveness. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances.

Some consumers look for products that have been certified by ConsumerLabs, U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), or NSF International. These organizations don't guarantee that a product is safe or effective, but they do provide a certain level of quality assurance.

Common Questions

Are anise and licorice related?
Most describe anise's flavor as being similar to black licorice, but licorice and anise do not come from the same plant. However, black licorice candy is traditionally flavored with anise, not licorice root, as some naturally assume.

Is anise just another word for fennel?
No, although you likely won't have to look very far to find a recipe or grocery store sign that uses the terms interchangeably. The confusion is not surprising. Anise and fennel taste similar and are both in the parsley family, but they are from different plants. While anise seeds are used in cooking, fennel's seeds, leaves, and bulb are all edible.

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