Herbal Tea Toxic Alert

Sept 11 -- The FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration) yesterday issued an advisory warning against the drinking of teas brewed from star anise. Some people believe that these teas are beneficial and may help prevent colic in infants. In fact, medical conditions associated with star anise teas include seizures, vomiting, jitteriness and rapid eye movement.

The FDA has issued this advisory as an interim measure. One problem is that there is more than one type of star anise. The Chinese star anise is considered safe. A closely related species, the Japanese star anise, contains sikimitoxin and is toxic. Once star anise has been dried and processed, it is not possible to visually distinguish between the Chinese and Japanese forms. Some teas may actually be Japanese or a mixture of the two types. Until the FDA has "analyzed" the situation, it recommends that the consumer avoid all teas containing star anise.

Our Comment: Our copy of the Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism states that star anise is "Chiefly employed as an aniseed flavoring agent and as a carminative for digestive disorders." (A carminative is an agent that relieves flatulence, gas in the intestine.) Star anise is also used as a spice, particularly with duck and pork, and is added to tea and coffee in China.

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