Star anise: properties, benefits and contraindications

Star anise: properties, benefits and contraindications

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Star anise is one of the most popular ingredients both in gastronomy and natural medicine. Its beautiful 8-pointed star shape and its aniseed aroma make it a common ingredient in many herbal teas and remedies for coughs, colds, or digestive problems.

It should not be confused with green anise, since its plants are not part of the same family. However, on a practical level, they share many of their components and properties. In the following article, we discover what they are and how they can be used safely.

Under the scientific name of Illicium verum, both the tree and the fruit of star anise are known. It is native to southern China, Korea, and Japan where it was planted in temples and cemeteries. Its use is common in traditional oriental medicines to improve digestion and protect against infections.

In China, it also has a historical use in the kitchen and is part of a common mixture known as “5 spices”. With its arrival in Europe, it began to form part of the production of puddings and syrups, and it is used to make a wide variety of spirits such as Ouzo in Greece or Italian Sambuca.

What are its properties?

Medicinal plants present in their composition a series of active ingredients that give them their therapeutic capacity. As a general rule, these are used to improve some diseases or their symptoms. In the case of star anise, the most prominent components are the following:

  • Essential oils: anethole, limonene, and estragole.
  • Flavonoids: quercetin.
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  • Terpenes.
  • Organic acids: shikimic and quinic.
  • Alcohols: linalool.
  • tannins.
  • Pectins and mucilages.

Due to its contribution to these substances, this spice presents a series of specific health properties. One of the most recognized is its antiviral capacity. Shikimic acid is one of the main ingredients in the drug Tamiflu, which is used to combat avian influenza.

This is complemented by an outstanding insecticidal, antifungal, anthelmintic, antimicrobial, and antibacterial action against some pathogens such as E.Coli, Salmonella, or Clostridium. It is also being investigated as a possible treatment for all those bacteria that have become resistant to common antibiotics. Other properties that should be highlighted are the following:

  • Digestive and eupeptic: stimulates gastric secretions and promotes digestion.
  • Carminative: helps to expel intestinal gases.
  • Expectorant and antiseptic of the respiratory tract.
  • Analgesic.
  • Sedative.
  • antioxidant.
  • Anti-inflammatory.

Health benefits of star anise

Many of the benefits of anise have been harnessed in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda. In fact, they are currently being investigated in modern science. Due to this, its use is increasingly accepted as an adjuvant for some common diseases and ailments. What is it for?

Star anise improves heavy digestion, as it stimulates stomach secretions. It is recommended in cases of hyposecretory dyspepsia (discomfort and pain in the upper part of the stomach) and with loss of appetite.

At the same time, remedies with this fruit favor the expulsion of gases from the digestive system. Consequently, abdominal swelling and flatulence decrease. In addition, it is a good remedy to treat colic and spasms derived from poor digestion.

For respiratory problems

The expectorant and soothing properties of this ingredient are used in natural medicine as a supplement to calm persistent coughs, colds, and other respiratory system ailments.

It even seems that it helps to dilute and eliminate the mucus that obstructs the respiratory tract in the face of this type of disease. It is also useful in the case of flu due to its antiviral activity.

Has antibacterial and antifungal activity

Star anise extracts have been investigated as a possible treatment against  Escherichia coli,  which causes numerous respiratory and digestive problems. It can also have a positive effect on herpes infection problems.

It has even been observed that it can help stop the uncontrolled development of some fungi and yeasts. This is the case of Candida albicans, which can cause a lot of vaginal discomfort in women.

Helps regulate blood glucose

This study in the journal Molecules evaluates the possible usefulness of a large number of medicinal herbs and spices in the management of diabetes. Among them, it is detailed that star anise has antidiabetic activity.

However, the mechanisms by which this effect occurs are still unknown. Therefore, it should not be a first-choice treatment when it comes to regulating blood glucose. In addition, it is necessary to consult with the doctor first.

How to consume star anise?

There are many ways to incorporate star anise into everyday life. However, the most common is in the form of an infusion. To prepare it, you need between 0.5 and 1 gram of star anise for every cup of water. Let them boil in a saucepan between 5 and 8 minutes, and strain the liquid. You can take 1 or 2 cups a day.

In this way, it is a good remedy to calm the symptoms of colds, coughs and digestive problems. In the latter case, the ideal is to ingest it after meals. In turn, it can be combined with other medicinal plants to complement its therapeutic action.

Of course, there are other ways to enjoy your properties. Its flavor is similar to licorice and fennel, although it does not belong to the same families. Therefore, in the kitchen, it combines very well with coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, or cloves, both in sweet and savory dishes.

In the form of essential oil, it is used for both internal and external applications. You can ingest 1 or 2 drops diluted in a liquid. For external use or massages, it is recommended to apply with a base vegetable oil (olive or coconut, for example).

Anise can be prepared as an infusion. However, it can also be included in various culinary preparations.

Does its use have contraindications?

Star anise has been a part of traditional remedies for centuries and is considered a safe ingredient to consume. However, as on many other occasions, this is not valid for all people and it is necessary to take a series of precautions.

Due to the lack of studies that support its safety, it is not recommended during pregnancy and lactation. Its administration in babies and small children is not recommended either, although it is known as a remedy for colic. It can have negative effects on your nervous and gastrointestinal systems.

Chinese star anise ( Illicium verum ) and its derivatives are generally considered safe. However, on some occasions, its fruits may be contaminated with Japanese star anise ( Illicium anisatum). The latter contains a neurotoxic component that can cause severe symptoms such as epilepsy, hallucinations and nausea.

Essential oils derived from plants or their fruits have the same properties but in greatly increased amounts. For this reason, it is necessary to use them with great caution, since they can have irritating effects. People with digestive problems and sensitive skin should pay attention.

Before using star anise, it is necessary to consult a doctor or specialist, especially if you have health problems or take medications. Anethole is toxic in large quantities, so the recommended doses should never be exceeded.

Highlights about star anise

Star anise is also known as “Chinese badian”; it has a very ancient history as a medicinal ingredient. It is popular on the Asian continent, where it is part of many cooking recipes and traditional remedies.

Today its use is indicated to improve digestive problems, gas, colds, or coughs. It also has antiseptic components. The most popular way to take it is as an infusion, although it is also used in essential oil or powder.

To avoid possible contamination and side effects with Japanese star anise, it is necessary to verify the origin of the products that are purchased. This problem does not exist if it is purchased through secure sales channels, since the manufacturers themselves have developed techniques to be able to differentiate both varieties.

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