star anise a spice consisting of the small, star-shaped, dried fruits of Illicium verum, a slender evergreen tree of the family Illicaceae related to Magnoliacea. This is not known in the wild state, but is assumed to be indigenous to China. It is not a relation of anise, but shares with it the same essential oil, anethole, which is used for flavouring some drinks and confectionery; star anise is the principal commercial source of anethole.
The appearance of the fruit is remarkable. Eight (rarely, 9 or 10) carpels attached to a central column produce the starlike shape. These carpels, which can be over 15 mm (0.25") long and are often irregularly developed, are dark reddish-brown in colour; each normally contains one hard light brown seed.