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Anise (pimpinella anisum) is an annual herb and belongs to the parsley family. Anise is cultivated mainly for its fruit, aniseed, which has a flavor like licorice. A native of Southwest Asia and North Africa, today anise is also cultivated in numerous countries, including North America.

Anise is one of the oldest herbs known to man. The Greeks, the people of Asia Minor, and the Romans used it medicinally. They used it as a breath freshener and an aphrodisiac, to relieve flatulence and colic, to stimulate mother’s milk, and to combat dizziness and nausea, as a digestive aid, and a cough suppressant. The Romans also used anise to pay their taxes, that’s how highly it was valued.

Anise is a perennial, and grows well in sunny gardens with well-drained, moderately rich soil, reaching up to 3 feet high. With its dainty white flowers (in July and August) that grow in umbrella-like clusters, anise looks like Queen Anne’s Lace, but is shorter and the flower clusters have no bracts. The downy brown seedlike fruits, which appear August through September, produce the essential oil for which this licorice-smelling herb is best known for. Although the anise seed has a distinct licorice flavor, it is not related to true licorice.

Aniseed is widely used to flavor pastries, but in the Mediterranean region, it is commonly used in meat and vegetable dishes as well. Italian sausages are flavored with aniseed. The essential oil of aniseed is also used to flavor absinthe, anisette, and Pernod liqueurs. Anise, an ancient flavoring, is still a popular herb today.