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What is Pimpinella?

By Deborah Walker
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Pimpinella is a genus of aromatic annual, biennial, and perennial plants in the Apiaceae, or carrot, family. It is native to Asia, Africa, and Europe. One species, Pimpinella anisum, or anise, is used in cooking and to make liquor. Societies have used this plant medicinally for hundreds of years. Plants in this species may be propagated directly from seed or through division of mature plants.

This herb is native to three continents, but its use has spread throughout the world. It may be 18-24 inches (45-60 centimeters) tall or more and prefers to be spaced between 9-12 inches (22-30 centimeters) from other plants. Pimpinella needs full sun or partial shade and soil with a pH level between 5.6-7.5, which is acidic to neutral. All of the Pimpinella species have average watering needs, but care should be taken to avoid overwatering these plants. In the middle of summer, plants produce white or nearly white flowers. Its strongly aromatic foliage and fragrant flowers attract bees, butterflies, and birds.

Anise has a sweet flavor resembling licorice and is frequently used by cooks around the world. The seeds may be used ground or whole. Cooks add anise to dishes such as Mexican champurrado, a hot chocolate-style drink, Italian pizzelle, German pfeffernusse, British aniseed balls, and Peruvian picarones. In the Middle East, one tablespoon of aniseed is mixed with hot water to make a hot tea known as yansoon.

Anise may be added to liquor recipes. It is used to flavor arak, a Middle Eastern liquor, for example. It is also an ingredient in German Jagermeister, Turkish raki, and French absinthe. Some people speculate that it is a secret ingredient in Chartreuse, a French liqueur. Virgil's, a root beer maker in the U.S., adds the herb to its brew.

Pimpinella species have been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of complaints. It is said, for instance,. to relieve menstrual cramps. In the first century AD, the author and philosopher Pliny the Elder documented Pimpinella's use as a cure for sleepiness and as a remedy for bad breath. He also notes that anise mixed with wine was taken as a remedy for snake bites. Maureen Hellstrom, a nurse in the U.S. Civil War, used anise seeds as an antiseptic until it was found to cause blood toxicity.

To propagate Pimpinella, the seeds may be sown directly into the ground after the last frost. Gardeners should plant the seeds in an area with full sunlight. If the seeds are sewn too late in the season and if the weather is too hot, the plants will be small. These small plants will likely begin to produce seeds and flowers prematurely. The plant may be propagated by dividing mature plants as well, although sometimes transplanted Pimpinella does not survive and may be less hardy than plants grown from seed.

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