Intrigued by Licorice herbs

This post is inspired by my using star anise in tonight’s supper. Star anise is in a small, obscure botanical family, Schisandraceae. Then there is regular anise, in the carrot family, along with another licorice-flavored herb, fennel. Then there is the actual licorice, in the legume family. In the daisy family is another licorice-flavored herb, tarragon. That is four disparate families in which individual species have hit upon the same aromatic formula. I find that intriguing.

Stranger still is that tarragon’s relatives are wormwoods and sagebrushes, with entirely different aromatic compounds.

Another thing I find intriguing: I like licorice-flavored herbs, but I despise licorice candy.



Tbh I kinda like the salted liquorice candies, but in general I find the liquorice smell/flavour quite pleasing.

The other thing is that is pretty interesting to me is how related some edible plants and spices are taxonomically even though they are completely different culinarily (is that even a word!?), eg. Potatoes, tomatoes and eggplants are all in the same genus Solanum, and bell peppers and chillies are in the genus Capsicum which are in the same family as Solanum, Solanaceae. Intriguingly that family also includes tobacco and a number of extremely toxic species.


Also licorice fern - Polypodium glycyrrhiza - whose roots are reported to taste like licorice.


and cardamon

They’re all based on anethole, which looks like a pretty simple phenylpropanoid. Plants always have a pool of those secondary metabolites sloshing around, so probably not super-surprising that accumulating anethole has evolved independently in different lineages.


This is true of other flavor profiles. Think of the abundance of sources of citrus flavors, from (obvious) citrus fruits, to lemongrass, lemon mint, hibiscus, etc. Or peppercorns and hot peppers and cinnamon.

I think you are hitting on something that is fascinating biologically, and very practical gastronomically. A common trick is to take an established recipe, find other ingredients with similar flavor profiles and see what happens. I’d love to try spaghetti with some monarda fistula (call wild bergamot, but in the mint family as opposed to the namesake bergamot, which is a citrus!) to get some of the thymol/menthol profile to replace some thyme/oregano.


We have anise scented buchu
which is cultivated to harvest oil for commercial culinary use.

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