green anise

Green anise: cultivation

Green anise is an interesting aromatic, for its pleasant scent and for the preparations to which the seeds lend themselves, it is worth growing some examples. We can plant this medicinal species in the vegetable garden or the garden, perhaps in the flowerbed dedicated to all the aromatic plants, you can also grow green anise on the balcony, sowing the plant in pots.

When we talk about green anise we are referring to Pimpinella anisum, not to be confused with star anise (Illicium Verum). The two plants are very similar in the aroma of the seeds, although botanically they are different and belong to different families. Star anise is an Asian plant, while in Italy it is very common to find wild green anise plants, especially in Sicily, because from the Middle East, where the species originated, it then spread very well in the Mediterranean areas.

Growing star anise would not be easy, although it is still possible: being a tropical plant it can stand the cold and in much of Italy it becomes problematic. In this article, however, we go deeper into green anise, a species certainly more suited to our climate and therefore easier to grow in our gardens. So let’s see in detail the characteristics of the plant and how anise is grown organically from sowing to harvesting. At the bottom of the text, I also include a schematic summary.

The pimpinella anisum plant

The anise, Pimpinella anisum, is part of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family, like various other aromatic herbs such as dill, coriander, and wild fennel. It is an annual herbaceous plant, 40-60 cm tall, with an erect stem, hollow inside and branched at the top.

It has taproot roots and rather sparse and very different leaves: the basal ones are rounded, toothed, and provided with a long petiole, the middle ones are trifoliate and toothed, those at the top have a short petiole.

The flowers, arranged in the typical umbrella-like inflorescences, are minute and yellowish-white in color. The fruit is composed of two slightly hairy achenes, containing the precious and fragrant essential oil of anethole.

Very different is the well-known star anise, so-called concerning the star shape of its small gathered fruits.

Suitable climate and terrain

As with other plants with taproot roots, the ideal soil for anise is well-drained and loose, while it tends to shy away from very compact ones where water stagnation can occur.

When choosing the location it is important to place it in a sunny area and possibly sheltered from strong winds. We can place the anise seedlings in an area dedicated to aromatic herbs but also think of spreading the various medicinal essences around the garden, taking advantage of the excellent effects they have as a useful association and in increasing the biodiversity of our cultivated plot.

How to sow anise

Green anise is sown directly in the vegetable garden or the chosen pot, in spring, by broadcasting, a technique that allows you to optimize a small space, or in rows, a more rational method for subsequent management.

In both cases, the soil must first be well worked and refined, since the seeds are very small and do not like large clods of earth. It is not necessary to fertilize in abundance, also because aromatic herbs generally do not benefit much from excess fertilization, on the contrary, their aroma in these cases is attenuated.

Due to their small size, once distributed, aniseed must then be covered with a very thin layer of soil, and then, as always, irrigated to stimulate the germination process. The irrigations must then continue steadily until the plant develops more.

As with other species of the family of the Umbelliferae, it is necessary to wait a long time to see the germination of the seedlings, at least two weeks, but sometimes even a month. It is useful to sow quite dense and then thin out to obtain the necessary distances to guarantee each plant the right living space.

Once born, the seedlings must therefore be appropriately thinned, leaving spaces of about 20 cm between the remaining ones, and using a lot of attention because at this stage the seedlings are delicate. It is possible to try to transplant the plants that have been eradicated with thinning elsewhere, but these do not always take root.

Cultivation step by step

Surely the slow birth of the seedlings is not advantageous, because in the meantime the soil is filled with unwanted wild herbs. The sowing in rows allows us better control of these because we will notice a row of all the same plants of anise and the rest we will know that it is to be eradicated away. Having sown in an orderly way it will be possible to pass also with a hoe or a weeder. But by learning to recognize the anise seedlings from an early age, even with broadcast sowing, and a lot of patience, we will be able to remove all the weed species by hand.

Therefore manual weeding, or hoeing between the rows, are the most important cultivation operations for this species, but irrigation water must never be missing, especially during the early stages of development.

Harmful diseases and parasites

The anise could be affected on the leaves by a fungal disease called sclerotinia, which we can prevent with preventive spraying with horsetail infusions or macerates (Equisetum arvense), or with a propolis-based product. Furthermore, at the first appearance of symptoms, attributable to a typical whitish efflorescence, the infected parts must be eliminated and placed in the compost heap, if it is not possible to burn them.

For the rest, there are no particular other adversities to report, and also for this reason the plant lends itself very well to organic cultivation.

Grow anise in pots

We can also grow anise in pots, without great difficulty. What you need is simply a medium-sized container, at least 25 cm deep.

For this plant you can use a specific soil for herbs, but also universal earth, preferably mixed with a moderate dose of compost and a few handfuls of river sand. It is always useful to add a little bit of country earth, which brings useful microorganisms. Before placing the soil in the pot, it is essential to prepare a layer of expanded clay or gravel to ensure the drainage of any excess water.

In pot cultivation, the most important operation is irrigation, which must be constant but always without excess.

Collect and dry the anise seeds

During the summer, the umbels change color and become grayish-brown. This is the right time for harvesting because the anise seeds are ripe at this point.

For a good harvest and subsequent storage, the umbrellas are cut at the base, tied in bunches, and hung to dry, preferably wrapped in cloths, which allow transpiration but avoid the deposit of dust. The best place for drying is shaded and ventilated. Finally, the umbrellas are beaten and all the seeds are released, which we can partly use and store in the kitchen and partly keep as seeds for the following year.

Green anise

Use of seeds

Anise contains anethole, an oily substance that enters many liqueur and pharmaceutical preparations, in the preparation of desserts, but also to flavor savory dishes. The flavor is reminiscent of licorice or even fennel with a mint aftertaste.

With green anise seeds, you can make purifying and digestive herbal teas and decoctions, or prepare the excellent aniseed liqueur. The culinary use is mainly aimed at desserts, inserting the seeds in cakes and biscuits. It is a typical Christmas spice, which together with ginger and cinnamon characterizes many traditional holiday preparations, especially in northern Europe.

Finally, very simple use of anise: chewing some seeds at the end of a meal helps digestion and improves breath.

Cultivation sheet at a glance

Green anise (pimpinella anisum)

Preparation: dig and refine the surface well, with very little fertilization.
Sowing period: March / April
Sowing depth: 0.5 cm
Germination temperature: 20 degrees
Distances: between the plants 20 cm, between the rows 40 cm.
Mode: direct sowing, broadcasting, or row sowing.
Cultivation: aromatic control is important.
Irrigation: especially immediately after sowing, but also during cultivation.
Main adversities: sclerotinia.
Harvest: summer, when the umbrellas change color.
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