Scientific name: Illicium verum
Description: Star anise is frequently used as an exotic spice in Indian, Vietnamese and in Chinese cuisines because of its strong, delightful fragrance and flavor. It is one of the spices that combine to make Chinese five spice powder. It is a dark brown pods with eight segments, each containing a pea-sized seed. This star-shaped pericarp is a fruit of Illicium verum which is a medium-sized evergreen tree native to northeast Vietnam and southwest China. Star anise are harvested just before it ripens and the oil is a highly fragrant oil used not only in cooking but also in soaps, perfumery, toothpastes, mouthwashes and skin creams. The extract of star anise called shikimic acid is used as a chemical intermediate in the synthesis of oseltamivir (Tamiflu).
Note: Don't confuse star anise/Chinese star anise with Japanese star anise, which is poisonous and should not be taken.
Medicinal properties and health benefits:
Chinese traditional medicine uses star anise as a stimulant and expectorant, to relieve flatulence, improve digestion, alleviate cramps, cure rheumatism.... and increase libido.
Star anise is an excellent source of antioxidants because of the presence of linalool, vitamin A and C which help fight free radicals and protect from cellular damage.
COUGHS & FLU
It is commonly employed in treating cough and flu because the oil produced from star anise contains thymol, terpineol and anethole. The shikimic acid as well as the plant antioxidant called quercetin enhances the immune system function and helps protect the body against viral diseases.
Chinese star anise consists of diantheole and photoantheole that has estrogenic effects to improve lactation and produce milk.
Star Anise has mild sedative properties that could aid in calming nerves and help induce sleep.
Star anise is said to possess carminative, stimulant, stomachic and diuretic properties. It is used to deal with a variety of digestive complaints such as gas, abdominal cramps, indigestion, bloating and constipation.
PRECAUTION: Don't confuse Chinese star anise from Japanese star anise which is not edible.
The FDA recently issued a warning regarding the consumption of star anise teas which is contaminated with Japanese star anise. Japanese star anise contains a toxic compound called sikimitoxin which can cause nausea, vomiting, seizures, restless jitters and rapid eye movement. Always consult your doctor and never self-medicate.