Is it a spice or is it an herb? Believe it or not, it’s both! Let me introduce you to one of the most ancient of our cultivated herbs and spices, the anise plant.
Evidence of anise cultivation goes back 4000years to ancient Egypt, where it’s popularity quickly spread northwards to Europe leaving an aniseed flavor legacy everywhere it was grown. Although not related to the licorice plant in any way, anise is very similar in taste and aroma.
Anise is a key ingredient used to flavor some very famous liquors, including Ouzo in Greece and Cyprus, Pastis and Pernod in France, and Sambuca in Italy, as well as a common ingredient in cakes and bread. The medicinal benefits of anise have been used for thousands of years to aid digestion, reduce flatulence, relieve coughs, sore throats, nausea and even to ease childbirth!
When anise reached England in the 14th century, demand was so high for its use as a spice, a medicine, and as a perfume, that King Edward I taxed it to pay for repairs on London Bridge.
Growing anise is still popular for its pretty white flowers in the garden as well as its pungent aniseed flavor. Read on to learn how to grow this fascinating herb in your garden.
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Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Anise, aniseed|
|Scientific Name||Pimpinella anisum|
|Days to Harvest||120 days|
|Water:||Regularly when young. Less frequently once established.|
|Fertilizer||Light mulch, nitrogen-rich liquid fertilizer|
All About The Anise Plant
Anise (Pimpinella anisum is its botanical name) comes from the carrot family Apiaceae, just like parsnip, celery, coriander, and fennel. It is also commonly known as aniseed, a name derived from the seed for which it is mainly grown for its essential oil. Anise is native to the eastern Mediterranean, mainly, Egypt, Turkey, and Greece.
Depending on conditions, anise grows to 1.5 to 3 feet tall, (45-90cm). The young leaves are long, green, and slightly lobed but as the plant matures, they become finely pinnate with a feathery appearance similar to fennel. Anise flowers appear from mid to late summer in the form of densely packed umbels with small white individual anise flowers ¼ inch across (3mm). Entire umbels can reach 6-7 inches (15-17cms) in diameter. Seed heads develop in late summer to early autumn forming multiple seed pods called ‘schizocarps’ and each containing long, brown seeds ready to be released when fully ripened. After seed heads are harvested the remaining foliage will die back and will not usually survive the winter making anise a half-hardy annual.
Anise is one of those flavors you either love or hate. It has a strong, highly aromatic sweet aniseed flavor similar to licorice. There is nothing subtle about it. Anise is mostly grown for its seeds, but the leaves and root can also be eaten in salads or cooked in stews, curries, and casseroles to add a subtle aniseed flavor.
Pimpinella anisum is not invasive but is often confused with its cousin fennel, Foeniculum vulgare which has become a nuisance in many countries where it grows wild. Anise grows well in containers, but unlike its cousin fennel which is allelopathic (inhibits the growth of other plants), anise enhances the growth of plants like beans and coriander and makes for a happy planting companion in the ground.
Start sowing anise as soon as possible to provide enough warm, frost-free days to ensure seeds ripen in time for harvest. As with most carrot family plants, anise has a tap root that does not transplant well. For best results, sow anise directly into prepared drills in spring after the last frost date. Thin seedlings to 6-8 inches apart and 1.5 feet (45cms) between rows keeping the area watered and weed-free until plants are established.
Seeds can also be started indoors in early spring 6 – 8 weeks before the last frost, sowing directly into large peat/coir pots or pellets which help limit transplant shock and damage to the roots when planting in the ground. Anise seeds take 10-12 days to germinate at 68ºF (20ºC). Seedlings will need to be hardened off gradually for around a week to acclimatize them to outdoor temperatures. Plant into their final positions when there is no longer any risk of frost.
Anise is a delicate plant that can become top-heavy when seed heads form and may require support. Plant anise in a sheltered spot in the garden in full sun and protected from strong, cold winds. If growing anise in containers, choose a large, deep, heavy pot that will accommodate the taproot and won’t blow over.
Caring For Anise
Caring for anise is pretty straightforward. Follow our tips below and you won’t go wrong.
Sun and Temperature
Grow anise in full sun with a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight per day. In warmer climates, plants will benefit from shade during the hottest time of the day to prevent the delicate feathery leaves and stems from being frazzled. Grow anise in USDA zones 4 to 9 with temperatures ranging from 46.5 – 75.5ºF (8-23ºC). The ideal anise growing temperature is between 65 – 70ºF (18-21ºC). Very high temperatures will wilt and dry out the foliage and low temperature and frost will prevent seeds from ripening and will ultimately kill the plant. Container-grown plants can be moved inside in colder weather.
