Warning about ingesting teas and health products containing Star Anise, Health Canada

As a precautionary measure, Health Canada is advising Canadian consumers not to ingest herbal teas or health products containing the herb “star anise” unless they are confident that it is Chinese star anise (Illicium verum Hook. f).

Consumers should verify that their product contains Chinese star anise. Otherwise, consumers should avoid using the following products:

  • blended herbal teas containing the herb “star anise”
  • bulk star anise for the purpose of brewing teas
  • therapeutic and natural health products (such as medicinal herbal teas or homeopathic medicines) containing star anise

There have been reports in the U.S. and Europe of adverse reactions associated with consumption of blended teas containing “star anise” and with the consumption of teas brewed solely from “star anise.” In some of the cases, herbal tea was being used as a treatment for infant colic. Adverse reactions ranged from mild nausea to convulsions and seizures, and in all cases, symptoms were temporary. To date, there have been no reports of adverse reactions in Canada associated with products containing star anise, nor evidence that any foods or health products sold in Canada, contain toxic varieties of star anise.

Consumers who ingest one of the potentially toxic varieties of star anise may suffer an adverse reaction and should consult a physician if this occurs.

There is more than one type of star anise. Chinese star anise does not represent a health and safety concern and has a long history of safe use in foods. The dried seed pods of Chinese star anise can be found in certain spice mixtures and cooking pastes used in foods, in some herbal tea blends, and in certain therapeutic and natural health products. Other species of star anise, such as Japanese star anise, are used for decorative and aromatic purposes but are not considered safe for human consumption and can be toxic if enough is ingested.

It is important to note that this advisory does not apply to an unrelated herb commonly known as “anise” (Pimpinella anisum). Anise does not represent a health and safety concern in foods and has a long history of safe use.

With respect to health products containing star anise, Health Canada is requesting evidence from the manufacturers of these products to show that the star anise ingredient is the correct variety (Chinese star anise) and that it does not pose a risk to health. Health Canada will keep Canadians informed of any developments related to this issue.

For natural health products, consumers and health care professionals may report any adverse reactions by contacting Health Canada toll-free by telephone (866) 234-2345 or fax (866) 678-6789.

For foods, any adverse reactions suspected as being associated with star anise may be reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Food Safety Concern Line. Call the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s general toll-free number 1-800-442-2342 to obtain the Concern Line number for your province.

Consumers who identify that they have the toxic species of star anise should return the product to the point of purchase. Retailers should contact the Health Products and Food Branch Inspectorate at 1-800-267-9675 if they have any questions about disposal of the product.

(By Health Canada, June 2004)
Article URL: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/english/protection/warnings/2004/2004_37.html