Friday, February 25, 2011

Pimpinella anisum - Anise

Pimpinella anisum  - Anise, also called Anneys, Anís and Aniseed. 

Pimpinella anisum is an annual plant growing to 3 ft  tall. The leaves at the base of the plant are simple, 0.5–2" long and shallowly lobed, while the leaves higher on the stems are feathery and divided into numerous leaves. The flowers are white, approximately 3 mm diameter, produced in dense umbels.  The seed pods are referred to as "aniseed."

The seeds have a licorice-like taste and are a universal flavoring used to season a wide variety of products.  Anise is native to Egypt, Greece, Crete and Asia Minor. During Roman times it was cultivated in Tuscany and spread to Europe during the Middle Ages.  It was first cultivated by the Egyptians as a spice and was mentioned in the Ebers PapyrusHippocrates recommended it for coughs while Pliny preferred its use for bad breath, keeping one's appearance youthful and for preventing bad dreams if used in a sleep pillowPythagoras believed that just holding the plant could prevent epileptic seizures. 

The Romans made a cake called "mustaceum" which incorporated anise and other spicy herbs and was served after a meal to aid digestion. It is believed this may have been the forerunner of our modern "wedding cake".  Anise was also used by the Romans to pay their taxes. In the 9th century Charlemagne instructed it to be planted and grown on imperial farms.  The Oil is used in perfumery, tobacco products and pharmaceutical products as well as in baked goods, mouthwashes and toothpastes.  Most licorice candy does not contain licorice due to toxicity problems but instead gets its flavor from Anise oil.

In the 16th century, Anise was widely used as mouse-trap bait. Apparently mice find it irresistible. Anise was used for cows to increase milk production, for colic and digestive problems in animals. It was used in health-formula puppy foods for weaning pups was once used as bait by dog thieves. Dogs love the scent and in greyhound racing the "rabbit" is scented with anise, it is also used as a lure in drag hunting and fishing.

Western cuisines have long used anise as a moderately popular herb to flavor some dishes, drinks, and candies.  The seeds flavor alcoholic drinks such as Anisette and Turkish raki.  In Mexico, the seeds are burned and the smoke is blown into a child’s face to cure studdering.  The feathery foliage is used fresh added to salads and soups.  Seeds flavor cookies, candies, cheese spreads, applesauce and soups.

It can be used to reduce oiliness of skin and the ground seeds and fresh leaves have been used to fade freckles. It is also used in perfumery for a spicy note. The oil on it's own or combined with oil of Sassafras (and sometimes Carbolic acid) has been used externally as an insect repellent and it makes a great garden repellent for aphids. Anise is poisonous to pigeons and was once used to exterminate them.  The essential oil is used externally to treat lice and scabies.

Use anise in preparations for purification, blessing, to avert evil eye, and drive away negativity.  Wear the seeds in sachet for protection and psychic enhancement.  Anise is used in aromatherapy and in dream pillows to promote a good night's sleep.  A sprig hung on a bedpost is said to increase energy, or drink Anise tea prior to meditation to acheive a deep meditative state. The seeds are used in purification baths, along with Bay leaves.  It can also be burned while meditating.

Pimpinella anisum has been used as an Antispasmodic, antiseptic, aromatic, carminative, digestive, expectorant, stimulant, stomachic, and tonic.  According to Pliny the Elder, anise was used as a cure for sleeplessness, chewed with alexanders and a little honey in the morning to freshen the breath, and, when mixed with wine, as a remedy for asp bites.  Today Anise is used as an alternative to 'Botox' in reducing wrinkles and fine lines.

Sow directly into prepared seed beds in early spring when the ground has warmed, 1/4 inch deep, 1-2 seeds per inch in rows spaced 18 inches apart. Thin to 6 inches apart. Anise plants grow best in well drained soil and full sun.  Because it has a taproot, Anise does not transplant well after being established, so it should be sown in its permanent location or transplanted while the seedlings are still small.  White flowers appear in clusters in late summer.

Harvest the leaves anytime during the growing season.  The ripe dry seeds should be taken in early autumn when the flower heads turn gray-brown. Cut off the tops and place in paper bags or spread out and dry in direct sun. Once dried, store seed in airtight contaner.

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