Star anise is the fruit of Illicium verum, a small flowering evergreen tree native to China and Vietnam. It has an impressive history as a spice used in various dishes, thanks to its unique licorice flavor. It’s also widely used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), where practitioners use it to treat digestive problems, coughs and colds, acne, and all sorts of infections.
Although star anise is extensively used to boost and support health, is there any scientific evidence backing these claims? Let’s find out.
The benefits of star anise: In short
The benefits of star anise seem far-reaching. For example, doctors use it in an antiviral medication that tons of peeps use during the annual flu season.
Star anise may also possess antifungal, antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Initial research on mice suggests that star anise may support heart health and could lower blood sugar. However, we need further research in humans to allow scientists to confirm these effects.
Star anise contains various compounds that may confer health benefits. Here’s where it stacks up in many of the crucial categories, according to science.
Star anise doesn’t have much nutritional content in the amounts you’d eat it. It has zero calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, and sodium.
That said, it’s a great source of some plant compounds that may contribute to health, like flavonoids, polyphenols, shikimic acid, linalool, and gallic acid.
A 2010 laboratory study looked at the antifungal properties of star anise on a type of fungi that attack plants. During the study, researchers found that star anise essential oil exhibited a strong inhibitory effect against the test fungi, meaning it may prevent fungal growth and the resulting nasty effects on plants.
The outcomes of this research may suggest that star anise has potential as a preservative for fruits and vegetables, but applications for human use require further investigation.
In addition to its antifungal properties, star anise also has antibacterial properties.
A 2010 laboratory study tested star anise against more than 50 drug-resistant bacteria. The researchers found that star anise showed substantial antibacterial properties. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any more recent investigations on this effect, despite the authors suggesting that their work could pave the way for star anise as a component of antibiotic medicines.
Star anise seems to be a triple threat, as it also has antiviral properties. In fact, you can find star anise in Tamiflu®, an antiviral drug for influenza A and influenza B. This medication uses a molecule called shikimic acid, derived from star anise. So, this tiny star is already benefiting the health industry.
Antioxidants play a significant role in preventing cell damage and may help to protect the body against diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, and cataracts.
A 2012 laboratory study examined the chemical extracts of star anise and found that two of them, flavonoids and polyphenols, may have slight antioxidant properties. Although more recent research is lacking, it seems star anise is a potential source of natural antioxidants.
A 2021 analysis performed on mice found that star anise has anti-inflammatory properties. Although the study focused on mouth inflammation, the authors suggest that star anise also reduces information in the smooth muscles of mouse intestine.
Again, large-scale quality research is lacking, and even though star anise shows potential, additional research is needed before solid conclusions can be drawn.
If you have high levels of fat in your blood, you could develop atherosclerosis. In this condition, the walls of the arteries develop plaques of fatty material that restrict blood flow. These plaques affect the body’s ability to pump blood and increase blood pressure. Atherosclerosis, if left untreated, may result in a heart attack or stroke.
A 2015 study on mice found that the anti-inflammatory properties of star anise may help prevent atherosclerosis. However, further testing in different species is needed to see if any benefit truly exists.
Lower blood sugar
Diabetes is a potentially severe disease associated with high blood sugar levels. If someone has too much sugar in their blood, it can cause serious health problems like heart disease, stroke, and problems with vision and nerves.
A 2018 study on yeast cells found that star anise may have anti-diabetic properties because of its polyphenols. These beneficial plant compounds can help manage blood pressure, keep blood vessels healthy and promote good circulation.
However, as this was a study on yeast cells, it’s difficult to conclude how valuable this effect would be in humans. Therefore, further research is necessary to see if adding star anise to diabetes prevention or recovery plans would be beneficial.
Star anise may potentially provide some skin benefits, thanks to its antimicrobial properties.
A small 2021 analysis using 50 participants found that a star anise mouthwash significantly decreases the number of bacteria in the mouth. The authors concluded that star anise has potent antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and astringent properties.
