An herbaceous plant of Asian origin, green anise gets its name from the Greek anisos, meaning “not equal,” in reference to the feared hemlock, a similar plant but different in color and size. The anise plant does not grow higher than 50 centimeters and is characterized by small white umbrella-shaped flowers that appear at the end of June.
Anise has been cultivated in Europe, mostly around the Mediterranean basin, for millennia, and its beneficial qualities have been lauded in texts and treatises since antiquity.
Thanks to the seeds’ known therapeutic properties (used for treating stomach pain, jaundice, respiratory diseases, sleep disorders, indigestion, etc.) and their use as a flavoring for foods, wines and other beverages, anise was widely grown and had an important economic value in the past. During the rule of Charlemagne, the plant was so greatly appreciated that not only was it imported but also sown in large areas of the gardens in Aachen, the emperor’s favorite residence.
In 1687 the Venetians conquered Mistrà, not far from ancient Sparta, and discovered ouzo, the traditional Greek anise liqueur. They renamed it after the city and imported it back to their homeland. Initially a typical product of the Venetian Republic, mistrà later spread to the Marche, becoming the region’s most symbolic liqueur.
Anise was already being consumed and sold in the Marche in the 18th century, and its cultivation is widespread particularly around Ascoli Piceno. Here, particularly in the clayey, well-drained soil of the ravines around Castignano and Offida, the sunny exposure and fresh breezes have led over the decades to the selection of a particular ecotype of green anise, very fragrant and sweet thanks to an extraordinary concentration of anethole (the aromatic compound found in anise, fennel and licorice), equal to 94%.
In 1870 in Castignano, Silvio Meletti took the local tradition of distilling anise (common among local families) and perfected it, creating the recipe for Meletti anisette. Its production was the main use for Castignano’s green anise until 1948, when the company’s vicissitudes and a gradual replacement with another anise variety led to declining cultivation in Castignano.
In addition to liqueur, aniseed is also traditionally used to make sugar-coated confetti and to flavor ring-shaped pastries called ciambelline, made with flour, sugar, oil and white wine. Classically used in herbal teas and decoctions, it can also be used to make anise milk, by crushing the seeds and leaving them to infuse in boiling milk for 5 minutes.
The seeds are harvested and dried in August
Castignano municipality, Ascoli Piceno province
Associazione Produttori Anice Verde di Castignano
Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, 5
tel. 348 9827964