Bon Appetit Wednesday! Almond Brittle with the Ancient Anise

Koehler1887-PimpinellaAnisumA small and unassuming looking herb, anise (also called aniseed) has been treasured by many different civilizations since antiquity. While it is related to several other well-known herbs such as cumin, fennel and dill, anise has made a special place for itself. Today we’re bringing you a recipe for Anise Almond Brittle, a perfect treat to start the fall season. First, let’s find out why this little spice has been popular for millennia!

Native to Egypt, Greece, Crete and Asia Minor, anise has been a mainstay in many ancient societies. It is a delicate, white flowering annual that can grow to over 3 feet tall and shares flavor similarities with other spices such as star anise, fennel and licorice.


The Egyptians used anise for many different purposes, including cooking, medicine, mummification and even in practices of magic.[1] It was first mentioned in the Ebers Papyrus, a compilation of Egyptian medical texts from around 1550 CE. [2] It was used as a diuretic, to treat digestive ailments and to help with the pain of toothaches.[3]


The ancient Greeks used anise medicinally to a great extent. The Greek physician Dioscorides (born 50 CE) described the many uses for the herb in his treatise De material medica. He liked to use it for digestive issues, headaches, insomnia and even as an aphrodisiac.[4] Hippocrates recommended it be taken for cases of respiratory distress such as excessive sneezing and coughing because it would clear the mucus from the passages.[5]

Anise was also used in cooking both sweet and savory dishes. It was the main ingredient in a medicinal wine called annesaton, which was a precursor to the famous Greek ouzo.[6] Ouzo is an aperitif flavored with anise and said to possess medicinal properties. It has been an integral part of Greek cuisine for centuries.


Rome, of course, borrowed many of Greece’s ideas about medicine and continued on in the tradition of using anise for its curative properties. Pliny the Elder, a contemporary of Dioscorides, also wrote extensively about the uses of anise. He repeated many of Dioscorides’ indications including using it as an expectorant and as a cure for gas and bloating in the intestines.[7] He added that Pythagoras particularly appreciated anise and used it both raw and cooked.[8]

The Romans frequently used anise as a spice for their food. Specifically, they used it in a cake called a mustacae, which was a cake spiced with anise, cumin and other aromatics and served at the end of a meal to prevent indigestion.[9]


The Roman military carried anise throughout the empire. It became popular all over the world, eventually making its way to the Americas and beyond. Today it is used in a plethora of dishes all over the globe. It spices meats and soups, adds its unique flavor to sweets and desserts and contributes its inimitable medicinal properties to aperitifs and liqueurs. An even more popular use is in cough medicines and lozenges. While its benefits as an expectorant have been proven, its flavor is even more cherished in these medicines.

Enjoy this delicious and original recipe for Anise Almond Brittle, but don’t let this be the end of your exploration of anise. There are so many interesting ways to celebrate this ancient little herb. Click here to find a multitude of recipes to try.

Anise Almond Brittle

Anise Almond Brittle (1)*Recipe courtesy of MotherEarthLiving and Sarah Goldschmidt.


  • 1/2 cup of sliced almonds
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/3 cup of water
  • Pinch cream of tartar
  • 2 tablespoons of anise seeds


  1. In a 250-degree oven, toast almonds on an unlined baking sheet until golden and fragrant. Set aside.
  2. In a medium pot, combine sugar, water and cream of tartar. Stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Cover the pot and let boil approximately 5 minutes undisturbed. Remove lid and examine color of the molten sugar. When the mixture turns amber, quickly add almonds and aniseseeds, gently stirring to incorporate.
  3. Pour the brittle onto a Silpat or buttered cookie sheet. Spread candy thin with a buttered spatula to achieve glass-like texture.

[1] Gaifyllia, N. (n.d.). Anise. Retrieved September 15, 2014.

[2] The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. (n.d.). Ebers papyrus (Egyptian texts). Retrieved September 15, 2014.

[3] Bryan, C. (n.d.). Ebers papyrus (Egyptian texts). Retrieved September 15, 2014, from

[4] Jodral, M. (2004). Illicium, pimpinella, and foeniculum. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

[5] Kowalchik, C., & Hylton, W. (1987). Rodale’s illustrated encyclopedia of herbs. Emmaus, Pa.: Rodale Press.

[6] Dalby, A. (2003). Food in the ancient world, from A to Z. London: Routledge.

[7] Jodral, M.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Grieve, M. (n.d.). Anise. Retrieved September 15, 2014.

National Anthems: Ancient Elements, Modern Resoundings

The_Star-Spangled_BannerLast Sunday, September 14th, was the 200th anniversary of the writing of the United States’ national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner.  Inspired by the raising of the American flag at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, which signified a major victory by the Americans over the British during the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key penned a homage to the “broad stripes and bright stars” he saw that night. This year, people celebrated across the land with concerts dedicated to the music of the United States.

