Like licorice? You'll love anise. Anise seeds are popular as a spice in this country, but Americans are hardly the first to enjoy them. The herb was cultivated by ancient Romans for culinary and medicinal uses. The plant is a small annual shrub with pale white or baby yellow flowers and has a fragrance of licorice. The seeds are harvested after the plant flowers. If you love anise seeds, you may want to grow your own. Alternatively, you can use anise extract as a substitute for anise seeds in your favorite recipes.
Growing Anise in the Garden
Few plant lovers sow anise in the garden because they find it ornamental. But its use as a flavoring makes it a popular member of the herb garden. You can plant it in a sunny bed or grow it in a container. In either case, the plant needs full sun and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Like other herbs, it is quite easy to grow.
Anise plants are shrubby and spreading, rising to about 2 feet tall with a similar spread. The anise plant bears two different type of leaves: Broad, lobed lower leaves and feathery upper leaves that may remind you of dill. Flowers appear in midsummer, but they are small and pale, appearing in clusters the shape of parasols. The flowers have a distinct licorice or fennel fragrance.
Those gardeners growing anise as a spice harvest its seeds. The seeds can be used in recipes or used to make anise oil. Yes, anise seeds taste like licorice, but with their own subtle twist.
Using Anise Seeds
Before you can use anise seeds in cooking, you need to harvest them. The seeds require over 100 frost-free days to reach harvest. You'll want to take off the seed heads while they are still green, then tie them up somewhere dry and warm. You can thresh them when they are finished drying or else pop them in the oven at 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.
Anise Seed Substitute
Of course, you can skip all this if you like and buy anise seeds in the spice section of the grocery store. You can also purchase anise extract, made from anise seeds, to use as an anise seed substitute. For every 2 teaspoons of ground anise seeds called for in a recipe, use 1 teaspoon of anise extract. That makes the anise seed to anise extract conversion ratio 2:1.
Star anise is a totally different plant than anise, and it produces lovely pods in star shapes. Its seeds also taste like licorice, so it makes for a great star anise substitute. In fact, you can substitute one for the other in a recipe. For every star anise a recipe requires, substitute 3/4 teaspoon crushed anise seeds or 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon anise extract.