Anise oil is a derivative of the Pimpinella Anisum plant, primarily the seeds. It is used throughout the world in food, drinks and medicinal preparations. It has been used for centuries. The plant the oil comes from is easily grown within a few months, providing hundreds of seeds per plant. The oil is easily accessible, although it mustn't be confused with the anise oil produced from star anise, which is the seed of an evergreen in China.
Anise oil is distilled from the anise seed and sometimes the leaves of this plant. It is native to the Mediterranean region and grows as an annual, producing seeds at the end of its one-year lifecycle and then dying off. It is cultivated in the United States but much more extensively in Asia, South America and India. Growing to only two to three feet high, it is a totally different plant than the star anise, which is the seedpod from an evergreen tree in China. Anise can be found growing wild in fields but as a much smaller plant and in areas with warm summers.
Anise oil has been used for centuries and is mentioned in literature as early as 1550 on the Eber's papyrus. It was used in the preparations of liqueurs as well as in medicinal concoctions. Early Italian physicians are recorded as using it in the 7th century, even for their Roman Military forces. Ancient recipes are recorded as using anise in their ingredients from countries all over the world.
The main ingredient in anise oil is anethole. This was used by the Greeks primarily as an aid in digestion. It was reputed to help with a whole host of ailments, ranging from hiccups to nausea and colic in young children. The anethole is believed to act as estrogen and therefore it is used to ease menstrual symptoms.
The oil of anise is well known internationally for its use in certain popular liqueurs such as Ouzo in Greece, Arak in Arabia, Jagermeister in Germany, Aguardiente in Columbia and Raki in Turkey and perhaps secretly in the recipe for Chartreuse in France.
Anise oil is easily characterized by its licorice-like flavor. The seeds are small and woody looking and sweet when chewed. The leaves of the plant are similar to parsley or fennel and first grow somewhat wide and flat and then as the stem grows the leaves become fine and feathery. The plant will blossom with bunches of white umbrella-type flower heads with tiny blossoms. Very quickly, the plants will form seeds and it is at this time that the whole plant is harvested and dried.