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According to Mabberley (2017), this is a family of 73 species in three genera, namely Illicium L., Kadsura Kaempf. ex Juss., and Schisandra Michx., formerly classified variously in the Illiciaceae, Kadsuraceae, Magnoliaceae, and Winteraceae. These aromatic evergreen trees and shrubs are found in tropical south-eastern Asia, North America, and in the West Indies. The leaves and fruits of Illicium species have a characteristic odour resembling that of anise oil from Pimpinella anisum L., fam. Umbelliferae — hence their common name "aniseed trees". Some are grown commercially or for ornament (Hunt 1968/70).

Human dermal / perioral exposure to star anise oil used as a aromatising agent may lead to contact sensitisation reactions attributable to anethole and possibly to other volatile oil components of these plants including pinene, limonene, and safrole. Cross-reactions to other sources of these substances should be considered a possibility in any investigations. Some traditional medicinal uses of Illicium-derived preparations for skin complaints have been reported from the Far East.

Illicium verum Hook.f.
[syns Illicium anisatum Lour., Badianifera officinarum Kuntze]
Star Anise, Chinese Star Anise, Chinese Badian, Chinese Aniseed

Ong & Nordiana (1999) record that in Malaysia, the dried fruits of Illicium verum mixed with clove flower buds (Syzygium aromaticum Merr. & L.M.Perry, fam. Myrtaceae), lime, and coconut oil is applied on itching skin.

The fruits of this plant provide oil of star anise, which is very similar to oil of anise produced from Pimpinella anisum L., fam. Umbelliferae. For pharmaceutical purposes, the two oils are essentially identical, both being described as Oleum Anisi (Trease & Evans 1966, Reynolds 1996). The principal constituent of both oils is anethole, which may be found in Chinese star anise oil but not in anise oil in two isomeric forms (Arctander 1960, Opdyke 1975), namely trans-anethole and cis-anethole, the former being the principal component and the latter (which is significantly more toxic), occurring in only very small amounts. The distinction between the two isomers has not hitherto been made in the dermatological literature. Whilst anethole derived from a natural source is likely to be essentially trans-anethole, that produced synthetically from pine oil will contain significant quantities of both isomers (Arctander 1960).


In a maximisation test followed by patch testing with 4% star anise oil in petrolatum in 25 human volunteers, no sensitisation reactions were observed. Also, no phototoxic effects were reported for undiluted star anise oil applied to hairless mice or swine (Opdyke 1975). However, Rudzki & Grzywa (1976) found that star anise oil in 2% and 1% concentrations produced active sensitization in 5% of test subjects, and positive patch tests in 36% and 34% respectively of consecutive patients with dermatitis. These authors also noted that star anise oil was strongly irritant when tested at a 1% concentration.

Oil of anise has also been reported to cause dermatitis (Greenberg & Lester 1954, Schwartz et al. 1957). Schwartz et al. (1957) state that anethole is the responsible agent, probably from Loveman (1938) who investigated a case of sensitivity to a denture cream and gum-drops containing oil of anise and who patch tested the patient with anethole.

Rudzki & Grzywa (1976) noted that patients reacting to star anise oil also frequently show positive patch test reactions to anethole and to α-pinene, limonene, and safrole. Because safrole occurs in only trace quantities if at all in Chinese star anise oil, but is present in much larger concentrations in Japanese star anise oil [see Illicium anisatum L. below], the possibility exists that the Chinese star anise or its oil to which patients had been exposed was contaminated or adulterated with Japanese star anise, a problem to which Perry & Metzger (1980) also allude.


Positive patch test reactions to anethole in the context of toothpaste allergy have been recorded in the more recent literature (Sainio & Kanerva 1995, Grattan & Peachey 1985, Anderson 1978). When tested at a concentration of 2% in petrolatum, anethole produced no irritation in 48-hour closed patch tests on 25 human volunteers, nor were any reactions observed on patch testing with 2% anethole in petrolatum following attempted sensitisation of 25 human volunteers to anethole by a maximisation test (Opdyke 1973).

