Learn how to grow anise (Pimpinella anisum) which also called aniseed. This herb is plant of the Apiaceae family. Since it is native to the south of Europe and the Mediterranean, this plant needs warm weather to grow.
What is Anise Plant?
Anise is a beautiful ornamental herb that can be used for cooking. Its seeds are used in curries, soups, salads and baking. This herb is also used to flavor liqueurs like Anisette which is popular in Eastern European countries. Anise has medicinal benefits such as helping with respiratory illnesses and digestive aid. Crushed seeds produce an aromatic oil that is used in potpourris, soaps and perfumes.
Anise can grow up to 2 feet (60 centimeters) with feathery, lacy leaves that grow on slightly purple stems. Leaves and roots are edible and have a milder licorice flavor.
White flowers are born in thick umbels that bloom in the summer. They are quite similar to Queen Anne’s Lace. After the flowering, small brown seeds appear in the umbels. Anise seeds have a strong flavor that is similar to licorice. People grow anise to use its seed which have similar appearance to carrot seeds or caraway.
Many people confuse anise with star anise which comes from the Schisandraceae family. Star anise is actually an evergreen tree that can grow up to 65 feet tall. Its star shape fruits have a similar licorice flavor than anise, but they are also peppery and more intense.
Anise is also confused with fennel that has a similar appearance, including leaves and flowers which are yellow instead of white. Fennel comes from the same family as anise, but it has a bolder licorice flavor. Both plants produce seeds that look alike.
Anise Growing Conditions
Luckily, it is quite easy to grow anise, as this plant does not require special care, making it a great addition to any herb garden. To grow anise you need a warm growing season of at least 120 days. It can be planted in USDA zones 4 to 9. This warm weather plant needs a lot of sunlight.
This herb needs soil that is mostly alkaline with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. If your soil is too acidic you can add lime. Add compost to the soil if it has a lot of clay, since you need well draining soil to grow anise.
Young plants need to be watered twice per week until they are about 6 to 8 inches (15-20 centimeters). They need a lot less water after they are established and are actually quite tolerant to droughts.
The best time to apply fertilizer is before the plant flowers which would be mid summer. Nitrogen fertilizer is a good option. You can also add compost to poor soil (if you have rich soil it is not necessary) around mid-season to stimulate anise growth. Put a little mulch around your plant to prevent weeds from growing.
Grow anise close to other plants since this aromatic herb lures bees and other pollinators, as well as beneficial insects. Companion plants for anise include beans, grapes, cabbage and coriander (cilantro). Do not plant anise with basil, rue, carrots or radishes.
How to Grow Anise Outdoors
To grow anise outdoors you can soil seeds directly on the soil early spring. Soil should have at least a temperature of 60 F (15 C) for best germination. Seeds should be planted in rows with a distance of 2 to 3 feet between one another. Place them in the soil at a depth of half an inch (1.25 cm). Germination will occur in one to two weeks, so be patient. Thin seedlings after they are six weeks old.
Seeds can also be started indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date for those who have short growing seasons. Anise gives difficulty when transplanting, so it is best not to disturb plants and roots. Use biodegradable pots to move the plants directly into the soil outside.
Raised beds are good options to grow anise outdoors. Make sure the bed is free of weeds, roots and debris.
How to Grow Anise Indoors
Anise seeds are delicate so it is best to grow them directly in the pot you will use. Pick a pot that is at least 10 inches (25 centimeters) deep, since this plant has a long taproot, and about 1 foot wide. The pot should also have drainage holes and gravel or clay pebbles on the bottom. Potting mixture should be one part soil, one part sand and one part peat ideally.
Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil and gently spray them with water. They need warmth to germinate in less than two weeks. To grow anise indoors place your plant in an area where they will get at least six hours of sunlight per day. Let the soil dry out between watering.
Anise Pests and Fungus Problems
These soft body insects attach themselves to the bottom of leaves and stems of your plant. They are a problem for those who grow anise because aphids release honeydew into the plant which encourages mold to grow. Spray plants with a strong jet of water to remove the aphids from your plant. Use neem, canola oil or insecticidal soaps if they get too numerous.
Downey mildew creates yellow spots on the top of leaves and a white, fluffy growth on the bottom. This problem is caused by over water wetness, so make sure to always water the base of the plants. The best time to water plants is in the morning. Do not overcrowd your plants, as poor air circulation can cause fungus to grow.
Powdery mildew is quite easy to recognize as it name suggests, since leaves will get a powdery growth. This fungus spreads, especially when it is warm, humid and shaded. Avoid over fertilizing and use fungicide or sulfur to control the fungus. Cut any infected leaves at the first sign of mildew and discard them in the trash.
Alternaria blight is another fungal disease that produces small spots on the leaves that can be brown or yellow. Treat seeds with hot water before you grow anise since this disease spreads by seeds. Remove and destroy any plants that show signs of this fungi. Take away all debris from the garden since this fungi can live in the soil and infect other plants.
Cutworms cut the stems of young plants at the soil line. They may produce irregular holes at the surface of plants. Hand pick larvae at night and place diatomaceous earth at the base of plants.
Armyworms are harder to control because they reproduce quite fast, going through three to five generations per year. They can put clusters of up to 150 eggs on leaves of the plant. Encourage natural enemies for these armyworms or apply a biological pesticide such as Bacillus thuringiensis.
How to Harvest Anise
Many grow anise for the seeds which can be harvested at the end of summer or early fall when flowers go into seed. Since this plant is an annual you can also harvest it completely. Cut the umbel (flower umbrella) when it is still green. Place the seed heads in a paper bag until they are dry enough for them to fall out of the dead flowers. Another option is to tie the anise umbels into bundles and put them in a dry, warm and well ventilated area for them to dry. Once dried, rub the umbel between your palms for the seeds to separate from their hulls.
Dry the seeds for future use (to grow anise, for cooking or medicinal use) and store them in a container with a tight sealed lid. It is possible to extract anise oil with steam distillation.
Edible leaves have a milder, yet similar taste to the seeds. Roots are also edible. Gently pull out the roots from the ground and store them in the refrigerator wrapped in linen cloth.