Star anise comes from Illicium verum, a type of evergreen tree native to certain parts of Vietnam and China. The tree produces a fruit known as star anise that is used as a spice to add flavor to a variety of dishes. The fruit is picked before ripening and then dried in the sun to allow it to harden. It is characterized by its distinct star shape, reddish-orange color and strong aroma.
The star anise taste is often described as sweet and licorice-like. It’s considered a key ingredient in five-spice powder, a spice mixture used in Chinese cuisine that also includes cloves, Chinese cinnamon, fennel seeds and Sichuan pepper, and is also sometimes added to other spice mixes like garam masala. The oil of the fruit is also commonly found in mouthwash, perfume, toothpaste and cosmetics.
Star anise contains many medicinal compounds that contribute to its long list of health benefits. In fact, much of the star anise plant production today is used for the extraction of shikimic acid, the active ingredient in flu medications like Tamiflu. It also contains several other potent compounds, such as linalool, vitamin C and anethole.
1. It Kills Off Bacteria
Pathogenic bacteria can cause a variety of ailments, ranging from ear infections to urinary tract infections and beyond. Star anise has been shown to possess powerful antibacterial properties and may be beneficial in protecting against these harmful strains of bacteria. (1)
One test-tube study demonstrated that star anise extract was able to help block the growth of E. coli, a type of bacteria that can cause a broad array of symptoms, such as diarrhea and pneumonia. (2) Another test-tube study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food demonstrated that this spice exhibited antibacterial activities against 67 strains of antibiotic-resistantbacteria. (3)
Additionally, this spice also contains several compounds that have been shown to be antibacterial as well. Anethole, linalool and shikimic acid are all compounds found in star anise that are reported to help fight against bacteria.
2. It’s Rich in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are substances that can protect against the formation of harmful free radicals in the body. Getting enough antioxidants in your diet can also combat oxidative stress, which can prevent the progression of chronic disease.
Thanks to its high antioxidant content, some studies have even found that star anise may be effective against cancer cells as well. In one animal study, it was found to reduce tumor burden and oxidative stress, plus increase levels of specific enzymes that play a role in cancer prevention. (8) However, research is limited, and more studies are needed to determine how the antioxidants found in star anise may impact human health.
3. It Wards Off Fungal Infections
In addition to killing off pathogenic strains of bacteria, some research also shows that star anise pods could possess powerful antifungal properties as well. Fungal infections are often more difficult to treat and can present in a variety of forms, from yeast infections to athlete’s foot and jock itch.
According to a test-tube study published in the Korean Journal of Medical Mycology, star anise extract and essential oil were effective against Candida albicans, a type of fungus that is responsible for causing yeast infections.
4. It May Boost Heart Health
Ranked as the leading cause of death and accounting for nearly one-third of all deaths in 2013, it’s clear that heart disease is a massive health concern for millions around the world.
Brimming with potent antioxidants, star anise may be able to help reduce oxidative stress, prevent the buildup of harmful free radicals and help enhance heart health.
Although research is limited, some studies have turned up promising results on the potential benefits of this spice on heart health. In a 2015 animal study published in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an ethanol extract of star anise was found to help normalize changes in weight, blood pressure and lipid levels in mice fed a high-fat diet. Not only that, but it also reduced the buildup of plaque in the arteries and decreased several markers of inflammation as well.
Keep in mind that further research is needed, but adding star anise to a healthy diet and lifestyle may be able to keep your heart in good shape to protect against issues like heart disease and stroke.
5. It’s a Natural Flu Fighter
Chills, fever, muscle aches and fatigue — if you’re like most people, you’re probably all too familiar with the dreaded list of symptoms that start to pop up right before a full-blown case of the flu. Next time you find yourself feeling under the weather, you may want to consider brewing up a cup of star anise tea for a quick boost of flu-fighting power.
Star anise contains a compound called shikimic acid, which is commonly found in medications used to treat influenza, such as Tamiflu. A test-tube study published in the Journal of Medical Virology found that combining shikimic acid with quercetin, a type of natural plant pigment, was able to significantly increase the production of immune cells compared to treatment with Tamiflu.
6. It Could Help Regulate Blood Sugar
High blood sugar can cause a long list of diabetes symptoms, from increased thirst to difficulty concentrating, fatigue and even unintentional weight loss. Left untreated, high blood sugar can even contribute to more serious issues long-term, such as kidney failure and nerve damage.
Adding star anise to your routine may help keep your blood sugar in check, thanks to the presence of anethole. Some studies have found that this powerful compound could be beneficial in maintaining normal blood sugarlevels. In a 2015 animal study out of India, for instance, treating rats with anethole was found to improve blood sugar by regulating some of the key enzymes involved in carbohydrate metabolism.
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