Medically reviewed on April 16, 2018
Scientific Name(s): Pimpinella anisum L. Family: Apiaceae.
Common Name(s): Anise , aniseed , sweet cumin
Anise has been used as a flavoring in alcohols, liqueurs, dairy products, gelatins, puddings, meats, and candies, and as a scent in perfumes, soaps, and sachets. The oil has been used to treat lice, scabies, and psoriasis. Anise frequently is used as a carminative and expectorant. Anise also is used to decrease bloating and settle the digestive tract in children. In high doses, it is used as an antispasmodic and an antiseptic and for the treatment of cough, asthma, and bronchitis. However, research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of anise for any of these applications.
There are no recent clinical studies to guide use of anise; however, typical use in dyspepsia is 0.5 to 3 g of seed, or 0.1 to 0.3 mL of the essential oil.
Anise is not recommended for use in pregnancy.
Aniseed is a reputed abortifacient. Excessive use is not recommended in pregnancy.
None well documented.
Anise may cause allergic reactions of the skin, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal tract.
Ingestion of the oil may result in pulmonary edema, vomiting, and seizures.
In some texts, anise is referred to as Anisum vulgare Gartner or A. officinarum Moench. Do not confuse with the “Chinese star anise” ( Illicium verum Hook. filius. Family: Magnoliaceae). Anise is an annual herb that grows 0.3 to 0.6 m and is cultivated widely throughout the world. 1 The flowers are yellow, growing in compound umbels. Its leaves are feather-shaped. The 2 mm long, greenish-brown, ridged seeds are used as food or herb and are harvested when ripe in autumn. 2 Aniseed has an anethole-like odor and a sweet, aromatic taste, 3 described as “licorice-like,” which has led to traditional use of anise oils in licorice candy. 1
Anise has a history of use as a spice and a fragrance. It has been cultivated in Egypt for at least 4,000 years. Records of its use as a diuretic and treatment of digestive problems and toothache are seen in medical texts from this era. In ancient Greek history, writings explain how anise helps breathing, relieves pain, stimulates urination, and eases thirst. 2 The essential oil has been used commercially since the 1800s. The fragrance is used in food, soap, creams, and perfumes. Anise often is added to licorice candy or used as a “licorice” flavor substitute; it is also a fragrant component of anisette liqueur.
Examination of the mycoflora of anise seed resulted in the isolation of 15 fungal genera, 78 species and six varieties, including Aspergillus , Penicillium , and Rhizopus . 4 Naturally occurring mycotoxins also were present in thin-layer chromatography analysis of anise spice extract. 5 Gamma irradiation has inhibited mold growth on anise in humid conditions. 6
Anise oil (1% to 4%) is obtained by steam distillation of the dried fruits of the herb. The highest quality oils result from anise seeds of ripe umbels in the center of the plant. 7 A major component of the oil is trans-anethole (75% to 90%), responsible for the characteristic taste and smell, as well as for its medicinal properties. 3 , 8 , 9 The cis-isomer is 15 to 38 times more toxic than the trans-isomer. 10 Spectrophotometric determination of anethole in anise oil has been performed. 11
The volatile oil also has related compounds that include estragole (methyl chavicol, 1% to 2%), anise ketone (p-methoxyphenylacetone), and beta caryophyllene. In smaller amounts are anisaldehyde, anisic acid, limonene, alpha-pinene, acetaldehyde, p-cresol, cresol, and myristicin (the psychomimetic compound previously isolated from nutmeg). 3 , 12 , 13 , 14 Oil of Feronia limonia has some similarity to anise oil and may be used as a substitute. 15
Constituents of the whole seed include coumarins, such as umbelliferone, umbelliprenine, bergapten, and scopoletin. Lipids (16%) include fatty acids, beta-amyrin, stigmasterol, and its salts. 1 , 14 Flavonoids in aniseed include rutin, isoorientin, and isovitexin. 14 Protein (18%) and carbohydrate (50%) are also present. Terpene hydrocarbons in the plant also have been described. 16
Uses and Pharmacology
Anise is used widely as a flavoring in alcohols, liqueurs, dairy products, gelatins, puddings, meats, and candies. 1 It is sold as a spice, and the seeds are used as a breath freshener. 10 The essential oil is used medicinally, as well as in perfume, soaps, and sachets. 1 , 8Mechanism of action
Pharmacological effects of anise are caused mainly by anethole, which has structural similarities to catecholamines (eg, epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine). 14 Sympathomimetic-type effects have been attributed to anethole in at least 1 report. 17Expectorant
Anise is well known as a carminative and an expectorant. It is used to decrease bloating and settle the digestive tract. In higher doses, anise is used as an antispasmodic and an antiseptic for the treatment of cough, asthma, and bronchitis. 2 , 3 , 8 , 14Animal data
Research reveals no animal data regarding the use of anise as an expectorant.Clinical data
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of anise as an expectorant.Antimicrobial
Anise has been evaluated for its antimicrobial action against gram-negative and gram-positive organisms. 18 Constituent anethole also inhibits growth of mycotoxin-producing Aspergillus in culture. 1 Anise is used in dentifrices as an antiseptic and in lozenges and cough preparations for its weak antibacterial effects. 1 , 10 One report testing aromatic waters (including anise) on the growth and survival of Pseudomonas aeruginosa has been published. 19Animal data
Research reveals no animal data regarding the use of anise as an antimicrobial.Clinical data
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of anise as an antimicrobial.Other uses
Anise has promoted iron absorption in rats, suggesting possible use as a preventative agent in iron deficiency anemia. 20 The oil, when mixed with sassafras oil, is used as an insecticide. 8 Applied externally, the oil has been used to treat lice and scabies. 2 As a skin penetration enhancer, anise oil has little activity compared with eucalyptus and other oils, 21 but topical application of the constituent bergapten, in combination with ultraviolet light, has been used in psoriasis treatment. 14
There are no recent clinical studies to guide use of anise; however, a typical dose in dyspepsia is 0.5 to 3 g of seed or 0.1 to 0.3 mL of the essential oil.
Generally recognized as safe for use as food (GRAS). Avoid dosages above those found in food because safety and efficacy have not been established. 22 Aniseed is a reputed abortifacient. Excessive use is not recommended in pregnancy. 2 , 14
None well documented.
The German commission E monograph lists side effects of anise as “occasional allergic reactions of the skin, respiratory tract, and gastrointestinal tract.” 3 When applied to human skin in a 2% concentration in petrolatum base, anise oil produced no dermatological reactions. The oil is not considered to be a primary irritant. However, anethole has been associated with sensitization and skin irritation and may cause erythema, scaling, and vesiculation. 13 Anise oil in toothpaste has been reported to cause contact sensitivity, cheilitis, and stomatitis. 10 The constituent bergapten may cause photosensitivity. 14
Anise oil has GRAS status and is approved for food use. The acute oral LD-50 of the oil in rats is 2.25 g/kg. No percutaneous absorption of the oil occurred through mouse skin within 2 hours. 23 The oral LD-50 of anethole is 2,090 mg/kg in rats; rats fed a diet containing 0.25% anethole for 1 year showed no ill effects, while those receiving 1% anethole for 15 weeks had microscopic changes in hepatocytes. 10
The cis-isomer of anethole is 15 to 38 times more toxic to animals than the trans-isomer, the relative content being dependent on plant species. 1 , 10 Ingestion of the oil in doses as small as 1 mL may result in pulmonary edema, vomiting, and seizures. 24 The estrogenic activity of anethole and its dimers may alter hormone therapy (eg, contraceptive pills).
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