Green anise or simply anise is an aromatic and medicinal plant that is easy to cultivate in our organic garden. It’s a species native to the East but has become widely spread over time in Mediterranean countries. Its seeds have been used since ancient times and find use both in herbal medicine and in cooking. For this reason, organic cultivation of anise holds significant economic importance, being the key ingredient in preparing famous liqueurs, sweets, and herbal teas.
In this article, we’ll see how to cultivate anise both in the garden and on the balcony, and learn about its botanical characteristics.
Botanical Identification of Anise
Green anise, scientific name Pimpinella anisum, belongs to the extensive botanical family Apiaceae or Umbelliferae. This family includes both wild plants, such as dill and wild fennel, and cultivated plants such as: fennel, carrots, parsley, chervil, celery. Be careful not to confuse green anise, which is naturalized in our country, with star anise, Illicium verum. The latter is a well-known species, but different from the one we are discussing. Star anise is a proper shrub, growing in tropical areas, while green anise is an herbaceous plant.
Characteristics of Anise
The anise cultivated in Italy is herbaceous and has an annual cycle. It has a beautiful taproot that goes deep into the soil, from which upright stems branch out. These stems can reach a height of 60-80 cm.
- The stems are hollow on the inside and covered with leaves, although not very numerous. Depending on the position of the leaves, the stem has a different arrangement.
- The basal leaves are lobed and toothed, large in size with a long petiole.
- The upper leaves are smaller, with a short petiole, incised, and covered with a light fuzz.
- The flowers are arranged in a typical umbel inflorescence. They are small and white. Flowering occurs in the middle of summer, starting from June.
- The fruits consist of two small achenes enclosed in an ovate and slightly hairy involucre, the famous anise seeds.
- The seeds are the part of the plant that is used, being rich in valuable essential oil, containing anethole. Anise seeds mature at the end of summer, between August and September.
How to Cultivate Anise
Cultivating green anise in our organic garden or yard is possible by following some simple precautions. It’s a very hardy plant that grows wild in many places. It has an annual cycle, so it doesn’t face the problem of dealing with winter cold. The precautions to follow for proper cultivation are:
- Choose a sunny location and loose soil,
- Fertilize the soil before sowing,
- Perform broadcast sowing on well-prepared soil,
- Ensure good irrigation in the first years of life,
- Perform proper weeding,
- Use natural infusions early to prevent pest attacks
Soil and Climatic Needs
Green anise prefers sunny positions, at most in partial shade, and doesn’t thrive well in damp places. Therefore, it’s essential to choose the right spot in our plot of land. A great idea is to plant it alongside other aromatic plants like sage or rosemary. For the ideal soil type, anise prefers loose and deep soils with a good supply of organic matter. Avoid soils that are too clayey and compact, as they can stress the root system and lead to waterlogging. For proper soil preparation, you can perform a basal fertilization before sowing. You can use organic fertilizers such as earthworm humus or domestic compost. Additional fertilization is not necessary during the vegetative cycle.
How to Sow Anise
Green anise reproduces through the technique of direct broadcasting. The soil should be refined through surface cultivation to facilitate germination. The germination time is quite long, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see sprouts even after a few weeks of sowing. Technically, you proceed by following a few simple steps:
- First, spread a good quantity of seeds on the soil, then cover everything with a thin layer of soil. You can use a rake to help with this process.
- Subsequently, lightly but consistently water the soil to keep it consistently moist.
- The downside of broadcast sowing is that a large number of seedlings will germinate. For optimal cultivation, these seedlings will need to be thinned out, leaving only the necessary sprouts. Calculate a distance of 20 cm between each sprout. To facilitate thinning operations, it’s convenient to do broadcast sowing in regular rows.
The best time to sow anise is in spring, during the months of April and May.
Caring for Anise Plants
The anise plant doesn’t require extensive care as it’s quite resilient. Irrigation is important, especially in the early stages of growth. This is because the seedlings need time to establish their root system. In later periods, water supply can be reduced, intervening only after prolonged periods of drought. Always water moderately to avoid waterlogging. Another important aspect of organic cultivation of green anise is weed management. Keeping the plant free from weeds requires patience and can be achieved through manual weeding or using a small hoe. Weeding should be thorough until the plant reaches a height of at least 20 cm. After that, the anise plant will outcompete the weeds, and removal efforts will be minimal.
Cultivating Anise in Pots
Green anise can be cultivated in pots without much difficulty. The sowing and cultural care recommendations are the same as those for open-field cultivation. However, special attention should be given to choosing the right pot. It should be of medium size, preferably circular, with a diameter of about 40 cm.
For the potting mix, you can opt for one specifically designed for aromatic plants.
Place some expanded clay at the bottom of the pot to ensure proper drainage of excess water.
Watering should be more regular compared to open-field sowing since the potting mix tends to dry out faster.
Protecting Anise Plants from Pests
Regarding pest and disease control, green anise proves to be a resilient plant, making it suitable for organic cultivation. We recommend preventing attacks from external agents by periodically spraying the plant with natural infusions. Garlic-based and horsetail-based infusions are very effective. With a plant like anise, these infusions work well as preventive measures, and you won’t have to worry about unwanted pests. Regarding fungal diseases, there’s a possibility of sclerotinia attacks, which is a typical root pathology. This disease is subtle because it’s not visible to the naked eye, like by observing the leaves, for instance. Affected plants risk perishing suddenly without any apparent reason. However, sclerotinia spreads in very moist soils and waterlogged conditions. Moderating irrigation is enough to prevent it.
Harvesting Anise Seeds
As mentioned, green anise seeds mature towards the end of summer, which is the time for harvesting. To determine their readiness, simply observe the umbel of flowers externally; it will turn brownish-gray when fully mature.
It’s customary to cut anise umbels with a piece of stem and tie them into small bunches for drying. Drying should be done with the umbels hanging upside down in a shaded, dry, and well-ventilated place. After about two weeks, the anise umbels are ready to be threshed to extract the seeds. These seeds should be stored in airtight containers to preserve their aroma. The seeds can be consumed or saved for future cultivation.
Properties of Anise
Green anise seeds have been used for their beneficial properties for a long time. They are rich in anethole, which is present in the essential oil extracted from the seeds through steam distillation. You can find an excellent product here. Anise seeds have numerous therapeutic properties, including:
Because of these properties, they are used as antispasmodics, digestive aids, and stimulants for gastric functions.
They are excellent for relieving flatulence, nausea, vomiting, and bad breath.
They are also useful for clearing the airways and alleviating coughs and cold symptoms due to their expectorant action.
In addition to consuming the essential oil, the benefits of anise seeds can be harnessed through teas, infusions, and decoctions.
If you don’t have the opportunity to cultivate green anise and harvest its seeds, you can find dried seeds ready for use here.
Using Green Anise Seeds in Cooking
Anise seeds are well-known for their aromatic properties and culinary uses. They play a prominent role in the liquor industry, not only in Italy. Indeed, anise-flavored liquors such as:
- Italian sambuca and anisette;
- Greek ouzo;
- Turkish raki.
They are also used in the preparation of holiday sweets and specific bread-making. More simply, anise seeds can be used to flavor meat and fish dishes, soups, and stews.