With an aroma similar to black licorice but more complex, anise essential oil offers a range of health benefits that have been recognized since biblical times.
Anise, also called Pimpinella anisum—or aniseed in the spice aisle—is a flowering plant that is part of the Apiaceae family and is native to regions of Southeast Asia and the eastern Mediterranean.
While it is similar in fragrance to both fennel and star anise, none of the licorice-scented plants are related, and anise is instead a closer cousin to celery, carrots, and parsley than either star anise or fennel.
Anise grows on slender stems and is topped with white flowers that produce the seeds, which are similar in shape to caraway seeds.
Anise essential oil blends well with spicy oils like black pepper, thyme, and ginger; evergreen scents such as varieties of pine; florals including lavender, lilac, gardenia, tuberose and rose; and citrus scents including orange, bergamot, mimosa, lemon, grapefruit, and tangerine. You can find thyme and lavender in MONQ’s Happy personal essential oil diffuser.
The History of Anise
Anise dates back to biblical times when it was mentioned in both the gospels of Luke and Mark.
Anise was considered so valuable during that time that the seeds from which the essential oil is derived were used as currency to pay tithes to the church as well as tax bills.
Many Greek and Roman authors, including Dioscorides, Theophrastus, Pliny the Elder, and Paladus wrote about the uses of anise, and in the ninth century, Charlemagne ordered that anise and other treasured herbs were to be grown on the imperial farms surrounding the magnificent structures he’d ordered to built in Germany under his command.
Romans used anise as a curative for indigestion and served spiced cakes flavored with anise after meals to improve digestion. Anise was also used to flavor wedding cakes during this time.
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The oil was first extracted from the anise seed during the Renaissance, which created new ways for anise to be used, especially as scientists began isolating homeopathic compounds from the oil produced by the seeds.
As a spice, anise is suitable for both sweet and savory preparations, and in many countries, it is used to flavor liqueurs including Anisette, a cordial popular in the Mediterranean region.
In “Turner’s Herbal,” published in 1551, anise was recognized as a breath freshener, and in 1683, William Langham’s “Garden Health” suggested it had diuretic properties, making it an effective remedy for water retention.
Anise is now grown throughout the world and has remained largely unchanged despite the fact that it has at least 2,000 years of history.
Anise Essential Oil Fun Facts
Anise is not only used in the Greek liqueur ouzo, it is also used in the popular, mysterious liquor absinthe, which was long believed to be a hallucinogenic, including by Ernest Hemingway, Oscar Wilde, and Edgar Allan Poe.
Black jelly beans get their flavor from anise.
Anise was used as a talisman and was one of the herbs that were used to protect people from the Evil Eye.
Anise seed and anise essential oil are both used in the processing of meats, most often Italian sausages, and pepperoni.
The essential oil of anise is extracted by steam distillation of the dried anise seeds. 1
While there are many volatile oils in anise, by far the most important one is anethole. Anethole acts as an antimicrobial, fighting off bacteria, yeast, and fungi. Anethole has been used in conjunction with other phytochemicals, and researchers have found that anethole works in synergy with those phytochemicals, increasing their efficacy. For example, when used alongside anise, thyme essential oil enhance anise’s antibacterial properties significantly.
Other important compounds found in anise essential oil include:
Alpha-pinene is a terpene that could have a positive effect on the brain. Alpha-pinene is believed to inhibit the activity of an enzyme that damages the neurotransmitters that the brain uses to communicate with the rest of the body. Because of that, the terpene could have the potential to protect memory, alleviating the risk of dementia. Alpha-pinene also interacts with dopamine and serotonin, the same neurotransmitters impacted by drugs such as Valium and others in the benzodiazepine class, giving it the potential to relieve stress and anxiety.
Limonene is a monoterpene that acts as both an anti-inflammatory and an antibacterial. It may help speed the healing of wounds while acting as an antioxidant, encouraging the production of collagen at the site of a wound while fighting free radical damage that can slow healing.
Linalool is a busy terpene. It not only helps relieve stress, anxiety, and insomnia but also helps encourage the production of vitamin E, a skin-friendly antioxidant that helps protect the skin proteins collagen and elastin, which make up the skin’s structural layer and keep the skin looking firm and supple.
Another monoterpene, beta-pinene is believed to help improve mood.
A monoterpene, camphene could help protect against cardiovascular disease by reducing cholesterol levels, at least in mice.2 Camphene also acts as an antibacterial, an antioxidant, an antifungal, and an insecticide, so it pairs well with the anethole that makes up the bulk of anise essential oil.
A fatty acid, the myristic acid helps anise absorb into the skin so the oil’s active compounds can better penetrate the skin’s surface.
Anise also contains manganese, calcium, fiber, protein, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, copper, and vitamins including vitamin C. 2
Uses for Anise Essential Oil
Anise is considered one of the most beneficial herbs for healing, thanks to the nutrients that the seeds and the oil distilled from them have to offer.