As bacteria and inflammation drive skin conditions like acne, star anise could potentially benefit certain skin problems. Researchers explored this effect in a 2021 study that tested star anise extract on mice. They suggest it has potential for use in skin infections because of its antimicrobial properties.
Plus, as a botanical astringent, star anise contracts the skin, which could help improve enlarged pores and skin texture.
In most cases, star anise is not eaten by itself but is used as a spice and added to dishes, where it imparts a sweet-licorice-peppery flavor. Whole or ground star anise is an excellent addition to savory recipes like soups, stews, broths, and sweet recipes like pies and ice cream.
What about star anise tea?
Of course, consuming any kind of hot liquid such as tea might help if you’ve got a sore throat, and it’ll help you keep a cough at bay. But, aside from that, there’s nothing in the literature that heralds any specific benefits attributed to star anise tea.
Overall, scientific studies on star anise are few and far between, so this could be an area that would benefit from further investigation.
When you should not follow the star
While star anise does not have any known side effects, one significant concern lies with a particular kind of star anise.
The standard star anise you’ll find in the grocery store is Chinese star anise, which is safe for consumption. On the other hand, Japanese star anise is toxic to consume. Both varieties appear similar, so it’s not wise to pick your own, naturally, but you’re safe picking up a packet from the spice shelf.
If you’re itching to try adding star anise to some dishes, here are some tasty recipes to try.
Star anise and ginger braised chicken
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 pounds chicken, bone-in
- 1 star anise
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1-inch piece of ginger
- 1/3 cup rice wine
- 1/2 cup stock or water
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons orange juice
- Begin by heating the vegetable oil in a large saucepan.
- Add chicken pieces to the saucepan, skin-side down.
- Cook the chicken until golden brown, then transfer to a plate and season with salt.
- Add star anise, garlic, ginger, rice wine, stock or water, honey, and soy sauce to the pan and bring to a boil.
- Add orange juice.
- Place the chicken back in the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer gently for about 15 minutes.
- Turn the chicken pieces, then allow to simmer for an additional 5 minutes.
- Remove the chicken from the pan, skim any fat off the surface, then continue simmering the sauce for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Remove the star anise, return the chicken to the pan, coat the chicken in the sauce, and then it’s ready to enjoy.
Star anise milk
If you prefer something simpler, you only need three ingredients for this delicious star anise milk. It’s the bomb served up with cookies.
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 teaspoon molasses
- 2 star anise
- Grab a pot and add the milk, molasses, and star anise.
- Heat gently until the milk begins to boil, whisking continuously.
- Remove it from the heat, pour it into a mug, and enjoy.
Star anise snickerdoodles
Speaking of cookies, look no further than these star anise snickerdoodles for something delicious to serve with your star anise milk.
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon ground star anise
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- cinnamon sugar (for dusting)
- Add flour, baking powder, ground star anise, salt, and cream of tartar to a bowl and stir with a whisk.
- In a second bowl, add the unsalted butter and beat until smooth.
- Then add the sugar and vanilla extract and continue beating.
- Add the egg and mix.
- Combine the flour mixture carefully until it forms a dough.
- Shape the dough into a ball and then refrigerate for 1 hour.
- After the hour’s up, shape the dough into smaller balls and coat in cinnamon sugar. Place on baking sheets and bake in the oven at 375°F (190.5°C) for about 10 minutes.
- If your willpower lets you, allow the cookies to cool before enjoying them.
Star anise is a spice that’s been popular for centuries. It’s used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat many diseases, and current scientific studies appear to support some of these uses.
While you’ll probably not eat star anise as is, it’s a tasty addition to many dishes, like soups, stew, drinks, and desserts.
This tiny star-shaped seed possesses antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. It may also have benefits for skin, cardiovascular health, and blood sugar. However, one issue is that its assets have only been demonstrated in laboratory or animal studies, so further research is required.
Star anise doesn’t seem to have any side effects but be aware that there’s an imposter. Don’t mistake it for Japanese star anise, which is toxic.