Anise is a flowering plant of the Apiaceae family, native to the Mediterranean region and Southwest Asia, but now grown in many other places in the world including the United States. It is a broad spreading plant that typically grows one and a half to two feet high, occasionally up to three feet, and that can be almost as wide as it is tall. Anise is bushy with bright green leaves, clusters of tiny yellowish white flowers, and oblong, dry seed pods.
Anise is an herb that has been used for thousands of years to flavor various dishes and beverages. It is closely related to caraway and dill, however its taste more closely resembles licorice, fennel or tarragon. It is sufficiently similar to fennel, in fact, that in some Asian countries, anise and fennel are referred to with the same word and used interchangeably in cooking.
Anise has actually lost considerable ground worldwide in recent years. Its flavor comes primarily from an oil that also is found in a similarly named but unrelated plant called the star anise. The star anise is cheaper to produce, and so it is now used almost exclusively for the commercial anise spice.
The standard anise plant remains popular amongst home gardeners, however, for a number of reasons. It is one of the easiest plants to grow, and quite hearty, so anyone from beginners to veteran gardeners tends to have success with it. Also, in addition to its value as a spice, it is aesthetically a very nice flowering plant, and some appreciate the way it looks in their garden even if they aren’t interested in harvesting it for its use as a flavoring.
There is considerable disagreement as to whether the anise plant is a perennial (plant it once, and it keeps coming back each year) or an annual (plant it anew each year), with some sources identifying it as one, and some the other. Other sources split the difference, describing it as an annual with some perennial characteristics, or vice versa.
In short, in its native habitat it generally functions as a perennial, but in many climates and conditions, including in the United States, you may or may not get a second year out of it, so think of it as an annual that you will probably have to replant if you wish to grow it again each year.
It is best to plant anise early in the season, about two weeks after the last spring frost date. Plant the seeds a quarter inch deep in light, fertile, well drained soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.7. Even if the soil is not ideal for it, however, it’s hearty enough that it may grow fine. Anise plants like plenty of sun, so plant them where they will get direct sunlight.
Remember the anise plants can spread out up to two feet in diameter, so space your planting accordingly. Thin the seedlings as necessary as they grow so that the plants don’t get choked for lack of space.
Water one to two times a week during dry weather. Be sure especially to keep the plants evenly watered just before harvest. Anise does not need a lot of feeding; some fertilizer or compost once or twice per season should suffice. You may want to stake the plants if you get a lot of wind in your garden.
If you choose to grow your anise in containers, use a pot at least eight inches deep and eight inches wide. If you intend to start the plants in containers but then transplant them, anise has a taproot and does not transplant well after being fully established, so you’ll want to transplant them early when the seedlings are still very small.
Pests and Diseases
Anise is an unusually trouble free addition to a garden. It is not especially prone to any diseases, and not only do pests not single it out for attack, but there’s evidence that it repels many common garden pests.
You can further lessen the already low likelihood of such problems by choosing the right companion plants. Anise does well alongside cabbage and grapes, but less well with carrots and radishes.
Other than that just keep the plant bed free of weeds, and you should have no trouble with your anise.
Anise requires a long growing season of 100-120 frost-free days. If you plant in spring as suggested above, your anise should flower by midsummer.
The leaves can be snipped as needed for harvest. The flower heads can be harvested after they have died and seeds have formed. The seeds contain the highest concentration of the essential oils of the anise plant. Collect the seeds while they are still green, just before they are fully ripe. Dry the seeds. They can then be stored up to several months in an airtight container.
Anise can be harvested until the first autumn frost.
Anise has many culinary uses. The leaves can be added to a salad or the leaves and flowers can be used as a garnish. The oils extracted from the seeds can be used to flavor a variety of pastries, cookies, candies, and even cheese.
One method people use to release the flavoring is to soak the seeds in vodka, and then to use the vodka itself sparingly as a liquid flavoring ingredient. Or they mix the dry seeds with dry sugar and store the mixture in an airtight container so that the flavor of the anise permeates the sugar. This flavored sugar is then used as the ingredient in cooking.
Anise is used in many types of liquor, and even in some root beers. Some people also enjoy anise flavoring in their tea or coffee.
Anise is used as a folk remedy to relieve stomachaches, digestive problems, and menstrual cramps. It is believed to raise blood pressure in some people, so if you are prone to high blood pressure, you won’t want to overdo the anise.
The scent of anise is even used on fishing lures, and as the scent to draw hounds in drag hunting.
Stephanie Suesan Smith, “Growing Anise.” Information Central: Gardening Questions Answered.
“Anise Plant.” Easy to Grow Herbs.
“How to Grow Anise.” The Gardener’s Network.
“How to Grow Anise.” Harvest to Table.