Star anise are the red dried berries of a plant which by itself is hot and aromatic and sometimes also called as chinese pepper for their hotness.
Star anise which is similar to Ani seeds or fennel seeds, is a star shaped fruits of the small native plants in the south-west parts of China. The Botanical name for this is Illicium verum.
It is called ' Thakkolam ' in Tamil and Malayalam. It is extensively used in the south Indian Cooking as also in the Chinese. The well known Five spice powder of the Chinese cooking has this as an ingredient.
Star Anise has some medicinal properties also. It is chewed after food to help out in digestion and also used to sweeten the bad breath problem. This spice is also said to cure Rheumatism but nothing has been scientifically proved as such.
In South India this spice is used in the Pulaos, biriyani, non vegetarian curries and masala etc. This gives a nice aromatic smell while the cooking goes on in the kitchen.