If you live anywhere that wild anise grows, you cannot mistake the black licorice aroma that characterizes its presence. The fragrance of anise permeates the air and all you have to do is follow your nose. Its small flowers brush out on long steams creating a broad surface. The leaves of the anis plane are crenellated and broad – much like parsley leaves. The plant can grow to as much as a meter in height.
In America you might think you smell the wild anise, too. But there is a slight mistake in that supposition. In truth, what you smell – say, along the creeks and streams in California – is really the fennel plant. A close relative but not the same plant. You can eat the fennel plant, but anise plant is harvested for it’s seeds.
Of course this doesn’t mean that anise isn’t growing in the Americas. Like most herbs they are cultivated around the world. It’s just important to have the correct soil and environment. Anise likes well well drained soil, fertile, with plenty of sunlight. If you were to grow anise at home, you should consider growing it in pots, indoors. Like many invasive plants, if it gets away from you, it gets away!
Since Anise traveled to the Americas, it had to come from somewhere. Wild anise originated in the Mediterranean regions from North Africa around to Western Asia and up over to Southeastern Europe. Human migration has spread the wild anise seed to a much broader region of the world over the last four millennia.
Most anise is now cultivated. Spain is currently the largest producer of anise seed and with the best reputation for quality. Turkey and Egypt are also major producers of anise.
If you’re lucky enough to find some wild anise near the very end of summer you can harvest the seeds for cultivation or to use in your cooking. The flowers will have faded about the time the seeds are ready to harvest. To extract the seeds you’ll need to remove the seed heads – you’ll know they’re ready because they’ve turned a grayish-brown color – and place them in container you can close and then shake vigorously. This will separate the seeds from the rest of the plant. You’ll have to sift through and pull out the seeds and store them in a an airtight container out of direct sunlight until you’re ready to use them.
Remember, anise has a licorice-like aroma and flavor. To use in cooking you can use the seeds whole or grind them instead. Whether you’re making soups, deserts, sausages, you’ll find there are many uses for the anise seed in the kitchen.