ABC, AHP, and AHPA clear up star anise confusion

ABC, AHP, and AHPA clear up star anise confusion

The American Botanical Council, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, and the American Herbal Products Association offer resources to help members of the herb and spice industries determine the proper identity of each type of star anise to prevent the occurrence of confusion and adulteration.

Over the years, members of the herb industry and research communities have been aware of the occasional confusion and misidentification of the toxic Japanese star anise (Illicium anisatum) as the safe Chinese star anise (I. verum). The star-shaped fruits of both plants look almost identical to the untrained eye and thus, Japanese star anise is sometimes inappropriately added to tea blends in some ethnic groceries and other outlets when the Chinese star anise was presumably intended. 

Although popular in ethnic grocery stores and in products intended for infant colic, star anise in North America is seldom found in herbal dietary supplements. According to a 2003 US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) release, "FDA became aware that brewed 'teas' containing star anise were associated with illnesses affecting about 40 individuals, including approximately 15 infants. The illnesses, which occurred over the last two years, ranged from serious neurological effects, such as seizures, to vomiting, jitteriness, and rapid eye movement." [1] 

Three herb organizations—the American Botanical Council (ABC), the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), and the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA)—currently provide information resources to help members of the herb and spice industries determine the proper identity of each type of star anise to prevent the occurrence of confusion and adulteration. 

On November 9, 2011, AHPA, the leading herb industry trade association in the United States, issued a press release announcing that it was adding star anise (Illicium spp.) to its Guidance on Known Adulterants, part of its Botanical Authentication Program. [2] The announcement is the latest in a series of such postings by AHPA over the years; it has listed about 13 herbs it determined to be known adulterants, and made them available in the Trade Recommendations section of the AHPA website. 

In its release, AHPA's President Michael McGuffin is quoted as saying, "With this latest listing of star anise, AHPA expands its 14-year leadership in the area of identifying adulterants and creating standards for ingredient authentication under the AHPA Botanical Authentication Program. With the active participation and input from our membership and the in-depth work of three AHPA committees, we will continue to expand the knowledge base around these most important concerns for the trade."

AHP Provides Star Anise Identity Monograph 

Also on November 9, the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP), a nonprofit organization that produces among the highest quality botanical ingredient monographs in the world, issued a release informing the herb community that in 2006, the FDA commissioned AHP to produce a quality control document on star anise, Differentiation Between Star Anise (Illicium verum) and the Toxic Adulterant Shikimi (Illicium anisatum). [3,4] 

According to AHP, "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 [the Japanese name for Japanese star anise] gives a yellow color and true star anise a pink to red color), HPTLC [high-performance thin-layer chromatography], and a HPLC-MS [high-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry] method that is routinely used in the European Union to preventIllicium adulteration. As with all AHP monographs, theIllicium 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 AHPIllicium monograph provides commentary as to the strengths and limitations of the various testing methodologies." 

According to AHP Executive Director Roy Upton in the AHP release: "The adulteration between these two species has occurred since at least the late 1800s and has persisted throughout the past decades. The problem is compounded by the fact that numerous plants used in Mexico are referred to as‘anise’ in Spanish, including fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and anise seed (Pimpinella anisum), both of which are used for colic in babies. Thus, it is extremely important for these species of star anise to be clearly distinguished." 

The AHP release noted that the inclusion ofIllicium on AHPA's adulterants list is tantamount to a trade recommendation encouraging industry and AHPA members to ensure they have adequate testing methods for distinguishing between true and adulterated species.

AHP also mentioned that other known adulterants on AHPA's list for which AHP has detailed monographs include bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), and aristolochic acid (derived from plants in the genus Aristolochia)—this monograph commissioned by FDA and in collaboration with the State Food and Drug Administration of China, the Therapeutic Goods Administration of Australia, University of Mississippi, and Kew Gardens in London.

The star anise identification document is available from AHP for $125.00 (AHPA and ABC members receive 10% off). Other identification and quality control materials plus AHP’s herbal monographs are available through AHP at or by contacting AHP at 831-461-6318; email: [email protected].

ABC Star Anise Information

As noted above, the knowledge of possible confusion of these two herbs is not new. In September 2003, ABC issued a press release and HerbalGram article on this subject, subsequent to an FDA consumer warning on star anise confusion. [1,5] In addition, as far back as 1997, ABC published an HerbClip summarizing a short article in Economic Botany on the confusion in common names for these two herbs and the resulting problems in the marketplace. [6] And again, in 2006, ABC published an HerbClip describing a paper in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry that discussed using thin-layer chromatography and HPLC-MS methods to distinguish the two types of star anise. [7] 



1. Food and Drug Administration. FDA Issues Advisory on "Teas." Teas Made from Star Anise Were Associated With Illnesses Including Seizures. US Food and Drug Administration, September 10, 2003. Available at:

2. AHPA updates its Botanical Authentication Program with addition of Japanese star anise fruit to list of known adulterants [press release]. Silver Spring, MD: American Herbal Products Association. November 9, 2011. Available at:

3. Star anise adulteration [press release]. Scotts Valley, CA: American Herbal Pharmacopoeia. November 9, 2011. Available at:

4. American Herbal Pharmacopoeia. Differentiation Between Star Anise (Illicium verum) and the Toxic Adulterant Shikimi (Illicium anisatum).American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, 2006.  

5. Anon. American Botanical Council clarifies safety issue on star anise tea. HerbalGram. 2003;60:65. 

6. Webb G. Confusion of edible and toxic star anise. HerbClip. February 9, 1997 (No. 012172-105). Austin, TX: American Botanical Council. Review of Confusion of common names for toxic and edible "star anise" (Illicium) species by Small E. Economic Botany. 1996;50(3):337-339. Available at:

7. Oliff HS. Combination approach to determine quality and safety of star anise. HerbClip. November 15, 2006 (No. 050566-316). Austin, TX: American Botanical Council. Review of Combination of TLC and HPLC-MS/MS methods. Approach to a rational quality control of Chinese star anise by Lederer I, Schulzki G, Gross J, Steffen JP. J Agric Food Chem. 2006;54(6):1970-1974. Available at:

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