Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Aug 1, 2019.
Scientific Name(s): Pimpinella anisum L.
Common Name(s): Anise, Aniseed, Sweet cumin
Clinical data are lacking to support the wide-ranging traditional uses for anise; limited studies have been conducted in disorders of the GI tract and in menopause. Studies in rodents suggest effects on the CNS. The oil has been used to treat lice, scabies, and psoriasis.
GI disorders: In limited clinical studies, anise 3 g powder taken after each meal (3 times per day) for 4 weeks has been studied for treatment of dyspepsia. Menopausal symptoms: Capsules containing P. anisum 330 mg taken 3 times daily for 4 weeks has been used for treatment of menopausal symptoms.
Anise is not recommended for use in pregnancy in amounts exceeding those found in food.
Aniseed is a reputed abortifacient. Use in amounts exceeding those found in food is not recommended in pregnancy.
None well documented.
Anise may cause allergic reactions of the skin, respiratory tract, and GI tract.
Ingestion of the oil may result in pulmonary edema, vomiting, and seizures.
Anise is an annual herb that grows 0.3 to 0.6 m in height and is widely cultivated throughout the world.1 The flowers are yellow and grow in compound umbels. The leaves are feather-shaped. The 2 mm long, greenish-brown, ridged seeds are used in food or as an herb, and are harvested when ripe in autumn.2 Aniseed has an anethole-like odor and a sweet, aromatic taste3 described as "licorice-like," which has led to the traditional use of anise oils in licorice candy. In some texts, anise is referred to as Anisum vulgare Gartner or Anisum officinarum Moench; it should not be confused with the "Chinese star anise" (Illicium verum Hook. filius.; family: Magnoliaceae).1
Anise has historically been used as a spice and fragrance. It has been cultivated in Egypt for at least 4,000 years; records of its use as a diuretic and treatment for digestive problems and toothaches exist in medical texts from this era. Ancient Greek writings describe anise use to help with breathing, relieve pain, stimulate urination, and ease thirst.2 The essential oil has been used commercially since the 1800s.
Anise is widely used as a flavoring in alcohols, liqueurs, dairy products, gelatins, puddings, meats, and candies.1 Anise is often added to licorice candy or used as a licorice flavor substitute; it is also a fragrant component of anisette liqueur. It is sold as a spice, and the seeds are used as a breath freshener.4 The essential oil is used medicinally as well as in perfume, soaps, and sachets.1, 5
A review of the constituents and properties of P. anisum has been published.6
Examination of the mycoflora of anise seed resulted in the isolation of 15 fungal genera, 78 species, and 6 varieties, including Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Rhizopus.7 Naturally occurring mycotoxins were also present in thin-layer chromatography analysis of anise spice extract.8 Gamma irradiation has inhibited mold growth on anise in humid conditions.9
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.10 A major component of the oil is trans-anethole (75% to 90%), which is responsible for the characteristic taste and smell, as well as the medicinal properties of anise.3, 5, 11 The cis-isomer is 15 to 38 times more toxic than the trans-isomer.4 Spectrophotometric determination of anethole in anise oil has been performed.12
The volatile oil also has related compounds that include estragole (methyl chavicol 1% to 2%), anise ketone (p-methoxyphenylacetone), and beta=caryophyllene. Present in smaller amounts are anisaldehyde, anisic acid, limonene, alpha-pinene, acetaldehyde, p-cresol, cresol, and myristicin (the psychomimetic compound previously isolated from nutmeg).3, 13, 14, 15 Oil of Feronia limonia has some similarity to anise oil and may be used as a substitute.16
Constituents of the whole seed include coumarins (eg, umbelliferone, umbelliprenine, bergapten, scopoletin). Lipids (16%) include fatty acids, beta-amyrin, and stigmasterol and its salts.1, 15 Flavonoids in aniseed include rutin, isoorientin, and isovitexin.15 Protein (18%) and carbohydrates (50%) are also present. Terpene hydrocarbons in the plant have also been described.17
Uses and Pharmacology
Anise has been evaluated for its antimicrobial action against gram-negative and gram-positive organisms.18 The anethole constituent also inhibited 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, 4 One report testing aromatic waters (including anise) on the growth and survival of Pseudomonas aeruginosa has been published.19
A combination preparation of coconut and anise was reported to be superior to permethrin 0.43% in the treatment of head lice.20
The pharmacological effects of anise are caused mainly by anethole, which has structural similarities to catecholamines (eg, epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine).15 Sympathomimetic-type effects have been attributed to anethole in at least one report.21 A study in rodents failed to demonstrate anxiolytic activity for aqueous Pimpinella seed extract; however, some activity related to learning was reported.22
Anise oil was reported to prolong the latency and reduce the amplitude and duration of induced seizures in rats.23
Antidepressant activity has been reported for both aqueous and ethanolic extracts of P. anisum fruit in mice.24 Increased analgesic effects of codeine and benzodiazepine on motor impairment have been observed in mice, and decreased antidepressant effects of imipramine and fluoxetine have also been observed with aniseed essential oil pretreatment.25
Anise oil was compared with peppermint oil in a clinical trial of patients with irritable bowel syndrome. A decrease in scores for abdominal discomfort or pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and other symptoms was reported.28 In another trial, the same researchers also reported improvements in depression with anise oil treatment in patients with irritable bowel syndrome.29
Iron deficiency anemia
Anise has promoted iron absorption in rats, suggesting possible use as a preventative agent in iron deficiency anemia.30
A study of morphine-dependent mice demonstrated a reduction in severity of withdrawal symptoms with ethanolic extracts of anise.33
P. anisum may have nephroprotective effects; an ethanolic extract given orally to Wistar rats decreased tubule damage from gentamycin, and an aqueous extract lessened markers of damage in rats treated with lead acetate.34, 35
Topical application of the constituent bergapten, in combination with ultraviolet light, has been used in psoriasis treatment.15
GI disorders: In limited clinical studies, anise 3 g powder taken after each meal (3 times per day) for 4 weeks has been studied in the treatment of dyspepsia.26
Menopausal symptoms: Capsules containing P. anisum 330 mg taken 3 times daily for 4 weeks have been used for treatment of menopausal symptoms (ie, hot flashes).32
Pregnancy / Lactation
Anise is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) when used at levels found in food.38 Aniseed is a reputed abortifacient. Use in amounts exceeding those found in food is not recommended in pregnancy.2, 15
Aqueous and ethanolic extracts of P. anisum L. seeds have demonstrated galactagogue effects in rodents. The maximum nonfatal dose was reported to be 2.2 g/kg in rats.39
Case reports are lacking. Increased analgesic effects of codeine and benzodiazepine on motor impairment have been observed in mice, and decreased antidepressant effects of imipramine and fluoxetine have also been observed with aniseed essential oil pretreatment.25 Similarly, a pharmacokinetic interaction with acetaminophen and caffeine has been reported in rodents.40
According to the Complete German Commission E Monographs, adverse effects of anise include occasional allergic reactions of the skin, respiratory tract, and GI 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.14 Anise oil in toothpaste has been reported to cause contact sensitivity, cheilitis, and stomatitis.4 The constituent bergapten may cause photosensitivity.15
Anise oil has GRAS status when used in typical amounts found in food. In rats, the acute oral median lethal dose (LD50) of the oil is 2.25 g/kg. No percutaneous absorption of the oil through mouse skin occurred within 2 hours.41 The oral LD50 of anethole is 2,090 mg/kg in rats; rats fed a diet containing anethole 0.25% for 1 year showed no adverse effects, while those receiving anethole 1% for 15 weeks had microscopic changes in hepatocytes.4
The cis-isomer of anethole is 15 to 38 times more toxic to animals than the trans-isomer.1, 4 Ingestion of the oil in doses as small as 1 mL may result in pulmonary edema, vomiting, and seizures.42 The estrogenic activity of anethole and its dimers may alter hormone therapy (eg, oral contraceptives).43
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