An herb is a plant whose leaves, seeds, or flowers are used for flavoring food or in medicine. Other applications of herbs include cosmetics, dyes, and perfumes. The word derives from the Latin herba, meaning "green crops."
Anise or aniseed (Pimpinella anisum) is a vegetable as well as an herb, and comes from the same family, Apiaceae, as fennel, which is also used both as an herb and a vegetable. The vegetable portion of the two are sometimes confused. Dill, caraway, and cumin are also in the same family.
Licorice, the source of licorice extract, has a similar flavor but is a completely separate plant from a different family. However, since aniseed oil is often used to enhance the flavor of licorice candy, distinguishing the flavors can be difficult. Although star anise has a similar name and contains the same distinctive aromatic compound (anethole) as anise, it is from the Illiciaceae family and is not related.
Food and other uses:
The stems of the anise plant, which have the same characteristic flavor as the seeds, are eaten as a vegetable. The seeds are characteristically used in cookies such as Italian biscotti and German springerle, in bread, and in sausage. Anise seeds are also used as a seasoning in curry and hoisin, while the oil is used in several liqueurs including anisette and ouzo, and in the liquor absinthe. The oil of anise is also used in toothpaste, chewing gum, cough syrups, and soap, among other products.
Anise seeds can be used to prepare a tisane or herbal tea, which has been recommended as a lactation aid, and there are several such teas available commercially which include anise extract extract with other components. However, since there is apparently a possibility of toxic reaction to anise in newborns, parents and particularly nursing mothers should check with a pediatrician.
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