There’s no mistaking the licorice flavor of anise.
Anise or star anise?
Before we begin, let me clarify that we are talking about anise (Pimpinella anisum L. – anise burnet saxifrage), and not star anise (Illicium verum). Anise and star anise are not related. They do, however, both contain anethole, an oil that gives them their strong flavors. In each case, people often mistake the fruits from these plants for seeds. Tiny anise and star anise fruits are schizocarps. A schizocarp is a type of fruit that splits in half when dried. The two halves of a schizocarp are called mericarps. Star anise has a distinctive star-shaped fruit, while anise fruit is oblong.
Anise plants are herbaceous annuals that start out as bright green mounds. Then, feathery leaves shoot skyward, much like fennel. Being umbellifers, these cousins of carrots, dill, and celery have flowers that are large, flat clusters of tiny flowers that pollinators and other beneficial insects love. Plants can reach 3 feet in height.
How to grow anise
Being native to the eastern Mediterranean and Southwest Asia, anise is a warm weather, full sun crop. It prefers loose soil with good drainage, and a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.7, so it is better suited to raised beds in the Bay Area, unless you have improved your soil structure with plenty of aged compost. These plants have a taproot, so they do not transplant well. They can be grown in containers, as long as the pot is at least 8 inches deep and wide. Seeds should be planted 1/4-inch deep, at least two weeks after the last frost date. Thin plants to 12 inches apart. [Unless you really like anise, your family will probably only need one plant.] Regular irrigation is important, but an occasional top dressing is the only feeding these plants need.
Anise pests and disease
Larva of the wormwood pug, a small brown moth, will feed on anise foliage, but that’s about it. The oils that give anise its delicious flavor are the same components that most pests find offensive. Anise plants also have no major disease issues.
Anise leaves can be harvested as needed. Seed heads should be snipped while green and hung upside down in a warm, dark, dry location until they are completely dry.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!