Illicium verum (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

1, flowering branch; 2, flower; 3, fruit

Illicium verum Hook.f.

Protologue: Curtis's Bot. Mag. 114: plate 7005 (1888).
Family: Illiciaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 28


  • Illicium anisatum Lour. (1790), non L. (1759),
  • Badianifera officinarum Kuntze (1891)

Vernacular names

  • Chinese star anise, star anise (En).
  • Badianier, anis étoilé, anis de Chine (Fr)
  • Indonesia: bunga lawang (general), adas cina (general), pe ka (derived from Chinese)
  • Malaysia: bunga lawang, adas china
  • Philippines: sanque, sangke (Tagalog, Cebuano)
  • Cambodia: phka chann, pôch kak lavhav
  • Thailand: chinpaetklip, poikak
  • Vietnam: hồi, hoi sao, bát giác hương.

Origin and geographic distribution

Illicium verum is only known from cultivation although semi-wild populations of abandoned plantations occur. It most probably originated from south-eastern China (Guangxi, Guangdong, Fujian, Guizhou and Yunnan) and northern Indo-China (Laos, Vietnam). Here Chinese star anise has been used as a spice and medicine for over 3000 years. It is also cultivated in Hainan, Taiwan and Japan. Cultivation in other parts of the world seems difficult. In Europe Chinese star anise was thought to originate from the Philippines because in 1578 the navigator Thomas Cavendish brought the first fruits, originating from southern China, to Europa via the Philippines.


The dried ripe fruit is the Chinese star anise of commerce. Chinese star anise fruit and its essential oil are used as flavouring agents in numerous kinds of products: beverages (liqueurs, brandies), chewing gum, baked goods, gelatin, puddings, meat and meat products. In the United States the regulatory status "generally recognized as safe" has been accorded to star anise (GRAS 2095) and star anise oil/oleoresin (GRAS 2096). The maximum permitted level of star anise oil in food products is about 0.07%. The essential oil is also used to scent soap, tobacco and dental cream. In traditional medicine a powder or decoction of the fruits is used to treat abdominal colic, lumbago arising from a deficiency in the kidney, vomiting and epigastric pain due to cold in the stomach and diarrhoea. It also has an antidiarrhoeal effect due to the prevention of intestinal fermentation. The fruit is an oestrogenic agent used to increase milk secretion, promote menstruation, facilitate childbirth, increase libido and alleviate symptoms of male climacteric. The essential oil has stimulant, antiseptic, stomachic, carminative and mildly expectorant properties. It is part of an antitussive formulation and is employed against rheumatism, body lice and bed bugs, but may cause dermatitis in susceptible people. When the essential oil is administered therapeutically as a bronchial expectorant for upper respiratory tract congestion and as gastrointestinal spasmolytic, the permitted mean daily dose is 0.3 g. The oil is used as starting material for the production of synthetic oestrogens (e.g. diethylstilbestrol, diethylstilbestrol dipropionate) and perfumes (e.g. p-panisaldehyde).

The dried ripe fruits are often found in potpourris. The wood of Chinese star anise is fine-grained and suitable for pulping, but it is not recommended for forest plantations because of its slow growth.

Production and international trade

China and Vietnam are the major producers and exporters of Chinese star anise fruits and essential oil, with China providing the bulk of both. In 1955-1960 annual production of Chinese star anise essential oil in China was estimated at 300-500 t. In Vietnam annual production of Chinese star anise fruits is estimated to be more than 2000 t, of which 1600 t is exported to Cuba, China and the Russian Federation. Annual export of Chinese star anise essential oil by Vietnam is 200-250 t, mainly to France, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In China the imported star anise from Vietnam is blended with the Chinese product and exported mainly to France. In 1993 the estimated annual world value of Chinese star anise essential oil was US$ 4.5 million. Between 1994-1997 the price per kg oil ranged from US$ 6.5-10.9 on the international market.


