The Botanical Relations of Illicium Religiosum, Sieb., Illicium Anisatum, Lour. *

(* Translated from the "Mitteilungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft fur Natur- und Völkerkunde Ostasiens," vol. xxiii. (Yokahama, 1881.))


The question as to the identity of the true star-anise, Illicium anisatum, Lour., with the "shikimi," has been repeatedly discussed, but cannot be finally settled until the parent plant of the former is well known and has been carefully compared with that of the latter.

Probably it would not be undesirable if I add here some general remarks upon both plants.

JAPANESE PLANT.—Illicium religiosum, Sieb. (1837); Illicium Japonicum, Sieb. (1825); Illicium anisatum, L., Jap. "Shikimi no ki"; "Hana Shik mi" ("Shikimi" also written "Sikimi" and "Skimi," appears to be derived from "Ashikimi" — Evil Fruit); "Moso"— Chin. "Mang-tsao."

According to Iwasaki Jose, author of the "Honzo Zofu," it is also called "Hana no ki" (in the province of Harima) and "Koshiba" (in the province of Enshu — Totomi).

According to Yamamoto Boyo, author of the "Hiakushinko" (Description of a Hundred Drugs), Illicium religiosum, Lour., both in China and Japan, is called "Dai ui Kio." According to Ito Keisuke it is also called "Iririshi ya mu."

Illicium religiosum, Sieb., has been imported into Japan from China, and probably also from the Korea, since the earliest times of the Buddha priests. In the present day it is still looked upon as a sacred plant, and therefore often cultivated near Buddhist temples, and displayed in consecrated vessels at religious feasts. It is also found near graves, a use which is due to the general veneration for it, perhaps also on the ground that as a poisonous plant it has the reputed power to keep insects, etc., at a distance from the dead.

The powder of the bark and leaves also is used in long thin cylindrical pastilles ("sen-ko") as incense in the Buddhist temples and in religious services. Formerly such straight or circularly bent cylinders, which when lighted burned regularly, were used as time measures.

The plant grows wild now in Japan everywhere, on the mountains and in the valleys. It was found in the neighborhood of Nagasaki (Oldham), in the centre of Nippon, near Tokio (Thunberg), upon the Iwaya mountains (Siebold), near Yokosuka (Savatier), in large quantities upon the island of Hachijo, in the province of Izu (Iwasaki Jose), and in the provinces of Sagami, Enshu, Tamba, Musashi, Hizen, Chozhu, etc.

The plant attains a height of from 6 to 20 feet. The leaves are shortly (about 1 centimeter) petioled, coriaceous, thick, feel waxy to the touch, evergreen, oblong or oblong obovate, acuminate, cuneate at the base, entire at the margins, free from hairs (like the whole plant), about 7 centimeters long and 3 to 4 centimeters broad. The flowers open in the spring, about April. The petals are greenish or very slightly yellowish white, and have a wax-like appearance; they are from 1 to 3 centimeters long, 0.5 centimeter broad, and 12 to 20 in number. The stamens are 15 to 20. The fruit consists of about eight carpels, arranged side by side in a closed circle, which attains a diameter of 2 to 3 centimeters and a depth of 0.5 centimeter. Each carpel has on the upper side the persistent pistil. In the unripe condition the fruit is green, juicy, and contains much essential oil. When it commences to ripen, in the autumn, the carpel rapidly dries up, especially upon the dorsal side, shrivels, and becomes a red-brown color.

When ripe the fruit opens rapidly lengthwise along the upper side. I have frequently observed that the yellow-brown seeds, which are about 0.7 centimeter long, and 0.5 centimeter broad, provided with a hard testa, and occur one in a carpel, are hurled out with considerable force, often to a distance of three or four meters.

The bark of the tree has, as usually stated, an aromatic smell that is . not disagreeable; the fruit, on the contrary, has a less agreeable odor and an unpleasant taste. The seed kernel tastes sweetish. The leaves smell like the essential oil present in them.

All parts of the plant are looked upon as poisonous by the Japanese, especially the fruit.

The "shikimi no ki" is indigenous in China, and grows there also in the valleys and on the mountains. It is called by the Chinese "Mang-thsao" (mang — mad; thsao — herb: Jap. "moso"), because it is said to cause paroxysms of frenzy in human beings.

