Anise seeds -- which taste similar to licorice -- have been used since ancient times to flavor foods and beverages. Anise is a key ingredient in the Greek drink ouzo, which is often served with meals to spark appetite and promote digestion. Herbalists and natural healers have long recommended anise seeds to alleviate indigestion, bloating and gas. Although clinical studies on anise seeds are lacking, animal and laboratory research supports the gas-reducing properties of anise seeds' constituents, but consult your doctor before taking anise seeds.
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Constituents of Anise
Anise, botanically known as Pimpinella anisum, is an annual herb native to the Mediterranean and Middle East. A member of the Apiaceae family, anise is closely related to fennel. Anethole -- anise's most pharmacologically active ingredient -- is found in both types of seeds, and comprises 75 to 90 percent of anise seeds' content. The ridged, greenish-brown anise seeds also contain caffeic, chlorogenic and anisic acids, along with terpenes, the antioxidant flavonoids rutin and limonene, myristicin -- also found in parsley and nutmeg -- and the anti-inflammatory agent beta-sitosterol. Coumarins -- which have natural blood-thinning properties -- are also present, as are alpha and beta-pinene, thymol and eugenol, an anesthetic and analgesic also found in cloves.
Effects of Anise Seeds
Although there is no guarantee that anise seeds will completely control bloating and gas, they may help to alleviate the condition. The use of anise as a digestive aid dates back to ancient Rome, where anise-flavored cakes were served after feasts. Drugs.com -- which provides peer-reviewed medical information to consumers -- credits anise seeds with antimicrobial and carminative effects. Anise has antispasmodic effects, which allow it to relax muscles of the intestines and relieve gas, bloating and cramps. The online health care encyclopedia Hecapedia reports that anethole -- structurally related to catecholamines, such as dopamine and epinephrine -- has also demonstrated antimicrobial, antifungal and expectorant effects in animal and laboratory studies.
Research supports the ability of anise seeds to inhibit bacterial infections that may cause symptoms of bloating and gas. In a laboratory study published in 2005 in "Phytotherapy Research," researchers found that botanical extracts of anise seeds inhibited the growth of H. pylori, a bacterial pathogen responsible for the development of gastric ulcers and chronic gastritis. The MIC of anise extract -- or the minimum inhibitory concentration necessary to inhibit pathogenic growth -- was recorded at 100 micrograms per millileter.
Usage and Considerations
According to Drugs.com, the usual dose of anise for indigestion is between 0.5 to 3 grams of the seeds a day. The website adds that although anise is generally recognized as safe when used as a food, people who are sensitive to it may experience irritation of the gastrointestinal tract or respiratory system; skin reactions can include redness and scaling. Rare but serious anaphylactic reactions have also been reported with anise; AsthmaCenter.com reports that if you are allergic to mugwort pollen, you may also be allergic to anise seeds, as well as its relatives: carrots, celery, kiwi, fennel, dill, coriander, parsley and even apples. Consult your doctor before taking anise. Don't take anise if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you take blood thinners or medications to lower blood pressure or blood sugar.