Chinese star anise contains catechins, pro-anthocyanidin, essential oil, fixed oil and mineral substances. The essential oil is obtained by steam distillation of fresh or partly dried, whole or comminuted fruits (yield of 3-3.5%) and is mostly present in the fruit wall, not in the seed. Its chief constituent is trans-anethole (70-93%). It also contains small amounts of cis-anethole, which is 15-38 times more toxic to animals than trans-anethole.

Chinese star anise essential oil is a clear, colourless or pale yellowish liquid with the characteristic anise-like odour and sweet flavour. Fresh leaves and twigs contain 0.3-0.4% essential oil which has a composition similar to the oil from the fruits and is often blended with fruit oil. Decorticated seeds contain 55% fatty oils of which the composition is approximately: oleic acid 60%, linoleic acid 20%, myristic acid 10% and stearic acid 8%.

In products with anise as the main flavouring principle, overdosage with essential oil of Chinese star anise is difficult. In products where anise is not wanted, or is wanted only as a trace component, overdosage is easily attained. The normal use level of Chinese star anise essential oil is 5-10 mg per 100 g; the minimum perceptible is 0.3-0.6 mg per 100 g. Anethole can be isolated from the oil by freezing. The French "anisette"-flavoured brandy, a beverage with 43-45% alcoholic and saturated solution of anethole, is very popular. It separates anethole and becomes "cloudy" when chilled below room temperature or when water is added.

A monograph on the physiological properties of star anise oil has been published by the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM).


Star anise oil (from Vietnam) (Source: Formacek & Kubeczka, 1982)

  • 79.9% (E)-anethole
  • 10.4% limonene
  • 2.1% α-pinene
  • 1.7% β-phellandrene
  • 1.0% linalool
  • 0.9% δ-3-carene
  • 0.6% methyl chavicol
  • 0.5% α-phellandrene
  • 0.4% myrcene
  • 0.4% β-caryophyllene
  • 0.4% anisaldehyde
  • 0.2% sabinene
  • 0.2% α-terpineol
  • 0.2% β-pinene
  • 0.2% para-cymene
  • 0.2% α-terpinene
  • 0.2% terpinolene
  • 0.1% γ-terpinene
  • 0.1% (Z)-anethole
  • 99.7% total

Star anise oil (from China) (Source: Cu et al., 1990)

  • 71.6% (E)-anethole
  • 14.6% foeniculin
  • 5.0% methyl chavicol
  • 1.4% limonene
  • 0.6% linalool
  • 0.6% nerolidol (unknown isomer)
  • 0.5% anisaldehyde
  • 0.5% (E,E)-α-farnesene
  • 0.4% β-caryophyllene
  • 0.4% (Z)-β-ocimene
  • 0.2% myrcene
  • 0.2% cinnamyl acetate
  • 0.2% α-phellandrene
  • 0.2% α-terpineol
  • 0.1% para-cymene
  • 0.1% α-terpinene
  • 0.1% (E)-β-ocimene
  • trace camphene
  • trace α-pinene
  • trace sabinene
  • trace β-pinene
  • trace δ-3-carene
  • trace γ-terpinene
  • trace terpinolene
  • trace α-copaene
  • trace (Z)-anethole
  • trace methyl anisate
  • 96.7% total

Adulterations and substitutes

In commerce, Chinese star anise fruits (usually with 8 follicles) are sometimes adulterated with similar looking fruits from I. cambodianum Hance or from I. anisatum L. I. cambodianum is a wild tree from Burma (Myanmar) and Indo-China; its fruits usually consist of 12-13 follicles which contain hardly any essential oil. I. anisatum (Japanese star anise) is a tree of Japan and China, also cultivated as a medicinal and ornamental plant, with poisonous fruits (usually with 8 follicles); its follicles are more irregular with wrinkled sides and finer, longer apices; their odour is balsamic and the taste bitter. Chinese star anise essential oil derived from the fruit is often adulterated with the oil from the leaves and twigs which, however, is hardly different. Occasionally, small amounts of minerals or fatty oils are added. Chinese star anise products compete with those of anise (Pimpinella anisum L.) for some of the same market because the major essential-oil component in both is anethole. Chinese star anise oil can be distinguished from anise oil by the presence of small amounts of 1,4-cineole. Synthetic anethole is often used as a substitute for natural anethole. The amount of cis-anethole in synthetic anethole, however, is sometimes much larger than in natural anethole, which mainly consists of harmless trans-anethole.


