Star anise (illicium verum)

Anise stars burning in a saucer.
This very decorative spice is obtained by drying the star-shaped fruits of a small evergreen tree native to China. Despite the name, suggesting a connection with the common anise (pimpinella anisum) the two are not related. Anise is a member of the apiaceae family and native mostly to the Mediterranean region, while star anise comes from the shisandraceae family and is native to China. They do, however, have something in common, and that is the presence of anethole, which gives them their distinctive flavor. This accounts for the similarity in names.
Star anise has a very distinctive shape and is often used in a way that emphasizes it. A common ingredient of desserts and liquors, it can be powdered in a mortar to enrich most cake recipes, especially gingerbread and chocolate cake. However, Asian cuisine does not limit its use to desserts : star anise is one of the ingredients of garam masala, a seasoning mix very popular in India, and of the Chinese five-spice powder.
The Chinese star anise, illicium verum, should not be confused with the Japanese star anise, illicium anisatum, which is poisonous. It is used in Japan as an incense, but even then only in small quantities. It definitely should not be consumed.
  • Medicinal uses
Star anise is known for its anti-influenza qualities, due to the fact that it contains large amounts of shikimic acid. The plant is, in fact, the most common source of this acid for the pharmaceutical industry and the base ingredient of anti-influenza drugs. Even dried, it can be of great help when battling 'flu. Usually in form of infusion, but powdered flowers can also be consumed directly or, of course, as a spice.
Star anise infusion, or tisane, can also be used as an auxiliary rheumatism remedy.
  • Magic uses
Star anise has many uses in herbal magic. Like most herbs with heavy aroma, it can be used for purifying the house and for protection against negative influence : the whole stars can be put over smoldering coals to act as an incense*, which gives a pleasant, delicate aroma and a very decorative sight. Together with nutmeg and cinnamon it can also be an ingredient of prosperity charms.
Since it has been proven to help against the flu virus, I also like to use it in healing spells: there are few natural medicines that can work against viruses, so this is something quite exceptional.
However, due to its aphrodisiac qualities, it is most potent when used in love and passion spells. This can be accomplished by 'regular', ceremonial spellcasting, rituals, witch bags or talismans. But a Kitchen Witch will easily see other, more pleasant possibilities : hot chocolate drinks with star anise and cinnamon flavour, honey and anise cookies etc. These recipes have the additional advantage of being tasty, so they are more likely to give Your target a friendly disposition. Two effects for the price of one!
Some recipes that can benefit from the love-charm aspects of the star anise:
  • Heartwarming wine
  • Passionate Chocolate
  • Yogurt-Cocoa Muffins
* You can try to burn the anise stars directly, but it's quite hard as the fire will go out quickly. It's best to use a ceramic dish with some coals so that there is a constant source of the fire. Remember that the dish itself will heat up, so watch out where You're putting it.

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