Everyone has probably tasted an aniseed flavoured sweet, so you know that anise tastes like liquorice Julius Caesar took anise balls on his campaigns for his soldiers, so they were probably the first sweets as we know them.
Anise’s Latin name is Pimpinella anisum and this should not be confused with star anise, which is used so frequently in Chinese cuisine, notably as an ingredient of hoisin sauce.
Anise is native to Egypt and the southern Mediterranean area, although it is now cultivated in many other countries. In Roman times it was cultivated in Tuscany. By the Middle Ages it was being cultivated in Central Europe.
It was mentioned in the ancient Egyptian Eber papyrus, written around 1500 BC and has been grown there for 4,000 years.
Dioscorides wrote that it "warms, dries and dissolves” so used it for stomach ailments. Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, used it to clear congestion of the respiratory system and to treat coughs. Pliny wrote that it was useful to rid people of ‘morning breath’ and believed that it would keep nightmares at bay if kept near the bed. In Mediaeval times, it was used as a gargle for sore throats, mixed with honey and vinegar. It was also used to protect people from the Evil Eye, or a curse.
The Romans, known for their feasting, and let’s face it, gluttony, made spiced cakes with it as an ingredient. These were called Mustacae, and were given to guests at the end of a banquet, so that indigestion and flatulence could be avoided. It has been suggested that these were the forerunners of wedding cakes.
Gerard, who wrote a Herball or Historie of Plants in 1597, thought that anise was good to stop hiccups and wrote that it should be given to children who suffered from ‘the falling sickness’ (epilepsy)
Anise has been put to many purposes throughout the course of recorded history; it was good as bait for mouse traps, and it destroys insects that bite. Mixed with spermaceti (oil from the whale) it was used for skin problems.
The stems can be used as a vegetable, and you can find it in toothpastes, chewing gum and soaps, among other products. Of course it is used in ouzo, and anisette, and it was used in the notorious absinthe too, which was much favoured, (until it was banned) by Bohemians in early 20th century Paris, James Joyce among them.
The seeds can be used raw to add a bite to green salads, in cooked vegetable dishes and in curries, tomato sauces, egg dishes and cakes, biscuits and bread. It can also be used to flavour stewed fruit, and, of course, sweets.
Below is a recipe for Anise Tea, which is good for sore throats, colds and to clear the head.
TISANE OF ANISE
2 tsps bruised seeds
500 ml of boiling water
Pour the boiling water over the seeds and leave for 15 minutes. Strain and drink. It is recommended that you take 2 or 3 cups a day to get rid of a sore throat or cold. This is also reputedly good for stopping hiccups.
This has Taste and is a Treat(ment).