Taking a closer look at the spice anise

If you a) enjoy reading b) enjoy gardening c) enjoy learning something new, here’s the perfect idea! Curl up on a chilly winter’s evening with a wonderful collection of “The Prairie Garden” books, from 1977 to 2018 (only missing 1984). This collection is available if you are interested. It would make a great Christmas gift for a gardener who is already thinking ahead to next year’s garden! Log on to the address below and find out more!

And if you are a gardener you interested in growing and exchanging heirloom beans, visit the Yorkton Horticultural Society website at www.yorktonhort.ca and please leave your name and number if you would like to find out more about either of these items.

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At this time of year, I always think about the wonderful baking that Sweet Pea used to do in preparation for Christmas. The freezer was full of all our favorites, like her melt-in-your-mouth butter tarts, almond slice cookies, gingersnaps, thumbprint cookies, and springerle cookies.

Springerle cookies are known for their unique anise flavor. When you read a recipe do you ever wonder what the story is behind certain spices? I wanted to know more about anise, so I did some homework and this is what I learned.

Anise hails from the Mediterranean, and the name itself comes from the Latin word “anisum”, dill. And indeed, if we came upon this plant, we would think that it is a large clump of dill, complete with the delicate leaves and seed heads. While gardeners in Egypt and the Middle East first grew anise thousands of years ago, it travelled eventually to Europe and now there are cuisines all around the world that use this licorice-like flavoring.

The seeds are ground up, and used in various taste treats that include baking, candies and liquors. Here’s an interesting factoid: because the licorice flavor is known for calming an upset or overworked tummy, ancient Romans used to serve cakes with the flavoring at the end of a special meal, just to be sure every tummy present was soothed. This is where the tradition of serving cake (whether with licorice flavoring or not) at the end of the wedding meal came from! So now we know!

If we wanted to attempt to grow anise, it likes light soil, good drainage, and full sun. Plant the seeds 1/4 inch deep in rows two feet apart. Once they are up, we’d have to water the plants regularly until they are well established. They don’t like to be transplanted: we should plant them where we want them. When it is time to harvest the seeds, we would cut the seed heads and let them finish drying in a paper bag, so the seeds are contained when they dry and fall. After this, we can save some for planting next year, and use the rest in cooking.

There is a plant called anise hyssop, named herb of the year for 2019, and it is hardy for zone 3. This gives us a similar flavor experience to anise, and might be a more practical choice for us in terms of finding seeds to plant. But whichever one we choose, it would be a very interesting gardening experiment for next year!

The Yorkton and District Horticultural Society will not be holding their regular meetings until the new year, so visit us at www.yorktonhort.ca to see what’s coming up!

Have a great week!

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