Medicinal Uses And Health Benefits of Star Anise Spice
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Herbal action: antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, aromatic
Common name: badiane, star anise, Chinese star anise
Scientific name: Illicium verum
Family name: Schisandraceae
Parts used: pods, seeds
Notable Phytonutrients In Star Anise And Their Features
- Anethole is the compound that defines the unique flavor of star anise. It is an anti-inflammatory compound that can be used therapeutically.
- Limonene is a monoterpene that is abundant in citruses and other plants. It has antioxidative, anti-cancer, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
- Flavonoids and terpenes are plant compounds with powerful antioxidative properties.
Medicinal Uses And Health Benefits of Star Anise
It is estimated that about 90% of all the star anise cultivated worldwide isn’t even used as a spice for culinary purposes. Instead, it’s valued as a source of shikimic acid, a natural compound used in the production of the conventional anti-influenza drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu).
Although star anise doesn’t have any anti-viral properties itself, it’s still widely used to fight off bacterial and fungal infections.
For instance, anethole, one of the primary compounds of Chinese star anise, has been confirmed to be effective against various bacteria, fungi, and yeasts. Some other studies reported star anise is even effective as a natural pesticide that’s safe for human health!
Animal studies back from 2014 reported that anethole can also decrease the production of inflammatory molecules in the body by tweaking the function of several immune system cells. The action of anethole was comparable to that of ketoprofen, a conventional painkiller!
The anethole present in star anise essential oil has been reported to have significant painkilling properties in several animal studies. Most likely, this effect is achieved through the anti-inflammatory action of anethole.
Has anti-cancer potential
Star anise have high antioxidants content that helps neutralize free radicals in the body that are responsible for diseases. The active compounds of star anise essential oil were reported to fight several types of cancer including colon, lung, and breast cancer.
Fights off lice
As reported by a 2017 study, star anise extract is effective in treating pediculosis (infestation of lice in hair) on a similar level with permethrin shampoo, which is the first-line conventional over-the-counter treatment for this condition.
May help to prevent fatty liver disease
A recent study reported that the shikimic acid present in star anise suppresses the formation of fat—particularly in the liver. This effect could be exceptionally beneficial for people with excess weight, diabetes, and chronic liver problems.
Supports immunity when combined with quercetin
Although the shikimic acid in star anise doesn’t have any antiviral properties of its own, studies reported that it’s able to support the body’s own antiviral power when combined with quercetin. Quercetin is a natural plant pigment found in such foods as red onions, kale, broccoli, apples, and berries.
Soothes the digestive system
Drinking star anise tea after a meal can help to reduce any digestive disorders such as indigestion, gas, bloating and relieve constipation. This is why the Indians often have a cup of masala chai after a meal. A glass of water infused with the crushed seeds of star anise work as well.
How To Use Star Anise
Of course, the easiest way to have more of star anise in your life is just to use this spice in your cooking more often.
Using Star Anise In Asian Cuisine
Star anise isn’t really traditional to the Western world, but you can find it listed as an essential ingredient for numerous Asian dishes.
In Indian cuisine, star anise is one of the spices used in garam masala, as well as in biryani and masala chai.
In Vietnamese, pho soup and various other meat dishes.
In Chinese cooking, star anise is one of the main ingredients in the Chinese five spice powder (star anise, cumin, cinnamon, peppercorns and cloves), that is used for seasoning meat.
Using Star Anise In Beverages
Many people also enjoy throwing some star anise pods into their coffee to enrich the beverage’s flavor and add some licorice-like undertones to it. A single pod can be used 2-3 times this way.
You can also brew a star anise tea by putting 1-2 whole star anise pods in a cup, filling it with boiling water, and letting steep for about 10 minutes. Combine with cinnamon for extra spiciness!
Buying and Storing Star Anise
You can buy star anise whole or ground. Finely-ground star anise powder can be found in most grocery stores nowadays, in the spices aisle. For whole star anise, most Asian or Indian grocery stores are bound to have them.
Always store spices in airtight containers away from moisture and heat. Whole star anise has a long shelf life and could probably last for a couple of years. Whereas star anise powder is freshest in its first six months.
Contraindications And Safety
Hypersensitivity to any plant of the Schisandraceae family or star anise specifically.
It’s recommended to abstain from taking star anise in any way during pregnancy and lactation, as well as giving it to children due to the potential contamination of the spice with toxic Japanese star anise (read more below).
People with impaired kidney or liver functions are also recommended to stay clear of star anise unless 100% confident of the purity of the spice.
Danger of the Japanese Star Anise (Illicium anisatum)
Although Chinese star anise (Illicium verum) isn’t dangerous, keep an eye for its toxic siblings—the Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum) and, less frequently, poisonous star anise (Illicium lanceolatum). Japanese star anise, also known as shikimi, contains sikimitoxin and anisatin—two powerful neurotoxins. When ingested, they impair the brain’s functions and cause seizures, as well as severely damage the digestive system, kidneys, and urinary tract.
The cultivation of Japanese star anise and the import of Chinese star anise are carefully monitored to prevent any cross-contamination, so cases of intoxication are extremely rare. Nevertheless, you should know that it’s still possible.
For instance, in 2004 the American Academy of Pediatrics reported on 7 cases of severe neurological reactions in babies who received star anise tea that was contaminated with the Japanese toxic variety of the plant.
Although such cases are rare, they are still real. Avoid giving anise tea to children, as well as pregnant or lactating women. Just in case.
Chinese Star Anise (Illicium Verum) Vs Japanese Star Anise (Illicium Anisatum)
Another important thing is that it’s impossible to tell apart the harmless star anise from its toxic variety without lab tests. The only two approaches to distinguishing the two are quite vague:
- Although dried Japanese and Chinese star anise look almost identical, the Japanese variety is slightly smaller
- Chinese star anise smells more like anise or licorice while the Japanese variety has a more cardamom-like fragrance
So, again: it’s almost impossible to buy Japanese star anise accidentally, as the market dealing with this plant is carefully controlled due to the plant’s toxicity. No seller or company would like to get in trouble for accidentally killing someone with a toxic spice, but it’s still important to stay alert at all times.
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