While 200 years may seem like a very long time to many, most national anthems around the world are much older. Some anthems have ancient roots and many include ancient references. In fact, there is actually a disagreement over which musical piece can claim the title of the world’s oldest anthem. So let’s uncover the history behind the two top contenders for the title as well as ancient elements in a few of the world’s other modern anthems. And we will explore why singing a national anthem is more than a harmonious exercise. The evidence points to an unassailable fact—learning your own national anthem is good for you and yours.

Our first title hopeful is the Japanese national anthem. Kimigayo officially has the oldest lyrics of any national anthem. The words are taken from a poem written in the Heian era (794-1185 CE). The poem is included in a 10th century anthology called Kokin-wakashu (author unknown).[1] Though the words are ancient, the melody is a bit more modern. Written in 1880 by Hiromori Hayashi, the melody was later given a harmony by the German bandmaster Franz Eckert.[2] Due to the age of the lyrics, many claim that Kimigayo is the oldest national anthem even though it only officially became the national anthem of Japan in 1888. However, it does hold the title for shortest anthem. With only 11 musical phrases and 32 characters, it is repeated twice when performed in public.[3]

The next potential title holder in the contest of world’s oldest national anthem is the Dutch national anthem Het Wilhelmus. Interestingly, though its roots can be traced back to the 16th century, it only became the national anthem of the Netherlands in 1932.[4] The melody is based on a French soldiers’ song that was sung by the Huguenots during the siege of Chartres in 1568, but was further arranged by Dutch composer Adriaen Valerius in 1626 and by Walther Boer in 1932, the latter giving the Dutch the modern rendition. The text tells of William of Nassau, the Prince of Orange, who is referred to as the “Dutch Founding Father.”[5] Though the evidence is unclear it is believed that the text was written by Flemish and Dutch writer Marnix van St. Aldegonde between 1568 and 1572.[6] Perhaps the most intriguing fact about Het Wilhemus is that it is an acrostic, a type of puzzle. If you take the first letter of each of the 15 stanzas and combine them, it spells out “Willem Van Nazzov,” Dutch for William of Nassau.[7] Interestingly, if you translate the lyrics into English, the acrostic holds up and spells out “William of Nassau.”[8]

Although most national anthems are relatively modern, many of them reflect ancient themes or refer to the ancient glories of a nation. For example,

  • The Israeli national anthem Hatkivah- The title translates as “The Hope” and the words describe the wish of the Jewish people to return to independence in their ancient homeland.[9] Its theme arises from the Roman Emperor Vespasian’s conquest of Jerusalem in 70 CE, exiling and scattering the Jews for centuries.
  • The Swedish national anthem Du Gamla, Du Fria- The title of the anthem translates directly to “Thou ancient, thou free.”[10] The melody is taken from a very old, possibly medieval, folk song from the region called Västmanland.[11]
  • The Italian national anthem Inno di Mameli- The second line of the song translates to “Scipio’s helmet is binding her head,” referring to Italy preparing for victory.[12] Scipio was a great Roman general, best known for defeating Hannibal during the Second Punic War around 202 BCE.
  • A secondary Romanian national anthem The Hora of Unity- The official anthem of Romania is Deșteaptă-te, române! but The Hora of Unity is considered a second unofficial anthem.[13] A hora is an ancient round dance that symbolizes unity and equality.
Ghana National Football team as their national anthem plays at the World Cup.. Image credit: Benjamin Mussler.

Ghana National Football team as their national anthem plays at the World Cup.. Image credit: Benjamin Mussler.

These patriotic hymns often seem dusty, stiff and out of time and place when we hear them performed in public, often at sporting events. We had the chance to hear a multitude of anthems at the World Cup a few months ago. Many of them make reference to the glory days of a nation, harkening back to times of peace, power and prosperity and declaring these times will return or that they will carry on into eternity. Perhaps it isn’t surprising to note that many athletes and fans don’t sing along to the anthem and several who try, don’t seem to know the words. Are national anthems just a perfunctory nostalgic tradition? Does it matter if we sing along? To some countries and even governments, it absolutely matters. At the last World Cup, the British team was strongly encouraged by their manager to sing God Save the Queen or face the infamously snarky wrath of the British tabloids.[14] In Kazakhstan, a law was recently passed that requires all athletes to learn the national anthem.[15] In 2012, Conservative parties in Germany attempted to make singing the national anthem mandatory for their footballers, hoping that this would spur them on to more wins.[16] And it isn’t just athletes that feel the pressure. This past May, French Justice Minister Christiane Taubira was slammed with calls for her resignation after she was caught on camera at a public event staying silent while La Marseillaise was played.[17]

Should people be required to sing the anthem of the nation they are representing? This question is becoming increasingly difficult as the globe becomes more and more connected and lines of nationality are crossed. For example, Taubira, while serving as a French minister, was actually born in Guiana and many athletes who participate in global games such as the World Cup or the Olympics are not even originally from the nation they are representing. It can certainly be difficult to learn the words to an anthem whose language you barely speak, if at all, let alone to sing it with conviction and pride. On the other hand, shouldn’t a person residing in a country at least in some way adapt and accommodate the traditions of his or her adopted country? It is a conundrum of lyrics and melodies that to some can be a combustible topic.

