Star anise – proven benefits, uses

star anise

The scientific name of the japanese star-anise is llicium anisatum Linn.

Scientific names Common names
Illicium anisatum Linn. Sanke (Tag., C. Bis.)
Illicium religiosum Sieb. and Zucc. Sanki (Tag.)
Japanese star-anise (Engl.)
Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum) is often confused with Chinese star anise (Illicium verum) which is the spice well known in many cultures. Japanese star anise has reported neurologic and gastrointestinal toxicities (See Confusion and Adulteration below)
Other vernacular names
CHINESE: Mang tsao.
FRENCH: Anis du Japon.
INDONESIA: Adas jepang.
JAPANESE: Shikimi.

Japanese star anise is an evergreen shrub or small tree growing up to 8 meters high. Leaves are alternate, simple, narrowly ovate or lanced-shaped, 4 to 12 centimeters long, 1.5 to 5 centimeters wide, wedged-shaped at the base, tapering, and blunt at the apex. Flowers are axillary, usually crowded, sometimes solitary, with 12 to 15 perianth lobes, spirally arranged, 3 millimeters wide, pale yellow to white. Carpels are 7 to 9, arranged in a single row or close circle. Fruit is a capsule-like follicetum, 2.5 centimeters in diameter, with an aggregate of 7 to 8 follicles arranged around a central star-shaped axis. Each follicle is boat-shaped and 1-seeded.


– Native to Japan.

– Cultivated in Taiwan and China.


– Fruit contains a volatile oil and fixed oil, besides the chief toxic principle, shikimin; shikimic acid, protocatechuic acid; shikimipicrim; abundant starch and furfurol.

– The volatile oil (0.4 to 1 percent) consists of safrol, sineol, eugenol, palmitic acid, methylchavicol, borneol, terpene, sesquiterpene, anethol and linalool.

– Study reported the fixed oil (12.5% in the seed and 1 % in the fruit) to consist of glycerides of oleic (60.2%), palmitic (22.5%), linolic (9.8%) and stearic acids (2.5%).


– Similar to I. verum, but the fruit is smaller with a weaker odor, more similar to cardamon than to anise.

– The taste and color are quite distinct; the Japanese star-anise having a balsamic, but not anise like color, and a disagreeable taste.

– In China, the powdered fruits are considered stimulant and carminative.


– Fruit of specie Illicium religiosum is considered very toxic. Reports of toxicity from use of fruit decoction have been reported.

– According to some studies, all parts of the plant is considered poisonous.

– All illicium species contain sesquiterpene lactone compounds, most contain a number of secondary metabolite products related to anisatin, neoanisatin and pseudoanisatin, the potent neurotoxins found in Japanese star anise.

– Although Chinese star anise is considered safe for consumption, the species also contain toxic compounds – veranisatins A, B and C. Although the veranisatins are not as potent as anisatin of the Japanese star anise, neurologic symptoms are observed at higher doses.

– Anisatin compounds at believed to act as potent noncompetitive g-aminobutyric acid antagonists

Confusion and Adulteration

– (Some compilations have confused the true star-anise (Illicium verum) and the poisonous kin (Illicium anisatum), and included in their synonyms two endemic species (Illicium montanum and Illicium philippinense).

– Chinese star anise (Illicium verum Hook F.) is the well-known spice used in many cultures, used in the treatment of infant colic, and is commonly known to be safe and non-toxic. Japanese star-anise has been documented to have both neurologic and gastrointestinal toxicities attributed to its sesquiterpene anisatin.

– There have been reports of adulteration of Chinese star anise with Japanese star anise.

Parts used



Folkloric traditional medicine remedies, benefits and uses of Japanese star anise

In China, the poisonous star-anise is used as local application in the treatment of toothache and certain forms of dermatitis and parasitism. The volatile oil is used for colics in children.

In China, powdered fruits considered stimulant and carminative.

Scientific studies on Japanese star anise

Essential Oil / Anti-Inflammatory / Antioxidant / Anti-Aging Cosmetic Potential:

Study showed essential oil of Illicium anisatum may be considered an anti-aging and anti-inflammatory candidate for cosmetic materials, pending additional studies for safety and efficacy. EIA exhibited moderate DPPH scavenging and anti-elastase activities, with effective inhibition of LPS-induced NO and PGE2 production in RAW 264.7 cells.

Toxicity Report:

There have been reports of adverse neurologic reactions in infants with home use of star anise tea. There have been confirmed reports of Chinese star tea (Illicium verum) contaminated with Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum). Because of the potential danger, star anise should not be administered to infants.

Lipase Inhibitory Activity:

Of the aqueous ethanol extracts obtained from 19 medicinal plants, evaluated for pancreatic lipase inhibitory activity, Juniperus communis (bark) and illicium religiosum (wood) exhibited the strongest activity.

Hair Growth Promoter:

Extract of Illicium anisatum has been shown to increase subcutaneous blood flow in mice. In the study, follicles treated with water-soluble extract of leaves, fruits and roots of IA or shikimic acid grew significantly longer than controls. Results suggest the WS extract of IA promotes hair growth and may be a useful additive in hair growth products.

Anisatin / Neoanisatin / Toxic Sesquiterpenes:

Study isolated two toxic compounds, anisatin and neoanisatin.

Illicium anisatum as Adulterant of Illicium verum:

The well known spice Illicium verum Hook has been reportedly adulterated with toxic Japanese star anise. A molecular method detects and distinguishes between I. anisatum and other Illicium species in powdered samples.

Essential Oil:

Analysis of essential oil by gas-liquid chromatography showed the major constituents to be cineole 18.1%, linalool 10.1%, methyleugenol 9.8%, a-terpenyl acetate 6.8%, safrole 6.6%, and a sesquiterpene of unknown constitution 7.2%. The composition significantly differs from that of commercially used star anise oil from Illicium verum which has an anethol content of 88% compared to 1.2% in Illicium anisatum. (7)


Cultivated for fruits.

Read about other interesting fruits

Acai berry        Ambarella         Avocado           Bael       Banana      Bilberry      Cocunut   

 Cantaloupe        Cashew apple      Dragon Fruit    Durian      Fig      Jack fruit   Jamun      

 Kiwi        Lychee      Malay apple     Mango        Mangosteen       Miracle fruit         Pomelo  

 Papaya     Passion fruit     Phalsa      Pineapple           Plum       Pomegranate       

Prickly pear      Quince       Rambutan           Roselle          Santol          Sapota       

Sea buckthorn       Sour Orange     Soursop           Sweet Lime         Star gooseberry 

Star Apple        Strawberry     Surinam Cherry          Sweet lime        Tamarind       Tomato 

Tree tomato      Wampi       Watermelon         Wood apple

Read about herbs and spices

Allspice          Alfalfa       Ashwagandha        Bay leaf              Black cohosh           

Black onion seeds       Black pepper       Cayenne pepper    Celery          Chives       

 Chamomile        Clove     Coffee senna    Coriander       Curry leaf         Cumin        

Eucalyptus       Fennel            Fenugreek       Garlic      Ginger         Gotu Kola       

Hibiscus         Holy basil    Jasmine     Kava Kava     Lavender     Licorice   

Long pepper    Lotus   Majoram      Marigold     Mugwort     Mustard seeds      

 Neem    Nutmeg       Oregano     Peppermint     Red  clover        Rose       Rosemary           

Sage         Sensitive plant   St.John’s wort        Tarragon        Thyme     Triphala powder        

Turmeric     Vetiver grass    Wheat grass      Wild amarnath