star anise

Star anise originated in China and Vietnam, and is still mainly grown there and in Japan. Japanese star anise caused a scare back in 2006 when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about drinking teas and tisanes made with Japanese star anise. This was after reports of people suffering from vomiting, jitteriness, rapid eye movement, and even seizures after drinking a tea or tisane made with it. It’s virtually impossible to tell the difference between Japanese and Chinese star anise just by looking at it, so unless you are certain the star anise you have is Chinese, don’t drink a tisane made with it; put it on your skin instead as it’s good for skin diseases.

Star anise is so called because of its stellate shape; it’s a very attractive spice with a pungent aroma so is good in pot pourris. It is actually the fruit of a tree which in Japan is an ornamental tree, and often planted on tombs and in temples. This fruit is picked before it is ripe and dried. The powdered bark of the tree is used for incense. The oil is used in the West in alcoholic drinks such as anisette. It has a strong liquorice-like taste and is stronger than anise, or aniseed.

It doesn’t grow on the Indian subcontinent, but is used there, particularly in Bengali cuisine. You have probably encountered it if you use Chinese Five Spice powder as it is one of the ingredients. Other ingredients include ground fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and Szechwan peppercorns; powdered dried orange peel may also be included.

It has been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat infant colic and rheumatism, and is also used to treat headaches, coughs, chills, bronchitis, digestive problems and flatulence. People also use it as a stimulant when they need energy. Small amounts of seeds from the dried star-shaped fruit are chewed to freshen the breath. The fatty oil can be found in some soaps.

In modern medicine, the shikimic acid contained in the fruit is extracted and used as the base of the drug Tamiflu which was made to fight avian flu (H5N1). Once again, modern medical research has found that the traditional use for a spice is effective. To make the drug the pharmaceutical giant Roche uses star anise only from four of China’s provinces.

In folklore, one star of star anise is put under a pillow to banish nightmares, and it is also said that if you do this you will dream of someone who is far away. It is carried around whole for good luck and burnt to aid clairvoyant powers and psychic awareness.

It’s also good to cook with and here’s a recipe for a quick stir fry dish using it.

250 gr rice, cleaned, washed and soaked for 15 mins (or leftover cooked rice)

1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ inch piece of ginger root, finely chopped
1 head broccoli cut into florets
1 carrot cut into thin strips
1 tomato peeled and finely chopped
assorted vegetables either fresh or frozen, cooked
2 tbsps soy sauce (dark)
¼ tsp paprika pepper
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Chinese chilli paste

Cook the rice and drain it well, or use leftover rice.
Fry the onion, garlic, ginger for a few mins then lower the heat and add the vegetables and rice.
Stir well and add all the other ingredients.
Cook for about 5 mins, and serve.
You can eat this cold as a salad too if you keep it in the fridge overnight.
Break an egg or two into the rice mixture and stir continuously until the egg is cooked for egg fried rice.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

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