corresponcences

Notes from the Apothecary

January, 2019

Notes from the Apothecary: Star Anise

Star anise is a beautiful, fragrant spice from China and Vietnam often used in cooking and medicine. The Latin name is illicium verum. The fruits are green and resemble star-shaped flowers when first picked. When they are dried, the fruits harden and turn a dark, reddish brown and the star shape becomes more prominent. The ‘arms’ of the star pop open to revel smooth, shiny brown seeds.

The whole fruit is used as a seasoning for many different types of cuisine, most notably in the Chinese five spice mix which is widely used in Oriental cooking. The star shape makes this fruit immediately intriguing as a magical ingredient. The powerful, aniseed-like scent speaks of mystery and wonder, whether it’s rising from a specially seasoned morning coffee or some carefully crafted incense. Read on for more information on how star anise is used in medicine and magic.

The Apothecary

The first point in using star anise as a medicine is to ensure it is never confused with Japanese star anise. Japanese star anise, or illicium anisatum, is also known as the Sacred Tree and is highly revered by Buddhists. The leaves are used as incense, but the fruits and seeds are highly toxic. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between dried Japanese and Chinese star anise fruit. Because of this, it’s important to purchase your star anise from a reputable and experienced supplier. Alternatively, if you’re able to grow your own, this is the safest way forward. If in doubt, do not consume, as the toxic substance anisatin causes severe inflammation of the urinary and digestive tracts. Chinese star anise is the only edible variety and the only variety that should be used for medicinal purposes.

Now that the dire warnings are out of the way, the good news is that Chinese star anise is incredibly medicinally important. It’s one of the primary source of shikimic acid which is used in anti-influenza drugs. There are many sources of shikimic acid, but star anise is so relied upon that when there is a serious flu outbreak, global shortages of the spice tend to occur.

Web MD states that star anise is also used for a range of ailments including colic and other digestive issues, coughs, bronchitis and congestion. It may be useful as a galactagogue; a substance that promotes the flow of breast milk. However, it should be avoided during pregnancy as can affect the uterus.

Mrs Grieve states in her Modern that the oil from Chinese star anise is identical to oil of anise, from the unrelated anise plant. This is why the two plants have such a similar taste. Many animals are highly attracted to anise oil. Hunt saboteurs have been known to use it to throw hounds off the trail of a pursued fox or hare, and it has historically been used in mouse traps as bait.

The Witch’s Kitchen

In The Green Wiccan by Silja, star anise is one of the 52 herbs she focuses on as important tools of magic. The author states that star anise is an herb of the element of air. This means it would make a beautiful addition to the eastern point of an altar or sacred space, and an ideal ingredient for any incense.

Star anise is associated with the planet Jupiter, associated with expansion and luck (Practical Planetary Magick, David Rankine and Sorita d’Este). Jupiter has historically been known as beneficent and positive, meaning plants associated with it, such as star anise, can be used for magic with a positive leaning. Jupiter is also associated with law and ethics, meaning it can be connected to justice and doing the right thing. Use star anise to gain success in business ventures or new projects.

Star anise is also linked to Apollo and Hermes, making it a tool of poetry, music, traveling and communication. and poetry can, of course, be tools for communication, which makes me wonder if this is one of star anise’s strongest traits. Perhaps a witch could use star anise to find different ways to deliver a difficult message, or to open up about something they’re having a hard time expressing.

Silja links this plant to magic for consecration and purification, which can be done via incense or scattering the seeds. The author also states the spice can be used for breaking curses and removing negativity, particularly when used in food.

Home and Hearth

Press a whole star anise into a green or gold candle. Use a blob of melted wax to stick it there, or ensure the candle is soft before you do this. Any time you need to do something regarding prosperity or wealth, light the candle and meditate on the flame for a moment. This could be a visit to the bank, a job interview, a business meeting or even a yard sale. The star anise combined with the coloured candle magic will boost your chances at success and prosperity. (Paraphrased from The Green Wiccan by Silja.)

Kitchen witches should add star anise into their recipes for a boost of humour and joviality in their lives. Indian cookery is great for this. My favourite is a biryani; a fragrant rice dish with whole star anise.

I Never Knew…

The Latin name for Chinese star anise, illicium verum, originates from illicio which means ‘alluring’. This refers to the irresistible scent of the fruit.

Image credits: guangxi – star anise farm in china 2005 by fuzheado via Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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About the Author:

Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.

She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways.

A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors on Amazon

Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways on Amazon