Wild anise is native to North Africa, western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean, but, over time, has been introduced into most areas of the world. In the United States, wild anise is often seen in fields, along roadsides, or as a volunteer in home gardens.
Rich in medicinal and culinary benefits, wild anise continues to proliferate and, in addition to hybrid strains with possibly slightly different qualities, is also cultivated commercially.
Wild anise has a sweet licorice-like flavor, and can be easily mistaken for wild fennel, sweet cicely, or dill weed; all are edible but are distinctly different plants with their own flavors and characteristics.
In the wild, anise tends to grow best in soil that has been previously disturbed by the presence of an old building, fence post, or fallen tree but where plenty of decaying organic material remains. Wild anise plants thrive in at least 6 hours of daily sun but a large leafy tree nearby offers beneficial protection from excessive summer weather and fosters production of the healthiest and most flavorful plants.
Wild anise is a member of the Umbelliferate family of plants and grows from one to three feet tall. The lower leaves are reminiscent of the carrot and parsley cousins; upper leaves are very much like dill in appearance but end in star-shaped seed heads easily dispersed by the wind.
Fields or patches of this reseeding annual need only about 120 frost-free days to reach maturity. In milder climates or more protected spots the roots might not be killed by cooler temperatures and wild anise is considered a perennial.
During spring and summer when Monarch butterflies are on the move throughout the United States, yellow and black Anise Swallowtails, with their blue and orange markings, will lead you to the best patches of wild anise that are traditional hosts for these breathtakingly beautiful creatures and their larvae.
Often referred to as star aniseed, badiana, or Chinese star anise, originated in Vietnam and China. Culinary star anise is now produced almost exclusively in China; Japanese star anise is primarily used for incense.
The small trees with star anise-shaped flowers also flourish in some US bogs and swamps, especially in the Mississippi National Forests. They can be seen when hiking the wildflower trails.
In spring and summer when the slightly licorice anise aroma fills the air and butterflies are in attendance, a patch of wild anise is a special treat for the senses.