In the culinary arts, anise (pronounced "ANN-iss") refers usually to the seeds of a plant with aromatic leaves and stems that taste like liquorice, fennel or tarragon.
While the leaves of the anise plant can be used as an herb, it's mainly the seeds that are used in cooking. Sometimes called aniseed, the seeds are used as a spice, either ground or whole.
Aniseed is used in a various baked goods and desserts, for example Italian biscotti, which is made with anise ewtract (see below).
Anise seeds are also frequently used in sausage making (i.e. charcuterie).
Anise seeds are also the basis for a number of alcoholic beverages, including anisette, ouzo, sambuca, and absinthe. You may have noticed that these beverages all share a reputation for being rather, well, let's say potent. I'll leave it to you to decide what this says about anise, but clearly something is going on.
Despite its similar name, anise is not related to star anise, which is another spice from a different family of plants.
Nor is it the same thing as fennel, although the two do have a similar flavor, and the plants are somewhat similar looking. They're from the same family of plants (along with caraway, parsley, cilantro and others), but they're not the same species.
In general, fennel is served as a vegetable, while anise is used as a spice (i.e. in seed form, either whole or ground).
And in case you were wondering, a spice is any part of a plant, other than the leaves, which, when dried, is used as a flavoring ingredient in cooking.
That means seeds (of which anise is one example, along with cumin, coriander, mustard and many others), and also bark (such as cinnamon), fruit (peppercorns, vanilla), roots (horseradish) or flower buds (cloves).
Herbs, whether dried or fresh, are the leafy part of a plant.
Homemade Anise Extract
If you have a some anise seeds and some spare vodka, you can make your own homemade anise extract, which is what you'de use for making your own biscotti.
If you fancy a shot of espresso, a dash of anise extract will give it some extra gusto.
You'll need to sterilze a 4-oz jar. Add one teaspoon of anise seeds to the jar, then half a cup of vodka. Seal tightly and store it someplace cool and dark for 2–3 months. Then strain out the seeds by pouring through cheesecloth into another bottle or jar.