Star Anise Benefits: How Can You Use This Asian Cuisine Staple
Chinese star anise (Illicium verum) has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for hundreds of years. It is known for its marvelous medicinal properties and distinct flavor in culinary dishes. Let’s discuss the health benefits of star anise, and how this staple in Chinese five-spice powder can be the secret ingredient to a healthy gut!
Culinary History of Illicium Verum – Chinese Star Anise
Whole star anise has been used in Eastern circles for centuries. It is believed to have originated in China and Vietnam as far back as 100 B.C. Star anise is born on small trees that resemble evergreens.
An evergreen tree bearing star anise pairs can grow 8 – 15 meters tall. The star anise tree usually starts producing the distinct 8-pointed fruits only in the 6th year of its growth. The trees bear fruit even for 100 years or more.
The fruit of a tree are usually picked before ripening and sun-dried. They then harden to form what looks like hand-carved brown wood seals which we know as the Chinese cuisine spice.
In Southern China, the carpels of the flower are used as a mouth freshener. For Japanese star anise, the bark of this tree was used as incense.
Eventually, the flavorful seed pod arrived in Europe in the 17th century. In no time, its sweet flavor lent itself to the syrups, pasta sauces, preserves, and jams. Until this day, ground star anise is used to flavor drinks, chewing gums and confectionery in the Western world.
The main undercurrent flavor of star anise is a similar flavor to that of aniseed. It has a warmer tone and a pleasing aftertaste. Star anise in addition also has a sweet flavor, unlike most other spices. The fennel and licorice-like aroma add unique notes to everything from pumpkin pie to Vietnamese pho.
Medicinal History of Star Anise
Besides its culinary use, the oil extracted from the spice is used in toothpaste, mouthwashes and skin creams.
In traditional Chinese medicine, this spice is used to deal with issues related to the liver, kidney, spleen, and stomach. The pungent and warm effect that it has on the body is known to help to restore balance to these organ systems.
Our ancestors would use the star anise pod from the evergreen tree in a variety of ways. They’d steep the star pod in lukewarm water to expose its licorice-like flavor to make star anise tea that aided with digestion and nausea.
Active Components in Star Anise
Star anise is packed with a few biologically active molecules that contribute to its incredible medicinal properties.
- Linalool: This is a naturally occurring organic molecule known for anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. Studies also show that it helps fight away bacteria 1.
Shikimic acid: This is one of the prime ingredients in most flu medications. Besides that, studies show that this too has antibacterial properties 2.
- Anethole: Anethole is an aromatic compound that is also found in fennel and anise seed. It is known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties 3.
Star Anise Benefits
Star anise is an essential ingredient in the healthy diets of millions who follow Traditional Chinese Medicine and eat Asian cuisine. So, grab yourself a spice grinder and put your ground anise seed to good use. Here are some of the benefits that even small amounts of regular anise intake can have on your life.
Star anise is a powerful antibacterial agent 5. It helps clear out a number of harmful strains of bacteria from the body. One study showed how star anise seed can be used to put an end to the growth of Escherichia coli (E.Coli) and Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) 6.
S. aureus is behind the life-threatening staph infection. Meanwhile, E.Coli is well known as the cause of diarrhea, UTI’s, respiratory illnesses and pneumonia.
Additionally, the antiviral properties of star anise, especially the shikimic acid component, can help prevent viral infections and support the body's natural defenses. Incorporating star anise into your diet can contribute to a more robust immune system and a lower risk of illness.
Also, many bacteria which have developed antibiotic resistance can be wiped out with star anise. These potent antibacterial properties are much in thanks to anethole, linalool and shikimic acid. Research shows that these active components found in star anise have antibacterial properties.
Antioxidants help do away with harmful free radicals in the body. Star anise is seen to have a strong antioxidant property. This property can help it reduce the spread of chronic diseases.
Some studies done on animals even show how effective it could be against cancer cells 7. While these results are promising, more studies are needed to understand the mechanism of its action in humans.
In addition to wiping out harmful bacteria, star anise has also found to be effective in dealing with harmful fungal infections. These are usually caused by a variety of forms of yeast leading to conditions such as athlete’s foot or jock itch.
Star anise has been found to be effective against Candida albicans, which is the number one fungal infection experienced by humans 8.
Star anise is one of the most potent antiviral foods. It has been used for centuries to relieve chills, fevers, muscle aches and fatigue. Brewing some star anise tea will definitely give you an edge when fighting flu symptoms.
