The Health Benefits of Anise

Anise growing from the ground
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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, breath freshener and is often used as a fragrance in soap, creams, perfumes, and sachets.

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 may have effects on the human body related to menstruation and menopause.

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 to 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, researchers found that the anise-containing herbal combination was significantly more effective than placebo in increasing the number of evacuations per day. The trial involved a five-day treatment period, with the study authors noting that the herbal combination may help fight constipation by producing a laxative effect.

Another study published in 2017 in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine examined the use of anise oil to help in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Specifically, researchers wanted to know if anise oil could ease symptoms of depression—common among patients with IBS. After conducting a four week trial (with a six week follow up), study authors concluded that anise oil could be a promising treatment for depressed patients with irritable bowel syndrome.

Anise is also 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.

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.

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

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 any of these medications.

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.

Selection, Preparation & Storage

You'll find anise in almost any grocery store, generally in the spice aisle. Anise seed is sold whole or ground and has a distinctive taste that most describe as similar to black licorice (even though licorice and anise come from two different plants). Many Middle Eastern, Italian, German, and Indian recipes call for anise.

Store anise like you would store your 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 stores specializing in dietary supplements, as well as online. However, read the label carefully. Star anise oil (the oil of a completely different herb) is also commonly sold and may be labeled as "Anise Oil." If the bottle has a star-shaped brown fruit on the label it is likely sourced from star anise and not anise. Look for a product that specifies "Pimpinella anisum" or "anise seed."

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 not legal to market a dietary supplement as a treatment or cure for a specific disease, or to alleviate the symptoms of a disease. But the 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, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International. These organizations don't guarantee that a product is safe or effective, but they do provide a certain level of testing for quality.

Common Questions

Are there other natural remedies for digestive problems?

Several natural remedies may also help treat digestive troubles and serve as an alternative to anise extract. For example, there's some evidence that remedies like probiotics and aloe may provide constipation relief. 

Are there any other natural remedies for menstrual pain?

To relieve menstrual cramps, consider using such herbs as red raspberry leaf and ginger. Increasing your intake of omega-3 fatty acids may also help lessen menstrual pain.

What are the best natural treatments for symptoms of menopause?

For help in taming hot flashes, natural substances like soy and black cohosh may be helpful. In addition, exercising regularly may help soothe menopausal symptoms.

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