Star anise is the seed pod from the fruit of the Illicium verum plant, an evergreen shrub native to Southwest China.
The star anise pod, which is shaped like a star (hence its name), has an average of eight points, each containing a single pea-sized seed. Both the seeds and the pod are used in cooking and contain the sweet, potent anise flavor.
Star anise is sold whole and ground.
The distinctive flavor is derived from anethol, the same oil found in anise seed giving both a licorice taste.
Chinese medicine has used star anise for centuries, and Western medicine has recently begun to recognize this spice’s pharmacological and antimicrobial properties.