Besides, star anise is loaded with Shikimic acid. Extraction of shikimic acid is used to produce the over-the-counter flu medicine, Tamiflu 9. A recent study showed that combining shikimic acid with quercetin, a natural plant pigment, was extremely effective in increasing the production of immune cells when compared to treatment with Tamiflu 10.
Traditional Chinese Medicine has long valued star anise for its positive effects on digestion. The spice is known to help relieve indigestion, bloating, gas, and constipation. Its carminative properties aid in the expulsion of gas from the gastrointestinal tract, providing relief from discomfort and bloating.
Star anise also stimulates the production of digestive enzymes, promoting the efficient breakdown and absorption of nutrients from food. Adding star anise to your meals or consuming it as a tea can help maintain a healthy digestive system and prevent digestive issues.
Supports Respiratory Health
Star anise is known for its expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help alleviate respiratory issues such as coughs, colds, bronchitis, and asthma. The spice can help clear mucus from the respiratory tract, making it easier to breathe and reducing the risk of infection.
Moreover, the antibacterial properties of star anise can help prevent and treat bacterial infections in the respiratory system, such as sinusitis and pneumonia. Consuming star anise tea or using its essential oil in aromatherapy can provide relief from respiratory problems and improve overall respiratory health.
Promotes Cardiovascular Health
The antioxidant properties of star anise can contribute to better cardiovascular health by reducing oxidative stress in the heart and blood vessels. Oxidative stress can cause damage to the cardiovascular system, leading to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and other heart-related issues.
Star anise also contains a compound called coumarin, which has been found to have blood-thinning properties. This can help prevent blood clots, lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Adding star anise to your diet can support cardiovascular health and lower the risk of heart-related problems.
Relieves Pain and Inflammation
The anti-inflammatory properties of star anise can help alleviate pain and inflammation in the body. This makes it an excellent natural remedy for conditions like arthritis, rheumatism, and joint pain. Star anise can also help relieve muscle aches and cramps, making it beneficial for athletes or those who engage in physical activities.
Consuming star anise tea or using its essential oil in massages or baths can provide pain relief and reduce inflammation in the body.
Improves Sleep Quality
Star anise has mild sedative properties, which can help promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. The calming effects of star anise can be especially beneficial for individuals suffering from insomnia or other sleep-related issues.
Drinking star anise tea before bedtime or using its essential oil in a diffuser or warm bath can help calm the mind and body, leading to a better night's sleep.
Enhances Skin Health
The antioxidants, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties of star anise can contribute to healthier skin. The antioxidants in star anise can help protect the skin from oxidative stress and environmental pollutants, which can lead to premature aging, wrinkles, and age spots. The antibacterial properties of star anise can help fight acne-causing bacteria and prevent breakouts, while its anti-inflammatory properties can soothe irritated or inflamed skin.
Incorporating star anise into your skincare routine, either by using products that contain star anise extract or by diluting its essential oil and applying it topically, can result in a clearer, healthier, and more youthful complexion.
Supports Hormonal Balance
The anethole compound found in star anise is known to have estrogenic effects, which can help balance hormone levels in the body. This makes star anise particularly beneficial for women experiencing hormonal imbalances due to menopause or other conditions. The hormonal balancing effects of star anise can help alleviate symptoms such as hot flashes, mood swings, and fatigue.
Including star anise in your diet or using its essential oil in aromatherapy can support hormonal balance and overall well-being.
Combats Bad Breath and Oral Health Issues
Star anise has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to freshen breath and combat oral health issues. The spice's antibacterial properties help eliminate the bacteria responsible for bad breath and dental decay. Moreover, the pleasant licorice-like flavor of star anise can help mask any unpleasant odors.
Chewing on star anise seeds after meals or using a mouthwash containing star anise essential oil can help maintain fresh breath and support overall oral hygiene.
Encourages Healthy Hair Growth
The antioxidants and antimicrobial properties of star anise can contribute to healthier hair and scalp. The antioxidants in star anise can help protect hair follicles from damage caused by free radicals, promoting stronger, healthier hair growth. Additionally, the antimicrobial properties of star anise can help combat dandruff and other scalp infections.
Using hair care products that contain star anise extract or massaging diluted star anise essential oil into the scalp can promote healthy hair growth and a well-nourished scalp.
