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Star Anise Characterization

In 2003, several case reports of toxicity associated with star anise (Illicium verum) occurred stimulating international concern regarding the trade of this common botanical. A review of the literature revealed that true star anise (I. verum) has been commonly adulterated with Japanese star anise (I. anisatum) since at least the late 1800s. Sometimes complete adulteration occurs and sometimes mixtures of the fruits occur. Many of the reports of toxicity, including convulsions in babies, were clearly associated with the Japanese variety, which is also known as shikimi.
        In 2006, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP) was commissioned by FDA to develop basic characterizations between the two botanicals and published Differentiation Between Star Anise (Illicium verum) and the Toxic Adulterant Shikimi (Illicium anisatum). The publication provides a detailed review of the toxicity, history of adulteration, and botanical, morphological, microscopic, organoleptic, and chemical differences between the species. Analytical methods for differentiating between the species include colorimetric assays used by early pharmacognosists (in a simple color reaction test shikimi gives a yellow color and true star anise a pink to red color), HPTLC, and a HPLC-MS method that is routinely used in the European Union to prevent Illicium adulteration. As with all AHP monographs, the Illicium document provides detailed photographic images of the true and adulterating species along with clear images of the colorimetric assay and HPTLC chromatograms. Perhaps most importantly, the AHP Illicium monograph provides commentary as to the strengths and limitations of the various testing methodologies.
        In 2011, star anise was added to the list of adulterants of concern of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) further underscoring the need for comprehensive scientifically valid methodologies for distinguishing between true and adulterating species.
        The Illicium monograph is currently available in pdf format. To purchase a copy go to or contact: email:  tel: 831-461-6318




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