The different parts of the plant are used in China similarly as in Japan. According to the "Penthsaokang-mu" (Chinese Natural History), the dried leaves are used in medicine. Powdered and mixed with rice or barley flour, they are used to kill fish, which, however, form an innocuous food.

TRUE STAR-ANISE.—Illicium anisatum, Lour.; Anisum peregrinum, Bank. Chin. "Hwai hiang" (Jap. "Kai-Ko"); "Pah-ko-hwui-hiang " (Jap. "Hakkaku uikio" — octagonal anise).

"Ta hwui hiang" (Jap. "Dai uikio" — greater anise, to distinguish it from "Sho uikio" — smaller anise — Foeniculum vulgare or Anethum graveolens, in Jap. "Inondo" and Chin. "Jira"). (Older naturalists probably also name Foeniculum vulgare (Jap. "Kure-no-omo") "Dai-ui-kio." Li-si-chin, a Chinese naturalist, calls only the fruit of Foeniculum vulgare exported from Nehia "Dai-ui-kio"; all other commercial kinds of F. vulgare he calls "Sho-ui-kio.")

In Japan the true star-anise is also called "Haku uikio" (— foreign anise).

This plant is indigenous in Cochin China, Siam and the Southwest provinces of China, as Yunnan. The fruit of this plant, the true star-anise, is imported into China and Japan. To Europe and India it is generally sent via Hong-kong.

According to Rondot, the best kind is brought from Foukien to Canton and from thence exported through Tsiouen-tchou-fou. The fruit is also collected in Kiang-si and Kuang-tung. A perfectly exact description of this plant is at present wanting. It is said (Loureiro) that it differs from the Chinese and Japanese Illicium religiosum, Sieb., in its inferior height (about 8 feet), its smaller and more oval leaves, which are not, like the "skikimi," acuminate at both ends, but rounded, and in its greater number of stamens (up to 30). The fruit of the true star-anise differs from that of the Japanese in its distinctly sweetish agreeable, strong anise or fennel-like odor and taste, and further in not being poisonous. (The Leeuwarden Commission states upon this point that the injection of the extract of the true star-anise into frogs and rabbits did not induce the slightest abnormal symptoms.)

Distinctions in odor, taste, chemical composition (the different amounts of fats present, the poisonous constituent, etc.), and physiological action, cannot, from the point of view of the systematic botanist, contribute to characterize two plants as different species, since these properties, which possibly are due only to quantitative differences, may depend upon climatic conditions. Yamamoto Boyo, author of the "Hiakushinko" (1843), remarks upon this as follows: "The Japanese fruit resembles exactly the 'hakkaku uikio' (true star-anise) except in the smell; this difference is, however, a result of the influence of locality and climate, exactly as in the case of Chinese cinnamomum. Planted in Japan this tree loses its pungent taste and acquires moreover the aroma of 'shikimi'" There remain consequently only the few morphological differences.

Illicium religiosum. Illicium anisatum. The author refers to the characters given by different writers for distinguishing the fruits of the two trees, and shows that the differences are probably connected with the age, the manner and time of collection, the conveyance, climate, etc. Meanwhile we cannot go further than to consider the Japanese "shikimi no ki" as a poisonous— probably only as a more poisonous—variety of Illicium anisatum, Loureiro.

But from a hygienic point of view a distinction must be made between the Japanese and Cochin China star-anise as a commercial drug. For pharmacognostically distinguishing the true star-anise from the fruit of "shikimi" the following characters can be taken in consideration:

Taste sweet, anise-like; odor faintly of anise.
Somewhat larger than "shikimi" fruits. Surface more resembling cork. Beak short, horizontal, or slightly bent upwards, pointing outwards. Carpels less woody, shriveled in one upon another, and wrinkled. Seed mostly dark brown with rounded apex.
Disagreeable taste, not sweet or like anise. Smell not like anise, but faintly resembling laurel, clove and nutmeg.
Somewhat smaller than true anise. Surface more shining, red-brown. Beak thin, frequently bent strongly upwards or crooked backwards. Carpels more woody, much shrunk in upon one another, wrinkled. Seed mostly yellow-bronw, with a stout keel and a raised apex.
- Abstract from Phar. Jour. and Trans., June 25.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 53, 1881, was edited by John M. Maisch.