Most only know the anise stars as a spice in the kitchen. We will introduce you to the actual aniseed plant and reveal how you can plant aniseed in the garden.
The spicy, Christmassy star anise ( Illicium verum ), which comes from the tropics, has a namesake that has hardly anything to do with it. Anise ( Pimpinella anisum ) is a spice that has been used for thousands of years and is a medicinal plant that also thrives here. In this plant portrait, you will learn everything about aniseed, its history as well as its cultivation and use.
Anise: origin and characteristics of the anise plant
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Anise belongs to the Umbelliferae family ( Apiaceae ) and is therefore closely related to fennel ( Foeniculum vulgare ), coriander ( Coriandrum sativum ), and caraway ( Carum carvi ). As early as 1500 BC Anise was recommended as a remedy in a recipe collection from ancient Egypt. The plant originally comes from the eastern Mediterranean countries and reached the USA in the luggage of Benedictine monks during the time of Charlemagne. Occasionally anise can be found wild in meadows and on the edges of forests. Nowadays, anise is grown in North Africa, Central and South America as well as India and in central to southern Europe, with the largest cultivation area in Europe being in Spain.
The annual anise plant has three-tiered, dark green leaves that sit on strongly branched, hairy stems. It reaches a height of about 60 centimeters. The lowest leaves are heart-shaped and long-stalked, the middle three-lobed and the upper deeply notched and strongly serrated at the edge. The umbellate flowers of the anise appear white to yellowish and produce rounded-oval fissure fruits. When ripe, aniseed fruits are gray-green-brownish in color and about 5 millimeters long. The essential oils inside the fruit are responsible for the typical taste, which is why only the seeds of the anise are harvested.
Planting anise: tips for growing
Anise can also be grown as an easy-care spice plant in our home gardens. In the following, you will find out which location Anise prefers and how the plant is cultivated.
The right location for aniseed
Anise is an annual, not hardy plant, which prefers loamy and sandy, at the same time nutrient-rich and calcareous soils. The soil should be well-drained, store water, but never form waterlogging. The location in the bed is ideally exposed, sunny, and warm.
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This is how you sow anise seeds
Anise is sown directly into the bed at a depth of about 2 cm from mid-April with a row spacing of about 30 cm. Incidentally, there are no varieties here, a distinction is only made according to the origin of populations. The soil should now always be kept well moist. The anise seeds only germinate two to three weeks after sowing and are hardly competitive as seedlings. Weeds in the bed should be consistently removed so that the aniseed plants develop well. Rabbits and other wild animals like to eat anise, so it is worth fencing in the rows of plants in open gardens near the forest.
Maintain aniseed plant
Anise is extremely easy to care for and does not require a lot of attention. At the beginning of plant development, fertilization with a predominantly organic long-term fertilizer supports the growth of the anise. The plant-based granulate is worked into the surface between the rows. Soil organisms nibble on it and over time release the nutrients it contains for the plant roots. Water from time to time in hot summers, weeds still need to be carefully removed.
Harvest anise from the garden
From the end of May the anise blooms in a delicate white and, thanks to eager pollinators, will soon set seeds. These ripen on the umbels between July and September. The harvest time can be postponed depending on the weather and location. A clear sign of maturity is that the umbels and seeds turn brown. Now the entire umbel is cut off in the morning when it is dew and then dried in the house. In the morning hours, the seeds stick to the inflorescence and do not fall out.
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Well-dried and stored in a cool place, aniseed seeds keep for about two years with good germination capacity, after three to four years only about half germinate. It is the same with the flavoring essential oil, which becomes less and less over the years. Anise seeds should therefore be ground as freshly as possible and always stored as whole seeds.
Ingredients and uses of aniseed fruits
Anise seeds contain oils with health-promoting ingredients such as anethole and estragole. Sugar is also contained in higher quantities and has given aniseed the synonyms “sweet caraway” or “sweet fennel”. Not everyone loves the sweet and spicy taste, which is why aniseed products often polarize. In Germany, anise is particularly known as a bread spice together with fennel and caraway seeds or in recipes from grandmother’s time, especially in aniseed cake.
In Mediterranean cuisine, anise can be found in pastries, jams, and desserts. After eating, high-proof aniseed schnapps such as anisette, raki, or ouzo promotes the digestive process. Together with wormwood ( Artemisia absinthium ) and fennel, anise is one of the main components of absinthe.
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The oval fissure fruits are one of the oldest known remedies and are still used today. The ingredient anethole has an expectorant and antispasmodic effect, at the same time it inhibits the growth of bacteria. The positive effects of aniseed seeds on digestive weakness and catarrh of the respiratory tract have been scientifically proven. We find it mainly in sweet-tasting cough and gastrointestinal teas. The daily dose of seeds is 3 grams, which are drunk brewed as an anise tea. Aniseed essential oil is also available, but it should not be used undiluted.
In pets such as dogs and cats, a drop of aniseed oil when combing through the fur will drive away insects such as mites and lice. However, anise should never be used in high doses, as allergic reactions can occur. Children should only take anise from the age of six because allergies can also occur in early childhood.
A close relative of anise and fennel is the hot and spicy caraway, which is not only grown for its taste. We introduce you to the aromatic and medicinal plant.