Jacqueline Soule here with another delightful herb you can plant now in your winter garden – anise.
The fragrant anise plant has a long history of use. Pictures of it have been found in ancient Babylonian carvings, Egyptian tombs, and Roman ruins. Ancient uses were perhaps medicinal as well as ornamental. We know that by the Middle Ages anise was used in cooking, medicine and mouse traps.
Anise seed and fresh leaves are used to promote digestion and to relieve stomach upsets. An infusion (tea) of the seeds has been shown to increase glandular secretions, including gastric glands, sweat glands, and mammary glands. Anise has mild expectorant qualities, thus it was once used in asthma powders, and is currently used in some cold remedies. There is some indication that it is also helpful to alleviate menstrual cramps. In aromatherapy, anise properties are: digestive, head-clearing, warming, clarifying, respiratory, and muscle relaxant.
Much of the anise plant is useful. Leaves, flowers, and seed are edible, and are often used as a flavoring agent. Spice uses vary by ethnic origin, but generally the seed is used, as it is most flavorful and easily stored. If you have access to fresh anise, enjoy leaves and the edible flowers in salads or sautéed with other greens. And let us not forget anise is used to make liqueurs, including anisette.
In the 1970’s there was some concern that anise oil was carcinogenic. Those fears have since been shown to be groundless.
Planting and Care.
Native to the dry rocky soils of the eastern Mediterranean, anise does well in our area. Late September to November is the ideal time to plant seeds. In its homeland, anise grows after the start of their winter rains (the only rain they get).
Due to its taproot, and dislike of being transplanted, anise is generally planted from seed and rarely found for sale as seedlings. That said, if do you see seedlings -go ahead and buy some. Much quicker results.
Plant seed in well drained (sandy) soil. Keep evenly moist for the best flavor and highest seed production. Plants require at least six hours of sun and can be grown in containers at least two feet deep. Fertilizer is not necessary, but if you desire ample seeds, a flowering fertilizer, high in phosphorous, helps produce an ample seed crop.
Harvesting and Use.
Use anise leaves fresh in salads or as a flavoring in cooking.
Leaves may be used fresh or dried for tea or use as a culinary herb.
Seeds are harvested for use and can be winnowed with a kitchen colander or strainer.
About Jacqueline: If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).
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