Image courtesy of Wired Magazine, "The Neuroscience of Music".

Image courtesy of Wired Magazine, “The Neuroscience of Music”.

We certainly can’t answer the question of whether or not a person should be made to sing, but we can say, which is perhaps more important, that it is beneficial for a person to sing if he or she is so inclined. Music is an emotional and psychological trigger. We discussed this in our blog, Music Origins: Mesopotamia, American Gospel and the Neurology of Faith, Part II, when we discovered that as a piece of music, or anthem in this case, reaches its climax, our brains receive a surge of dopamine activity where the reward center is located. Basically, as we sing along to our national anthem and the music rises toward its stirring conclusion, we feel good, elated even. We are joining together with those around us who are feeling that same surge of joy, all of us united in our pride and encouraged by an atmosphere of community. Music, in fact, has been shown to have remarkable powers to galvanize, to heal, to soothe…and the list goes on.  Maybe it can even give an athlete that winning edge in surging hormones and neurotransmitters- a natural performance enhancer, so to speak.

So if you do feel a closeness to the nation you are representing or the nation you support, be it your birthplace or adopted homeland, take the time to learn the words and melody of the national anthem. Sing along loudly and proudly at public events and know that you are participating in a historical tradition and celebrating ancient roots.

[1] Japanese National Anthem – Kimigayo. (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Japan National Anthem. (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2014, from

[4] Dutch national anthem. (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2014.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Biografieën- Philip of Marnix van Sint Aldegonde. (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2014.9

[7] Conradt, S. (n.d.). 6 Acrostics You May Not Have Noticed. Retrieved September 15, 2014.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Israel National Symbols: National Anthem (HaTikvah). (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2014.

[10] Du gamla, Du fria (Sveriges nationalsång). (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2014.

[11] Ibid.

[12] The Italian national anthem : Italian culture and traditions in words and music. (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2014.

[13] “Hai să dăm mână cu mână, cei cu inima română”. Alexandru Flechtenmacher, compozitorul care a scris istoria ţării noastre. (n.d.). Retrieved September 15, 2014.

[14] Tharoor, I. (2014, June 26). Does it matter if you sing your national anthem? Retrieved September 15, 2014.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Footballers ‘should be forced to sing anthem’ (2012, July 2). Retrieved September 15, 2014.

[17] Shamsie, K. (2014, May 14). Don’t sing the national anthem if you don’t want to. Retrieved September 15, 2014.

Looking for Natural Skin Care Tips? Ancient Chinese Empresses and Concubines Share Their Recipes

1862 advertisement for Laird’s Bloom of Youth, claiming to preserve and beautify the complexion and skin. Source: Cosmetics and Skin.

1862 advertisement for Laird’s Bloom of Youth, claiming to preserve and beautify the complexion and skin. Source: Cosmetics and Skin.

UPDATE! This post was originally published on January 17, 2013. Skin care and that eternal search for youth are back in the news this month with a remedy that is both scandalous and ancient: blood. A new study has found that young blood does have powers of rejuvenation. The blood plasma from young mice was injected into old mice who then experienced improved learning and memory.[1] It isn’t a far leap to imagine applying this research to skin care and the possibility that blood may impart youth to the physical appearance as well. This is certainly not a new thought. History has several examples of people who believed blood was perhaps a fountain of youth. Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday: The Ancient Noodle

noodles 2Covered in creamy sauce, swimming in fragrant broth or simply sharing a bowl with some butter, noodles are the quintessential comfort food. Not surprisingly, many want to claim the noodle as their own. So many nations jockeying for position, longing to be the originators of pasta perfection. The noodle has a pretty mysterious past, but we are going to attempt to illuminate the highlights for you, along with sharing a quick and easy homemade noodle recipe. And don’t forget the sauce! Click here for a collection of sauce recipes to suit every palate. Continue reading

Nature, Ecotherapy and a Peak into the Past Through National Parks

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon.

When you first enter Crater Lake National Park, it’s easy to imagine you’ve stepped thousands of years into the past. Crater Lake in Oregon was created when Mount Mazama erupted close to 8,000 years ago, and ignoring the RVs visiting the park today, it’s easy to imagine it has not changed much from what it must have looked like after the ash settled. Continue reading

Ancient Dentistry Part 2: A Mummy, A Mystery and Queen Hatshepsut’s Molar

Ancient Egyptian dentistry.

An example of ancient Egyptian dentistry.

In Ancient Dentistry Part 1: Drills, Gemstones and Toothpaste!, we looked at how dentistry was practiced millennia ago in Pakistan, Slovenia, Algeria, France, North America and Egypt. