Anise seed comes from the anise plant (Pimpinella anisum) and is used in cooking for its warm, licorice-like flavor (not unlike nutmeg, cardamom, and cloves). Anise seeds also have a number of health benefits that allow them to function as a natural home remedy for certain ailments and inflammatory conditions. For more on how anise seed can benefit your health, read on.
What Is Anise Seed?
Native to the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean regions including Egypt, anise seeds are small grayish-green-brown seeds from the anise plant. Part of the same plant family as parsley, carrots, cumin, celery, dill, caraway, and fennel seed, anise seed is sometimes spelled aniseed, and is valued for its licorice-like taste in baking cookies, cakes, and bread, not to mention sweet fruit cuisines, vegetable curries, and fish dishes. Popular in European recipes, the French use it when cooking carrots, Hispanic cultures in stews, and Italians in biscotti and pizzelle waffle cookies. Anise seed can also be found in drinks, flavoring herbal teas and other liqueurs and apéritifs like anisette, ouzo, arrack, and pastis.
While it’s easy to think anise and star anise (Illicium verum) must be related, they’re actually not, despite having similar licorice flavors. Star anise is stronger and more bitter than anise seed, and star anise comes from an evergreen shrub native to Vietnam and Southwest China, where it is used in traditional Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, and other Asian dishes.
The Top 7 Health Benefits of Anise Seed
Here are seven scientifically backed health benefits associated with the consumption and use of anise seed.
1. Packed with Nutrients
While you won’t likely be consuming anise seeds by the handful, they are nevertheless full of valuable micronutrients like iron and manganese, important for blood health and metabolic functioning. A single tablespoon of anise seed (7 grams) can offer:
- Calories: 23
- Carbs: 3 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Fat: 1 gram
- Iron: 13% of the DV (recommended Daily Value)
- Manganese: 7% of the DV
- Calcium: 4% of the DV
- Copper: 3% of the DV
- Magnesium: 3% of the DV
- Potassium: 3% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 3% of the DV
Most recipes won’t ask for a full tablespoon, but since most of us rarely eat enough seeds in our diets, every little bit counts.
2. Antibacterial Properties
Laboratory studies have found antibacterial properties in anise seed compounds, useful in the prevention of bacterial and fungal growths. For example, this 2005 lab study showed that anise essential oil could prevent certain fungal strains like dermatophytes, which can lead to the development of skin diseases.
The active antibacterial ingredient in anise seed is called anethole, and it specifically has been shown to inhibit the bacteria that causes cholera, an infection that leads to severe dehydration, diarrhea, and sometimes death.
While there aren’t any direct studies of human consumption of anise seed regarding its antibacterial uses, these tests nevertheless reveal that the compounds in anise seed work to exterminate dangerous bacteria, which could be especially helpful once they reach our gut.
3. Antidepressant Attributes
Depression afflicts nearly a quarter of women and up to 12% of men worldwide, and there is data which suggests that anise seed could help. In animal studies it has been seen to work as effectively as prescription antidepressants (but without the harmful side effects), and in human studies it has proven to help reduce the symptoms of postpartum depression in women.
Likewise in a month-long study from 2017, participants consuming a capsule of anise oil had significantly fewer depression symptoms than the control group.
4. Antiulcerative Aid
Stomach ulcers, aka gastric ulcers, are painful and dangerous sores that form in our stomach lining, sometimes due to stress. Symptoms of ulcers include a burning sensation in the stomach region, nausea, and uncomfortable indigestion. Medications are often prescribed to lower the production of stomach acid, but early research supports the belief that anise seed could help prevent and repair stomach ulcers.
Again, we must rely on animal studies due to the lack of financial resources available in testing natural and homeopathic remedies, but this 2007 study prevented stomach ulcers from forming by protecting the cells of the stomach lining against chemically induced damage. While research is limited, it’s nevertheless a safer option to try than many pharmaceutical drugs.
5. Inhibits Unhealthy Inflammation
While inflammation is a necessary part of our healing process, excessive inflammation can be disastrous. Higher levels of inflammation play a role in many chronic health conditions like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, not to mention conditions that hinge on inflammation, like cases of arthritis.
Animal and laboratory studies show anise seed oil’s ability to reduce swelling, thanks in part to its antioxidant content, which research has shown repeatedly is effective in reducing inflammation and oxidative stress damage in humans.
6. Menopause Relief
For women experiencing menopause, which is the naturally occurring decline of reproductive hormones, there are often unpleasant side effects like dry skin, fatigue, and hot flashes. During this change, hormone replacement therapies are often used to reduce the severity of these symptoms, and anise seed could help in that department. This 2004 study shows anise seed mimics the effects of estrogen in the body.
In this month-long study from 2012, over 70 women experiencing hot flashes were given either a placebo or capsules full of 330 milligrams of anise seed 3 times per day. The women who were taking anise seed reported a 75% reduction in the frequency and severity of their hot flashes over the control group.
There are indications that increased estrogenic activity from anise seed may help prevent bone density loss and osteoporosis, another risk for menopausal women, especially those who have never been pregnant. This theory is backed up by animal research, which has shown essential oil made largely (81%) of anethole, the active ingredient in anise seed, helps prevent bone loss in the rats studied.
While animal research is unfortunately not as conclusive as human studies, these are still promising results.
7. Blood Sugar Support
Anethole may also play a role in managing blood sugar levels. In diabetic rats it has been shown to help boost the function of pancreatic cells (responsible for producing insulin), and improve blood sugar levels. These studies were done with concentrated anethole, much more than would be consumed in a food serving of anise seed, and while more human studies are needed before scientists can reach a consensus, again it should be noted that scientific discoveries must start somewhere, and animal research often leads to human benefits.
Potential Side Effects of Anise Seed
Anise seed is often safely consumed, but some experience an allergic reaction. If you are allergic to any of the other plants in the anise family like dill, celery, fennel, or parsley, it could trigger an allergic reaction and you should approach with caution or avoid entirely.
Likewise, anise’s ability to mimic estrogen could adversely affect hormone-related conditions like endometriosis or breast cancer, so talk to a doctor before adding it to your supplement regimen or your recipe list.
As far as dosages go, anise seeds can be found in whole, powdered, oil, or extract form, all of which can add flavor to baked goods and some of which can add a warm scent to topical creams and soaps. Most recipes will call for no more than a few teaspoons of ground anise seed or anise oil, while medicinal doses of anise seed range from 600 milligrams to 9 grams per day. Consult a trusted medical professional for advise on medicinal dosing, although research shows that as many as 20 grams of anise powder per day is safe for otherwise healthy adults.
The anise plant and its seeds boast several medicinal uses, far beyond the obvious perk of their remarkable flavor and aroma. Even if you only want to add a little spice to life by mixing anise into your recipes, the health benefits are nothing to sneeze at, and may help in the areas of controlling blood sugar levels, preventing ulcers, and protecting against inflammation.