Indigenous to China, Illicium verum is a small tree with aromatic, star-shaped fruits. Star anise is often used in culinary applications and is a traditional ingredient in Chinese five spice blends. Star anise pods have a stronger flavor than anise seed and are considered warming. They can be added to infusions, mulled wine, herbal syrups, and liqueurs. Anise star pods are also employed in tincturing and homemade mouthwashes.
It's easy to recognize anise star pods; they usually look like an eight-pointed star. This fruit of a tree in magnolia family native to China and Vietnam produces tough-skinned, rust-colored fruits that are picked and dried before ripening. Anise star pods are hotter, more pungent, more bitter, and much more “licorice-like” than the European anise. Common names include Chinese star anise and takkola.
Anise star pods are used in Chinese “red” cooking, where foods are cooked for a long time in soy sauce. The herb is used to flavor “marbled eggs” and many Asian soups, in Thai iced tea, and in Peking duck. Anise star pods are also chewed after meals in order to freshen breath.
The whole dried fruits can be added directly to cooking. Small amounts are recommended. Anise star pods are a powerful spice. The herb should be stored in a tightly sealed container in a dark, cool place. The tea is quite strong and only moderate amounts will be needed. May also be taken as a capsule or extract.