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Anise (Pimpinella anisum [Latin]), also known as aniseed, pimpinel seed, and sweet cumin, is a plant that produces seeds that are used in both herbal medicine and aromatherapy. This sweet smelling herb is also commonly used to flavor foods and liqueurs such as anisette and ouzo.

Anise is from the parsley family and, like parsley, has been used for thousands of years as a natural breath freshener. Anise seeds can be steeped in boiling water at home to produce a natural mouthwash; many mouthwashes and toothpastes sold in natural foods stores also contain anise.

Anise has been shown to be a secretagogue, an herb that acts as an expectorant in the body. The essential oil extracted from ground anise seeds helps loosen phlegm in the throat and lungs. Teas containing anise are very effective at helping make coughs more productive, and have also been used to treat asthma.

Anise is also an ingredient in many cough medicines and lozenges. Some other respiratory-related ailments that may benefit from treatment with anise include the common cold, pneumonia, influenza, bronchitis, and sinusitis.

Anise is also sometimes used to increase a nursing mother’s milk supply. The seeds of anise contain anethole, a substance that can help raise prolactin levels and thus stimulate milk production. Women seeking to improve their milk supply are advised to drink 1 cup of anise tea per day. Anise tea can be made at home by steeping 2 teaspoons of crushed seeds in 1 cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes.

New mothers may find anise to be helpful in other ways—it can be an effective treatment for colic and upset stomach. Anise’s expectorant effect encourages the secretion of excess fluids from the digestive system, and this herb has also been shown to reduce flatulence (gas) in both children and adults. Many all-natural remedies for colicky babies and digestive ailments contain anise as an active ingredient (don’t give your baby anise tea or seeds—if you give them too much it could make them very sick).

Anise is available in tea, and the whole seeds are used in cooking. All foods containing anise are thought to offer some of the same benefits as the teas and capsules, although foods are generally less effective than supplementation.

In some sensitive individuals, anise can cause allergic reactions. People with inflammatory skin conditions, including rosacea and acne, may experience flare-ups when taking this herb. Large doses of anise can act as a narcotic in the system.

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