Whole Star Anise is a dark brown pod that contains a seed in each of it's eight segments. Native to China, it comes from a small evergreen tree of the magnolia family (Illicium verum). Star Anise is used in the East the same way that Aniseed is used in the West. Both contain anethol, which is what provides the distinctive flavour, but Star Anise is slightly more bitter.
Star Anise is a key ingredient in Chinese Five Spice Powder. Whole stars can be added directly to cooking but are usually removed before serving (Otherwise it looks like some big spider has died in the stew!) Or grind them, remembering to use less than if you use them whole. Star Anise complements duck and chicken dishes.