Wild Anise is a perennial plant which is native to North America. Scientifically named Osmorhiza longistylis, it also goes by other common names such as Aniseroot, Longstyle Sweetroot and Sweet Cicely. The whole plant is aromatic, having a strong smell of licorice. A member of the carrot family, it is an attractive plant with deeply divided leaves and many umbels of white flowers from May until June. It has many medicinal and culinary uses as a herb, its value attested to in its use by many native American tribes.
As to habitat, Wild Anise prefers to grow in deep soils which are fertile and moisture retentive. Dappled shade is favored and it can be found as one of the under-story plants in deciduous woodland, although it will grow in full sun if enough moisture is available. It dislikes constant water-logging and is not a plant of swamps or marshes, but may grow around the edges of such habitats, or on islands of drier ground. It can be found on the lower slopes of mountains, or growing in ravines. The plants are self-fertile and it spreads readily through seed, so once it has a foothold in an area it can populate it quite easily.
It is found throughout the eastern and middle states of the United States of America and likewise the same regions of Canada, from Quebec through Ontario and into Alberta, although it is not found in the far north. It is absent from the western seaboard of North America, being confined to states east of the Rocky Mountains; the most westerly states it is found in are Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. It is strangely absent in Florida and Louisiana, although present in bordering states. A fully hardy plant, it can be found in planting zones down to zone 6. For a detailed description of the distribution of Wild Anise, the website of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) can be consulted, where it is catalogued under its scientific name and as Longstyle Sweetroot. Information is also given for each particular state in which it is found.
Wild Anise is common to all states bordering the Great Lakes, all the states of New England and America’s eastern seaboard. The USDA lists Wild Anise as a threatened species in Rhode Island. Wild Anise is probably also growing in many gardens in the US, whether cultivated by the owners or as an uninvited guest. Certainly Wild Anise should not be dug up from the wild, but it is a handsome plant, and there are many wildflower nurseries which offer it for sale. As long as garden conditions mimic those of its natural habitat, Wild Anise can be successfully cultivated.