Source, Etc

Star anise fruit is the ripe fruit of Illicium verum, Hooker filius (N.O. Magnoliaceoe), a small tree indigenous to the southern and south-western provinces of China. Only a small proportion of the harvest is exported, the bulk being used in China for the distillation of the volatile oil.

Description

Star anise fruit is apocarpous, and consists normally of eight one-seeded ovaries. In the flower these are erect, but as the fruit ripens they bend outwards, and finally radiate from a central axis; the pericarp becomes dark brown and woody, and dehisces by the now fully exposed ventral suture, disclosing a single, shining brown seed.

The carpels measure about 1.5 cm. in length; they are boat-shaped, and usually bluntly beaked at the apex, but nearly flat at the base, where they are attached to a short, central column proceeding from a curved peduncle. They are reddish brown and woody; externally irregularly wrinkled, internally paler, smoother, and glossy. The seed is reddish brown, smooth, shining, hard, ovoid, and slightly compressed. The hilum is conspicuous as an oval depression at one extremity. The hard, brittle seed-coats enclose a large, soft, oily kernel. Both the pericarp and the kernel have an agreeable aromatic odour and a sweet spicy taste.

The student should particularly observe

(a) The size, regular appearance, and blunt beaks of the carpels,

(b) The peduncle, which is curved near the fruit,

(c) The spicy odour and taste; and should compare these fruits with the Japanese star anise (see below).

Constituents

The chief constituent of the fruit is the volatile oil contained in the pericarp of the fruit (about 5 per cent.) and in the kernel of the seed (about 25 per cent.).

The oil is distilled in large quantities in crude native stills by the peasants of Langson, in southern China, and brought to the ports of Hai-fong and Hong Kong for exportation. It is scarcely distinguishable from that of Pimpinella Anisum, Linne, and may be substituted for it. Its chief constituent is anethol, C10Hl2O (80 to 90 per cent.).

Substitutes, Etc

Japanese star anise, also called sikimi or shikimi fruits (Illicium religiosum, Siebold). These fruits find their way to the Indian and occasionally to the London market. As they are toxic they must be carefully distinguished from the Chinese. The following characters will suffice: The fruits are less regularly developed, the carpels usually more wrinkled, the beak more acute and commonly directed upwards; the ventral suture is usually more open, and the peduncle, to which the carpels seldom remain attached, is straight. The Japanese fruits have a balsamic, not anise-like odour, and a disagreeable, bitterish taste; the taste and odour are the best characters by which to distinguish the genuine from the false, as they can be applied to fragments only of the fruit.

Fig. 48.   Fruits of [Illicium verum and 1. religiosum. 1, entire fruit of 1. verum; 3, a single carpel; 4, stalk (left); 6, seed; 2, entire fruit of 1. religiosum; 4, stalk (right); 5, single carpel; 7, seed. (Vogl.)

Fig. 48. - Fruits of [Illicium verum and 1. religiosum. 1, entire fruit of 1. verum; 3, a single carpel; 4, stalk (left); 6, seed; 2, entire fruit of 1. religiosum; 4, stalk (right); 5, single carpel; 7, seed. (Vogl).

From the seeds of Japanese star anise fruit Eykmann (1881) obtained 52 per cent, of fixed oil and a poisonous crystalline principle, sikimin, soluble in hot water, alcohol, and chloroform; the leaves and fruits yielded volatile oil, sikimic (schikimic) acid, and sikimipicrin.

Uses

The oil is employed as a carminative and as a flavouring agent, especially in cough mixtures, as it is supposed to possess a special action on the bronchial mucous surfaces.