Illicium floridanum. Starry Anise.
The same qualities which entitle the Liriodendron and Magnolias to a place among medicinal plants, exist abundantly in the kindred genus of Illicium. This family consists of fine, spicy, flowering shrubs, one of which, the I. anisatum, growing in Eastern Asia, derives its name from the similiarity of its flavour to that of Anise, a quality which exists, though less simple, in the subject of the present article. Another species, the I. parviflorum, a shrub with small yellowish flowers, first discovered by Michaux in the mountains of Georgia and Carolina, has so exactly the flavour of the Sassafras root, that they are not to be distinguished by the taste. The I. Floridanum forms beautiful thickets in the country bordering on the north of the Gulf of Mexico, and is often mentioned by the traveller Bartram, with his accustomed enthusiasm, as one of the chief beauties of that exuberant region. In the Northern states, as well as in Europe, it is preserved by artificial heat. The drawing, which illustrates our description, was made from a greenhouse specimen.
The character assigned to this genus is formed by a six leaved calyx, twenty seven petals, and a number of capsules arranged in a circle, two valved, one seeded. The species Floridanum has its leaves acuminate and its petals numerous, oblong and linear.
The class and order are Polyandria, Polygynia; and the Natural orders Coadunatae, Linn. Magnoliae, Juss.
The Illicium Floridanum is a shrub, in some instances entitled to be considered a small tree. Its leaves are scattered, or grow in tufts, on short petioles. They are evergreen, oval lanceolate, slightly acuminate, entire, smooth on both sides, and firm or fleshy. The flower buds proceed from the sides of the branches at the axils of the last year's leaves. The flowers grow on slender, nodding peduncles, an inch or two long. When fully expanded, they are about the size of a dollar, and of a dark, purplish crimson. Calyx deciduous. Petals linear, obtuse, in three rows, about nine in a row, the uppermost row ascending, the lowermost descending, and broader or more spatulate. Stamens thirty or more, diverging, flat, depressed with the anthers recurved; pollen white. Germs a dozen or more, roundish-rhomboidal, compressed and arranged in a circular manner; styles short, recurved, pubescent on the inside. The fruit, which I have not seen, is represented by authors, as has been stated in the generic character.
The leaves and young shoots of this species of Starry anise abound in a fine, clear mucilage, which becomes immediately perceptible in the mouth, if these parts are chewed, and which communicates to water in a short time a ropy consistence. This mucilage is separated from the decoction by alcohol in the form of dark brown, tough, stringy coagula. Muriate of tin causes a precipitate after these coagula are withdrawn, which seems to indicate the presence of extract. Sulphate of iron added to the decoction, coagulated the mucus and darkened the colour. I discovered no traces of resin in the portions submitted to experiment, and a strong tincture was not disturbed by water. The trial, however, was conducted on a small scale.
The bark and leaves of the Illicium Floridanum are strongly impregnated with a spicy, aromatic taste and smell, approaching that of the Magnolias and Liriodendron, but perhaps more similar to that of some of the pungent seeds, particularly Anise and Coriander, between which they seem intermediate. This aroma is preserved in the distilled water, and fills the room with its fragrance, while distillation is going on. I was not able in my limited experiments to separate any volatile oil or camphor, on one of which principles, as in similar cases, the aroma doubtless depends.
An account of this species of Illicium is given, with a figure, in the Philosophical transactions for 1770, by John Ellis, Esq. He says, "We are indebted for the discovery of this curious American tree to a servant of William Clifton, Esq. of West Florida, who was sent to collect specimens of all the rarer plants by his master; and in April 1765, he met with it growing in a swamp near Pensacola. After this, in the latter end of January 1766, Mr. John Bartram, the king's botanist for the Floridas, discovered it on the banks of the river St. John, in East Florida, as appears from his description of it, and a drawing of a seed-vessel with some of the leaves, sent to Mr. Collinson." Mr. Bartram's description of it, as it appears in his journal up the river St. John, published by Dr. Stork, in his account of East Florida, is as follows. "Near here my son found a lovely, sweet tree, with leaves like the sweet bay, which smelled like Sassafras, and produces a strange kind of seed-pop; but all the seed was shed. The severe frost had not hurt it;—some of them grow nearly twenty feet high, a charming bright evergreen aromatic." [It is very possible the above description may have been intended for Illicium parviflorum.]
Of the medicinal properties of this shrub, I am unable to speak with the certainty, which might have attended an extensive number of trials, made with the bark of full grown specimens. From the evidence afforded by the bark and leaves of a greenhouse specimen, and by the analogy of other species, and similar trees, I should not feel much hesitation in attributing to the Illicium the properties of a tonic-stimulant and diaphoretic. I have at least satisfied myself that the bark of a twig, and three or four of the leaves, produce no unpleasant consequence. Its bitter taste and aromatic quality point out its analogy to Cascarilla, Canella, Sassafras, and other aromatic barks, which are regularly consumed in the shops. Its co-species, the Illicium anisatum of the East, is used as a condiment to communicate an agreeable flavour to certain dishes. The Chinese chew it after dinner as a stomachic and a sweetener of the breath. In some parts of the East Indies the natives and Dutch mix it with their tea and sherbet. It is also burnt as incense before their idols by some of the oriental nations, and carefully kept as an antidote to various poisons.
The beauty of both these shrubs renders them desirable acquisitions to collectors of plants.
Illicium Floridanum, Linn.
Curtis, Bot. Mag. t. 439.
Michaux, i. 526
Pursh, ii. 380.
Ellis, in Philosophical transactions abridged, xiii. 87. t. 2.