Regulates Blood Sugar
Anethole, one of the active molecules present in star anise is known to play a role in reducing blood sugar. Some studies have shown that anethole was able to regulate some of the key enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism 11. Improving this metabolic process is essential for improving insulin sensitivity.
It definitely takes more than a couple of sprinkles to cure diabetes completely. Regular anise consumption will surely help you meet your wellness goals.
How to Use Star Anise
Star anise is considered to be an important component of the Chinese five-spice powder. The other 4 spices in this mix are cloves, cinnamon, fennel seeds and Sichuan pepper. There are a lot of variations to this spice mix in different parts of China.
At times even ginger, galangal, black cardamom or licorice are added. The spices are usually stored whole and are ground up into a powder just before being used. Star anise also features as one of the spices in the Indian spice mix, the garam masala. Not sure how to use star anise? Let’s discuss!
Star Anise in Baking and Desserts
The sweet and warm flavor of star anise makes it a versatile spice for a variety of baked goods and desserts. It can be used to enhance the flavors of fruit pies, tarts, and compotes. The licorice-like flavor of star anise pairs well with chocolate, making it a popular addition to chocolate-based desserts like brownies, cakes, and mousses.
Infusing star anise in custards, ice creams, and puddings adds a unique depth of flavor that is both exotic and comforting. You can also use it to make flavored syrups for drizzling over pancakes, waffles, or French toast.
Incorporating Star Anise into Beverages
Star anise can be used to make a variety of delicious and soothing beverages. As mentioned earlier, brewing star anise tea is a popular way to enjoy the spice's health benefits. To make star anise tea, simply steep 1-2 whole star anise pods in boiling water for 5-10 minutes, then sweeten to taste with honey or sugar.
Star anise can also be used to infuse flavor into coffee, hot chocolate, or mulled wine. To make a star anise-infused coffee, add a whole star anise pod to your coffee grounds before brewing. For hot chocolate, simmer a whole pod in milk before adding cocoa powder and sweetener. For mulled wine, add star anise to a mixture of red wine, orange zest, cinnamon sticks, and cloves, then gently heat to release the flavors.
Using Star Anise in Vegetarian and Vegan Dishes
The unique flavor of star anise can add depth and warmth to vegetarian and vegan dishes. Use it to season tofu, tempeh, or seitan in stir-fries or curries. Star anise can also be added to vegetable stews, soups, and braises to impart a rich, earthy flavor.
In addition to savory dishes, star anise can be used to flavor vegan desserts, such as dairy-free ice creams, puddings, and cakes.
Star Anise in Aromatherapy and Home Fragrance
The warm, sweet aroma of star anise makes it a popular ingredient in candles, essential oil blends, and potpourri. In aromatherapy, star anise oil is used to help with respiratory issues, digestive problems, and stress relief. It can be diffused in the air or added to a warm bath to create a soothing and relaxing atmosphere.
To make your own star anise potpourri, combine whole star anise pods with dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and cloves. Display in a decorative bowl or container for a fragrant and visually appealing home accent.
Precautions When Using Star Anise
While pure Chinese star anise is safe for consumption, it is essential to distinguish it from the toxic Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum), which is inedible and can cause severe reactions if ingested. Japanese star anise is not commonly found in grocery stores, but it is essential to ensure that you are purchasing the correct variety.
It is also important to note that star anise can cause allergic reactions in some individuals. If you experience any symptoms like itching, swelling, or difficulty breathing after consuming star anise, discontinue its use and consult a medical professional.
Star Anise and Ombre
Adding new foods to our diet and changing up our wellness game can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, we are here to help you. Use our at-home Gut Test to find our which stomach bacteria are in your system. Based on those results, we make probiotic recommendations that you can purchase to bring balance to your intestinal flora.
Furthermore, we have a healthy gut diet plan tailored to your needs. Our database has hundreds of ingredients. You will find many ways to use star anise that will help boost your immune system, fight off viral attacks, and improve your metabolism.
On one of your next grocery store visits, do not mistake it for the common aniseed. Make sure to aim for the prettiest spice — the star anise – the next time you hit the market!
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- 2 Tripathi, P., Rawat, G., Yadav, S., & Saxena, R. K. (2015). Shikimic acid, a base compound for the formulation of swine/avian flu drug: statistical optimization, fed-batch and scale up studies along with its application as an antibacterial agent. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, 107(2), 419–431. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10482-014-0340-z.
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