Water and Humidity
Young anise plants require frequent watering until established. Keep soil moist but never wet. Mature plants will perform better if grown in drier, well-drained soil conditions so it’s best to allow the soil to dry out between watering. Check your container-grown plants regularly as they will dry out quicker and will require frequent watering. Water plants at soil level in the morning using a timed soaker hose or watering cans. On very hot days, anise will benefit from being watered in the afternoon, especially if the plant is showing signs of overheating.
Anise is not a fussy plant when it comes to soil and can tolerate quite poor conditions. However, for best results, choose a well-drained soil such as a light sandy loam. In terms of pH, grow anise in soils ranging from slightly acid pH 6.5 to alkaline pH 8.
Fertilizer is not always necessary unless you have anise growing in extremely poor soil conditions and plants are showing signs of decline. A good organic mulch will act as a soil conditioner adding nutrients and retaining moisture. You can also give plants a nitrogen-rich liquid feed or a good seaweed feed at the start of the season when you plant anise outside.
Anise does not require any regular pruning to maintain its shape or encourage growth. At the end of the growing season harvest seed heads by cutting them back to ground level. This will also prevent plants from self-seeding.
Anise may be propagated from seed indoors or sown directly outside.
Outside: Anise does not transplant well because of its taproot. For best results sow anise seeds in spring when all risk of frost has passed, sowing directly into prepared drills ½ inch deep and rows 1.5 feet apart (45cms). Sow seeds approximately 1 inch apart, cover with soil and water. Germination can take up to 14days outdoors. When seedlings appear, thin to 6-8 inches apart and keep the area watered and weed-free until plants are established.
Inside: start seeds indoors in spring, a few weeks before the last frost, sowing directly into large peat/coir pots or pellets. This will limit transplant shock or damage to the roots when planting on. Alternatively, sow one or two anise seeds into tall 3.5 to 4 inches (9-10cm) plastic pots, nip out the weaker seedling and plant out or pot on as soon as roots are visible through the holes in the bottom. Seeds will take 10-12 days to germinate at 68ºF (20ºC). Before planting outside, acclimatize seedlings gradually to outdoor conditions for around a week, placing them outside in a sunny sheltered spot during the day and bringing them indoors at night. Plant anise seedlings into their final positions when all risk of frost has passed.
Harvesting and Storing
Anise requires 120 days of frost-free weather to reach maturity and for seeds to be ready for harvest and storing.
Anise leaves can be harvested when the plant begins to develop its pretty white flowers. Harvesting leaves from young plants may stunt growth. Simply cut what you need making sure not to damage stems supporting the seed heads.
Seed production requires a warm, dry growing season to ripen seeds ready for harvest. This normally occurs in late summer/early autumn when the seed pods have turned brown. In cooler climates, whole seed heads can be cut back and brought indoors to allow the seeds to ripen and dry thoroughly.
Freshly picked leaves are best used straight away but will keep fresh in the fridge for a few days if wrapped in a damp kitchen towel. Harvested seed heads should be placed inside paper bags and stored somewhere warm and dry to encourage the seeds to ripen. Anise seeds can be stored in an airtight container for 1-2 years.
Like most plants, growing anise is easy, but just in case, here are a few problems to look out for.
The main problems encountered when growing anise are due to its delicate nature. Its leaves are fine and can be damaged by extremes of cold and heat so provide shade from the hottest sun and don’t plant out until all risk of frost has passed.
Weak stems often require support to carry the weight of seed heads. Also, avoid planting anise in exposed garden locations as plants can easily blow over. Finally, anise does not like wet roots so allow the soil to dry out between watering.
Aphids (Aphidoidea), are small, sticky, yellow, green, and black flies that feed on the sap of new growth on anise plants. To treat biologically grow companion plants like coriander to attract beneficial insects that feed on aphids, such as ladybug larvae, lacewings, and hoverflies. Or, spray with an organic insecticidal soap or neem oil. Squishing aphids with fingers or a quick blast of water can help reduce numbers.
Anise is susceptible to powdery mildew if grown in humid, shaded conditions. Powdery mildew grows as thick dust on leaves, inhibiting photosynthesis and hindering growth. Foliage eventually turns yellow and dies. Maintain good garden hygiene, removing infected foliage to prevent the disease from spreading and reinfection in subsequent years. Provide adequate sunlight and good air circulation. Treat affected plants with an organic fungicide such as sulfur or potassium bicarbonate, prior to or on first sight of disease.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the benefit of anise?
A: Anise has many medicinal benefits. It is said to aid digestion, relieve nausea, and ease sore throats and coughs as well as being used to add aniseed flavor to food.
Q: Is anise plant edible?
A: All parts of the anise plant are edible from the root, leaves, and seeds. Each element is used in different ways to flavor food and drink or to use in medicine and essential oil.
Q: What is the herb anise used for?
A: The green leaves from the anise plant can be used in salads or added to stews, soups, casseroles, and curries. It’s best to add leaves towards the end of cooking to add a subtle aniseed flavor. Or you can simply eat the herb leaves directly to freshen your breath.
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