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| What is it?
In herbal medicine we use the ripe, dried fruits of the Aniseed herb which can grow to over half a meter in its short year of life and, in the process, produce an umbrella shaped foliage with copious amounts of tiny, unmistakably strong-flavoured fruits.
How has it been used?
The U.S Dispensary of 1918 writes ' Aniseed is one of the oldest aromatics, being used by the Egyptians and cultivated in the imperial farms of Charlemagne'. Aniseed is well known to many people as a confectionary but less well known in modern times is just how central a place Aniseed used to occupy for coughs and colds. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, recommended Aniseed to help clear mucus from the respiratory system.
M. Grieves writes 'Aniseed enjoys considerable reputation as a medicine in coughs and pectoral affections. In hard, dry coughs where expectoration is difficult, it is of much value. Aniseed has a beneficial action on the bronchial tubes and for bronchitis and spasmodic asthma. The stimulant and carminative properties of Anise also make it useful in flatulency and colic.'
Aniseed has been used as a key treatment to ease the torments of whooping cough in infants and the eclectic physicians of the 18th and 19th century used Aniseed for nausea, gas and infant colic.
With respect to the effects of Aniseed Rudolph Weiss describes it in relation to two other great carminative (gut-spasm reducing) herbs from the Umbelliferae family, Caraway and Fennel. 'The relative carminative strength of the plants, in decreasing order of potency, can be described as Caraway > Fennel > Aniseed. The expectorant (lung cleansing) potency of the herbs decreases in the reverse order. Hence Caraway has the strongest carminative potency and the lowest expectorant potency; the inverse is true of Aniseed and the potencies of Fennel lie in between the two.'
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Science on Aniseed
~ Constituents in Aniseed called anethol and methyl clavicol have been shown to be effective expectorants i.e. agents that promote the discharge of phlegm (Boskabady, M. H. and Ramazani-Assari, M. J Ethnopharmacol 2001;74(1):83-88) These same volatile oils have been shown to possess strong anti-microbial properties (Soliman, K. M. and Badeaa, R. I. Food Chem Toxicol 2002;40(11):1669-1675)
~ Aniseed also contains substances dianethole and photoanethole, which share similar chemistry to the female hormone estrogen (Tabanca, N., Khan, S. I., Bedir, E., Annavarapu, S., Willett, K., Khan, I. A., Kirimer, N., and Baser, K. H. Planta Med 2004;70(8):728-735). Scientists suggest the presence of these substances probably accounts for the herb's traditional use as a milk promoter in nursing mothers
~ A laboratory experiment showed that Aniseed extract increased the regeneration of damaged liver cells (Nureddin Cengiza Hanefi Özbekb, Aydın Him; Pharmacologyonline 3: 870-874 (2008)
Safety of Aniseed
Aniseed is an extremely safe herb that may be freely used by young and old, in pregnancy and in breastfeeding (in fact many cultures rate Aniseed as particularly beneficial for nursing mothers at both increasing the flow of milk as well as making it more digestible for the infant)
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I think Aniseed can certainly be used as a medicine in its own right for congestive respiratory problems or constricted digestive complaints but I see a far broader use of Aniseed in terms of how it benefits the 'energetics' of other herbs with which it is blended and in how it opens up the breath.
I have added a little Aniseed into my herbal formulas many thousands of times because a) only tiny amounts are required to improve the taste of the medicine and b) because many people are too tight in their chests and in their breathing.
Aniseed has a marvellous relaxing and 'opening' effect on the whole respiratory system, starting with the nose and going right down to the bottom of the lungs. If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or have your own reasons to want to understand this plant ally at a much deeper level then I warmly encourage you to take a cup of Aniseed leaf tea or a small dose of its tincture and then, with a quiet and attentive mind, observe for yourself how it makes you feel. This old method of 'experiential' learning may give you a greater appreciation of the herb's 'action' than any amount of academic learning about it and I think you will be pleasantly surprised at just how certainly It will cause your breathing to deepen and your rate of respiration to slow!
If you have the opportunity to observe your child's breathing whilst they are asleep you will get a sense of how nature intended us to breathe; easily, slowly and deeply. In the rushing world of today most people do not breathe anywhere near as deeply or slowly as they need to but rather in a shallow, hurried and tense manner. Over many years this leads to a host of problems in the way we take in the most vital of our nutrients (oxygen), in the way our hearts function and the way we feel.
The phenomenon of Aniseed was obviously not lost on the ancients, it is a truly healing herb but few people today realise what a potent ally we have with these tiny seeds. I'm not suggesting that Aniseed can cure such long-held habits of tightened breathing by itself but I would certainly say that it can help and a little Aniseed goes a remarkably long way. Even just a few drops of a tincture, taken regularly, will make a noticeable difference to how people carry tension in their lungs and gut.
Aniseed combines perfectly with Licorice for coughs and constricted breathing, with Ginger for spasm in the gut and with Wild Yam for a constricted diaphragm.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Aniseed is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Aniseed shows itself as a warming, nourishing herb that can particularly offer its benefits when a relaxing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Historical notes on Aniseed
Aniseed was so popular in medieval England as a spice and medicine that King Edward 1 placed a special tax on it to raise money to repair the London Bridge.
It was highly valued in Biblical times as well and was used instead of coin to pay taxes. In Matthew 23:23 it's written 'ye pay tithes of mint, anise and cumin'
The famous Greek physician Theophrastus wrote that Aniseed, when kept by one's bed at night, brought sweet dreams with its sweet aroma.
The Romans cultivated Aniseed extensively for its fragrance, flavour and medicinal properties and it was a key ingredient in 'mustaceum' a cake eaten as a digestive aid during Roman feasts.
Historians consider mustaceum the forerunner of the modern wedding cake.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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