Chinese star anise, identified by the botanical name Illicium verum, is the fruit of a tropical Asian tree. There is a Japanese star anise, Illicium anisatum, but it is not the star anise used as a flavoring spice, and is poisonous. Chinese star anise is a brown, eight-armed, star-shaped pod. Use star anise in cooking by adding the ground pod to food. Medicinally, make it into a tea, or apply the diluted essential oil externally.
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Star anise is effective against several types of viruses, including the herpes virus, say researcher Paul Schnitzler and his colleagues from the University of Heidelburg, Germany. Star anise works by preventing further viral replication. Shikimic acid is the ingredient extracted from Chinese star anise to make the drug Tamiflu. Tamiflu, or Oseltamivir, treats the influenza virus, but does not work as a vaccination. It fights the virus once contracted.
Anethole is an essential oil in star anise which gives it a licorice flavor. It is effective against some types of bacteria. Data published in the February 2002 edition of "Phytotherapy Research" showed the anethole isolated from star anise protective against some micro-organisms. Anethole can prevent the growth of Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus. E. coli, spread by contamination of food, primarily affects the digestive system, causing vomiting and diarrhea. Staphylococcus aureus, found on food and some surfaces, frequently infects the skin.
Anti-Inflammatory, Anti-Oxidant, Anti-Fungal
The chemical compound anethole, as found in star anise, has anti-inflammatory properties, according to information presented in the July 2005 journal "Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry." An experiment conducted with animals showed anethole compounds as effective as the anti-inflammatory drug indometacin. Anethole is also an anti-oxidant and will kill fungus. The anti-fungal ability of star anise is "powerful," notes a March 2009 article in "Chemistry of Natural Compounds."
Possible Side Effects
A November 2004 article in the journal "Pediatrics" states that Japanese star anise occasionally ends up mixed into batches of Chinese star anise. Japanese star anise has been shown to cause poisoning in infants. Star anise is a traditional Asian remedy for colic in babies. The article suggests parents not give any star anise, even in the form of tea, to infants. Adults should be careful when drinking star anise tea and make sure it does not contain the Japanese variety. When using a plant for medicinal purposes, it is advisable to consult a physician.