  • Evergreen tree, 8-15(-20) m tall; trunk diameter at breast height up to 25 cm; bark white.
  • Leaves alternate, simple, coriaceous, glandular-punctate; petiole about 1 cm long; blade elliptical to obovate or lanceolate, 5-15 cm × 1.5-5 cm, margin entire, apex acute, lower side pubescent.
  • Flowers axillary, solitary, bisexual, regular, 1-1.5 cm in diameter, white-pink to red or greenish-yellow; pedicel 0.5-1 cm long; perianth lobes 7-12, arranged spirally; stamens 11-20, arranged spirally, with short, thick filaments; carpels usually 8, free, arranged in a single whorl.
  • Fruit a capsule-like follicetum, 2.5-4.5 cm in diameter, consisting of an agregate of (5-)8(-13) follicles arranged around a central axis in the shape of a star (hence the name star anise); each follicle boat-shaped, 1-2 cm long, rough, rigid, reddish-brown, containing 1 seed, splitting along the ventral edge when ripe.
  • Seed subcylindrical to compressed ovoid, 8-9 mm × 6 mm, smooth, glossy, light brown, containing copious, oily endosperm.

Growth and development

Chinese star anise starts flowering when trees are 6 years old. In the main production areas it flowers twice a year. Fruits are harvestable about 3-4 months after flowering. First harvesting is possible from 7-10-year-old trees. Full harvest is reached in the next 10 years and trees can remain productive for several decades. Quite often productive years alternate with less productive years.

Other botanical information

The common names "star anise” and "star anise oil” are generally used for I. verum products. Unfortunately, several other Illicium species produce similar fruits which are often also named "star anise”, causing confusion and sometimes danger. Most dangerous is the existing confusion with I. anisatum L. (synonym: I. religiosum Siebold & Zucc.), whose fruits are poisonous (one of their constituents is shikimine) and are used medicinally and as insecticide and are sold in herbal medicines to treat e.g. toothache and dermatitis. I. anisatum occurs wild and in cultivation in Japan, southern China and Taiwan. Some differences with I. verum fruits are: its fruit is smaller and does not form a regular star due to the abortion of some carpels, its follicles are not swollen in the middle and are more pointed at the apex. To avoid confusion and danger it is better to use the scientific names or to use "Chinese star anise” for I. verum and "Japanese star anise” for I. anisatum.

Illicium L. comprises about 40 species, 5 in America and 35 in eastern Asia (7 in Malesia).


The ecological requirements of Chinese star anise are not well known. Its main cultivation areas lie in the cooler tropics and subtropics at altitudes up to 2000 m, with average annual temperatures of 12-18 °C, average annual precipitation of 1000-2000 mm and with soils with a pH of about 5.8.

Propagation and planting

Chinese star anise is propagated by seed. Seeds are collected from vigorous trees, 15-20 years old, and only fully matured, brown seeds are chosen. They rapidly lose their viability and should be sown in a nursery within 3 days of harvest. Soaking the seeds for 6 hours in warm water (35-37 °C) stimulates germination. In the nursery seedlings have to be protected against direct sunlight. After 1-1.5 years the seedlings (at the 4th leaf stage) are transplanted to other nursery beds and set about 25 cm apart. About 3 years later they can be planted out in the field, 5-7 m apart, in well-manured planting holes.


