Star anise comes from an evergreen tree that is native to northeast Vietnam and southwest China. Star anise resembles anise in flavor and is obtained from the star-shaped fruit of the tree. It is widely used in Chinese cuisine, and in Malay and Indonesian cuisines. It is widely grown for commercial use in China, India, and most other countries in Asia. Star anise is an ingredient of the traditional five-spice powder of Chinese cooking.
While Chinese star anise is typically safe, the Japanese star anise is highly toxic, containing potent neurotoxins that can lead to seizures, hallucinations, nausea. Chinese star anise can sometimes be mixed with Japanese star anise in commercial products. Japanese and Chinese star anise are identical in appearance, but Japanese variety has a milder fragrance—it is thought to smell more like cardamom seeds than aniseed. Research shows fatal reaction to start anise in infants (see PubMed article).