Star anise has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years and has also been accepted into some Western medicine practices more recently.
Its rise in popularity is largely driven by its antimicrobial properties and pharmacological potential.
One of the most popular pharmacologically relevant attributes of star anise is its shikimic acid content.
Shikimic acid is a compound with strong antiviral capabilities. In fact, it’s one of the main active ingredients in Tamiflu, a popular medication for the treatment of influenza (7).
Currently, star anise is the primary source of shikimic acid used for pharmaceutical product development. As the influenza pandemic continues to mount as a threat to global health, the demand for star anise is on the rise (7).
Some test-tube research has also shown that the essential oil of star anise may treat other types of viral infections, including herpes simplex type 1 (8).
Though star anise is frequently used for treating influenza, more research is needed to further understand its potential to treat other viral infections in humans.
Star anise is a rich source of the flavonoid anethole. This compound is responsible for the spice’s distinct flavor and offers potent antifungal benefits.
Some agricultural research has found that trans-anethole derived from star anise may inhibit the growth of pathogenic fungi in certain edible crops (9).
Test-tube research indicates that other bioactive compounds found in star anise essential oil, like terpene linalool, may suppress biofilm and cell wall formation of infectious fungi in humans (10).
More research is needed to better understand the applications for star anise to treat fungal infections in humans.
Another important medicinal benefit of star anise is its ability to inhibit bacterial growth implicated in a variety of common illnesses.
Some research has revealed that star anise extract is as effective as antibiotics against multiple drug-resistant pathogenic bacteria. This may be particularly useful for future development of new antibiotic medications (11).
Test-tube studies have also shown that bioactive compounds in star anise may be effective in treating urinary tract infections caused by different bacteria (12).
A separate study revealed star anise extract to be somewhat effective in reducing the growth of E. coli on a petri dish, though it wasn’t as effective as current, more common antibiotic treatments (13).
At this time, most research on the antibacterial properties of star anise is limited to animal and test-tube studies. More studies are needed to better understand how this spice may be used to support human health.
Star anise has been useful in the medical realm for treating a variety of fungal, bacterial and viral infections.
Star anise has a distinct licorice flavor similar to that of anise or fennel, though it’s not related to either of these spices. It pairs well with coriander, cinnamon, cardamom and clove.
In cooking, star anise can be used whole or as a powder.
It’s often utilized in classical Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, especially as a flavor enhancer in broths, soups and curries.
It’s well known for its presence in the Chinese “5 spice” and Indian “Garam Masala” blends.
In traditional Chinese and folk medicine practices, star anise is steeped in water to make a tea used to treat respiratory infections, nausea, constipation and other digestive issues.
Star anise also makes a great addition to sweet dishes and desserts, such as baked fruit, pies, quick bread and muffins.
If you’ve never used this spice in your culinary pursuits before, keep in mind that a little goes a long way. Start with a small amount and add more to taste in order to avoid using too much.
Try sprinkling powdered star anise into your next batch of muffins or throw a couple of whole pods into your next pot of soup for a warming boost of flavor.