Regular weeding is recommended in Chinese star anise, to facilitate the harvesting of fruits and to prevent fire hazards. Mulching is applied at the end of the rainy season to retain much of the soil moisture for the coming dry season. Application of farm manure (about 7 kg per tree) and additional ammonium sulphate at the start of the rainy season is recommended.

Diseases and pests

Chinese star anise does not suffer seriously from diseases or pests. The nematode Radopholus similis has been reported to occasionally cause some damage.


The fruits of Chinese star anise are harvested before they are fully ripe when the essential-oil content is highest, usually in August-September. Two harvests per year are possible. Harvesting is carried out by climbing the trees and picking the fruits by hand, or by using a long pole with a little hook connected to the end to detach the fruits. In some areas in China young twigs and fresh leaves are also harvested and either distilled separately or together with fresh fruits for essential-oil production.


On average, 5-10 kg fresh fruit/tree can be obtained from trees 13-25 years old, and 10-20 kg/tree from trees older than 25 years. In very good years, up to 40-45 kg/tree can be harvested. After drying, 100 kg of fresh fruit yields 25-30 kg of dried fruit. Fresh fruits yield 2.5-3.5% essential oil, dried ones 8-9%.

Handling after harvest

For use as a spice harvested fruits are placed in flat baskets, exposed to the sun for about 10 days and then preserved in a cool dry place. The dried product is then traded on the international spice market. When essential oil is desired, fresh fruits, or occasionally dried ones, are steam-distilled for 48-60 hours. The oil is then stored in airtight containers at temperatures not exceeding 25 °C, protected from light. Crude Chinese star anise oil in the original drums is often very impure, and may contain e.g. water, sand and fruit residues. Filtration and rectification in modern distilleries is then necessary.

Genetic resources and breeding

Some germplasm collections of I. verum are maintained in China and Vietnam. There are no known breeding programmes for I. verum.


Cropping techniques and distillation methods applied for Chinese star anise should be improved substantially to enhance yield and quality of fruits and oil. The potential for cultivating Chinese star anise in other South-East Asian countries needs further investigation.


  • Arctander, S., 1960. Perfume and flavor materials of natural origin. S. Arctander, Elizabeth, New Jersey, United States. pp. 594-597.
  • Chinese Medicine and Pharmacy Publishing House, 1993. Dictionary of Chinese materia medica 1: 117-120.
  • de Beer, J.H., 1992. Non-wood forest products in Indochina. Focus: Vietnam. Mission report for the FAO. AIDEnvironment, Amsterdam, the Netherlands and Food and Agriculture Organization, Forest Department, Rome, Italy. p. 15.
  • Duke, J.A. & duCellier, J.L., 1993. CRC handbook of alternative cash crops. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, United States. pp. 284-285.
  • Duke, J.A. & Hurst, S.J., 1975. Ecological amplitudes of herbs, spices and medicinal plants. Lloydia 38(5): 404-410.
  • Leung, A.Y. & Foster, S., 1996. Encyclopedia of common natural ingredients used in food, drugs and cosmetics. 2nd edition. John Wiley & Sons, New York, United States. pp. 36-38.
  • Parry, J.W., 1969. Spices. Vol. 2. Morphology, histology, chemistry. Chemical Publishing Co., New York, United States. pp. 70-73.

Sources of illustrations

Hooker, J.D., 1888. Illicium verum. Curtis's Botanical Magazine 144. Fig. 7005 (flowering branch); Achtnich, W., 1989. Gewürze [Spices]. In: Rehm, S. (Editor): Spezieller Pflanzenbau in den Tropen und Subtropen [Special agronomy in the tropics and subtropics]. 2nd edition. Vol. 4 of the series: von Blanckenburg, P. & Cremer, H.-D. (Editors): Handbuch der landwirtschaft und Ernährung in den Entwicklungsländern [Handbook of agriculture and food in developing countries]. Eugen Ulmer Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany. Fig. 261, p. 514 (flower, fruit). Redrawn and adapted by P. Verheij-Hayes.


  • Vu Ngoc Lô