Star Anise: 5 Benefits Of 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. It usually starts producing the distinct 8-pointed fruits only in the 6th year of its growth. The trees bear fruit even for a 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.

  1.  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].
  2.  Shikimic acid: This is one of the prime ingredients in most flu medications. Besides that, studies show that this too has antibacterial properties [2].
  3. 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][4].

Benefits of Star Anise

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 benefits
Star anise tastes good and helps you feel good, too!

1. Antibacterial Properties

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.

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.

2. Antioxidants

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.

3. Antifungal Properties

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]. 

4. Fights Flu

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].

5. 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!

Authentic Chinese cooking almost always includes star anise in its meat and poultry dishes. Any Chinese red cooking, in which ingredients are simmered for a prolonged period of time in dark soy sauce, features star anise. Even the stocks and soups have hints of this spice. The older Chinese habitually chew the whole spice as a digestive aid and mouth freshener post a heavy meal.

Star Anise and Thryve Gut Health Program 

Still not sure how to use star anise? Join the Thryve Gut Health Program. Our database has hundreds of star anise recipes 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!

Thryve Probiotics Gut Health

Resources

[1] Herman, A., Tambor, K., & Herman, A. (2016). Linalool Affects the Antimicrobial Efficacy of Essential Oils. Current microbiology72(2), 165–172. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00284-015-0933-4.

[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 Leeuwenhoek107(2), 419–431. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10482-014-0340-z.

[3] Moradi, J., Abbasipour, F., Zaringhalam, J., Maleki, B., Ziaee, N., Khodadoustan, A., & Janahmadi, M. (2014). Anethole, a Medicinal Plant Compound, Decreases the Production of Pro-Inflammatory TNF-α and IL-1β in a Rat Model of LPS-Induced Periodontitis. Iranian journal of pharmaceutical research : IJPR13(4), 1319–1325.

[4] Sheikh, B. A., Pari, L., Rathinam, A., & Chandramohan, R. (2015). Trans-anethole, a terpenoid ameliorates hyperglycemia by regulating key enzymes of carbohydrate metabolism in streptozotocin induced diabetic rats. Biochimie112, 57–65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biochi.2015.02.008.

[5] De, M., De, A. K., Sen, P., & Banerjee, A. B. (2002). Antimicrobial properties of star anise (Illicium verum Hook f). Phytotherapy research : PTR16(1), 94–95. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.989.

[6] “In-Vitro Antibacterial and Antifungal Effects of High Levels of Chinese Star Anise.” Brazilian Journal of Poultry Science, Department of Animal Production, College of Food and Agriculture Sciences, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 11 Nov. 2019, www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1516-635X2019000100330.

[7] Butt, M. S., Naz, A., Sultan, M. T., & Qayyum, M. M. (2013). Anti-oncogenic perspectives of spices/herbs: A comprehensive review. EXCLI journal12, 1043–1065.

[8] Park, S. H., and I. Seong. “Antifungal Effects of the Extracts and Essential Oils from Foeniculum Vulgare and Illicium Verum against Candida Albicans.” ResearchGate, Korean Journal of Medical Mycology 15(4):157-164, Dec. 2010, www.researchgate.net/publication/286032659_Antifungal_effects_of_the_extracts_and_essential_oils_from_Foeniculum_vulgare_and_Illicium_verum_against_Candida_albicans.

[9] Ghosh, S., Chisti, Y., & Banerjee, U. C. (2012). Production of shikimic acid. Biotechnology advances30(6), 1425–1431. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biotechadv.2012.03.001.

[10] Bertelli, A. A., Mannari, C., Santi, S., Filippi, C., Migliori, M., & Giovannini, L. (2008). Immunomodulatory activity of shikimic acid and quercitin in comparison with oseltamivir (Tamiflu) in an in vitro model. Journal of medical virology80(4), 741–745. https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.21072.

[11] Sheikh, B. A., Pari, L., Rathinam, A., & Chandramohan, R. (2015). Trans-anethole, a terpenoid ameliorates hyperglycemia by regulating key enzymes of carbohydrate metabolism in streptozotocin induced diabetic rats. Biochimie112, 57–65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biochi.2015.02.008.