Illicium anisatum L.
[syns Illicium japonicum Siebold, Illicium religiosum Siebold & Zucc., Bandianifera anisatum Kuntze]
Japanese Star Anise, Bastard Star Anise, Wild Star Anise, Shikimmi, Sikimi, Skimmi, Poison Bay

The fruits of Japanese star anise are superficially similar to, but smaller than, those of Chinese star anise. Care has to be exercised not to confuse the two because Japanese star anise is highly poisonous if eaten (Felter & Lloyd 1898, Trease & Evans 1966). The seriousness of the consequences of inadvertent Japanese star anise consumption have recently been recognised in Commission Decision 2002/75/EC, which lays down special conditions on the import of star anise into the European Union.

According to Usher (1974) and to Perry & Metzger (1980), in China, Japanese star anise is not applied to the eyes, but is used as a local application in treating toothache, certain forms of dermatitis, and parasitism.

Dermatitis from Illicium religiosum was reported by Timoshin (1958).

Schisandra repanda Radlk.
[syns Schisandra nigra Maxim., Trochostigma repandum Siebold & Zucc.]

[Information available but not yet included in database]


  • Andersen KE (1978) Contact allergy to toothpaste flavors. Contact Dermatitis 4(4): 195-198 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Arctander S (1960) Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. Elizabeth, NJ: S Arctander [doi] [WorldCat] [url]
  • Felter HW, Lloyd JU (1898) King's American Dispensatory, 18th edn; 3rd revn, I & II. Cincinnati: Ohio Valley [WorldCat] [url]
  • Grattan CEH and Peachey RD (1985) Contact sensitization to toothpaste flavouring. Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners 35(279): 498
  • Greenberg LA and Lester D (1954) Handbook of Cosmetic Materials. New York: Interscience Publishers Inc
  • Hunt P (Ed.) (1968/70) The Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia of Gardening. London: Marshall Cavendish [WorldCat]
  • Loveman AB (1938) Stomatitis venenata. Report of a case of sensitivity of the mucous membranes and the skin to oil of anise. Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology 37: 70-81
  • Mabberley DJ (2017) Mabberley's Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of plants, their classification and uses, 4th edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat] [doi] [url]
  • Ong HC and Nordiana M (1999) Malay ethno-medico botany in Machang, Kelantan, Malaysia. Fitoterapia 70(5): 502-513
  • Opdyke DLJ (1973) Fragrance raw materials monographs. Anethole. Food and Cosmetics Toxicology 11(5): 863-864
  • Opdyke DLJ (1975) Fragrance raw materials monographs. Star anise oil. Food and Cosmetics Toxicology 13(Suppl.): 715-716
  • Perry LM, Metzger J (1980) Medicinal Plants of East and Southeast Asia: Attributed Properties and Uses. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press [WorldCat] [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Reynolds JEF (Ed.) (1996) Martindale. The Extra Pharmacopoeia. 31st edn. London: Royal Pharmaceutical Society [WorldCat]
  • Rudzki E and Grzywa Z (1976) Sensitizing and irritating properties of star anise oil. Contact Dermatitis 2(6): 305-308
  • Sainio E-L, Kanerva L (1995) Contact allergens in toothpastes and a review of their hypersensitivity. Contact Dermatitis 33(2): 100-105 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Schwartz L, Tulipan L, Birmingham DJ (1957) Irritant plants and woods. In: Occupational Diseases of the Skin. 3rd edn, pp. 636-672. London: Henry Kimpton [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Timoshin AG (1958) [Dermatitis due to Illicium religiosum]. Vestnik Dermatologii i Venerologii 32: 77
  • Trease GE, Evans WC (1966) A Textbook of Pharmacognosy, 9th edn. London: Baillière, Tindall and Cassell [WorldCat]
  • Usher G (1974) A Dictionary of Plants used by Man. London: Constable [WorldCat] [url]

Richard J. Schmidt

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