Some of the top health benefits of anise essential oil include:
The antibacterial properties of anise oil make it an effective treatment option for even stubborn strains of bacteria including staph and strep. It can be added to water to use as a cleaning product or can be mixed with a carrier oil and applied directly to cuts or wounds.
A 2017 study addressed the benefits of anise essential oil as a potential treatment for symptoms of depression. The study, appearing in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, found that mood swings, insomnia, and irritability were reduced in women suffering from postpartum depression after taking the oil.3
Acts as a Sedative
Anise oil can act as a sedative, easing anxiety, stress, and nervousness. It also has a tranquilizing effect that can ease insomnia, helping those who struggle with sleepless nights drift off to sleep faster and sleep better as well.
Fights off Insects
The anethole in anise essential oil has been shown to be more effective than the controversial pesticide DEET when fighting off certain insects. It has been used effectively against certain species of cockroaches, weevils, and beetles, but it is most effective against mosquitoes, especially because the anethole in anise works in synergy with the camphene, another natural insecticide safe for children and pets.
For new moms who are having trouble breastfeeding, anise essential oil may help due to the anethole found in the oil. Anethole has been shown to increase milk supply in both humans and animals.
Provides Pain Relief
A study appearing in the Indian Veterinary Journal found that the analgesic qualities of anise were as effective as aspirin and morphine—at least when used on mice. The research does open the door for human studies, however. A 2014 Brazilian study also found that the anethole in anise could act as an analgesic, relieving pain. It is especially effective on the muscle and joint pain associated with arthritis. 4
Reduces Epileptic Seizures
A study in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that anise reduced not only the duration but also the frequency of epileptic seizures. Researchers believe that anise helps protect the synapses in the brain, which misfire during an epileptic seizure.
Regulates Blood Sugar
The anethole in anise seed essential oil could help prevent high blood glucose levels, according to a 2015 study from India. The animal research found that anethole influenced the activity of specific enzymes, boosting levels of insulin, which is responsible for helping blood sugar move from the bloodstream into cells, where it can be used for energy. 5
Athlete’s foot and other irritating fungal issues could be a thing of the past, based on research from Croatia. The study found that the essential oil of anise helped control the growth of specific types of fungus, including yeast.
Relieves Menopause Symptoms
Anise essential oil may help ease the symptoms associated with menopause, according to a 2012 study appearing in the Iran Journal of Pharmaceutical Research. Most notably, anise reduced the frequency and severity of hot flashes, one of the most common menopausal complaint. 6
Improves Appearance of Skin
The vitamin C in anise makes it a powerful antioxidant. Vitamin C is able to target free radicals that damage the skin proteins collagen and elastin, protecting the cells and preventing signs of aging, including fine lines, wrinkles and age spots.
Acts as a Decongestant
Anise, often used in over-the-counter cold and cough medications can help relieve congestion and restore easy breathing. It is also used to relieve coughs, symptoms of asthma and bronchitis, and other respiratory problems.
One of the first medicinal uses of anise remains a common one. Anise might not only help stimulate digestion, it is also an effective carminative, which means that it can ease digestive problems including indigestion, gas, acid reflux, and stomach aches. It also helps treat nausea and vomiting.
Relaxes Tense Muscles
The properties in anise oil have been shown in studies to relax muscles, making it an excellent additive to carrier oils such as coconut oil to use as a rub to soothe away the pain of overexertion or strenuous exercise.
How To Use Anise Essential Oil
While anise is most often used as a spice to flavor foods, it can also be used in aromatherapy or applied to the skin to help ease certain conditions.
- Add anise essential oil to lotions, potpourri, a diffuser, or a sachet to benefit from the restorative properties of the licorice-like scent, which can both energize and calm.
- To treat the pain of arthritis, mix a few drops of anise with a carrier oil and massage onto the areas that cause pain. The massage helps boost circulation to the area, while the essential oil penetrates the skin, where it can ease inflammation and pain.
- Add a few drops to a bowl of steaming water and cover your head with a towel, allowing the steam to ease congestion.
- Add fennel essential oil to a cup of hot tea to help ease digestion, boost libido, and decrease feelings of anxiety and stress. You can find fennel in our Happy personal essential oil diffuser.
Safety and Precautions
Anise should not be used by those at risk for estrogen-related cancers because it contains low levels of the compound estragole, which negatively interacts with the hormone estrogen. It should also be avoided during pregnancy, by individuals younger than five years old, and by those taking blood thinners, as anise can interfere with blood clotting.
Other drugs that are a risk factor for use with anise include codeine, diazepam, midazolam, pentobarbital, imipramine, and fluoxetine, based on a 2012 study that determined anise could either increase or decrease the effects of these drugs.
Whether used topically when diluted with a carrier oil or incorporated as part of an aromatherapy session, anise essential oil is a popular ancient remedy that can provide you with a range of health benefits when incorporated as part of your daily routine.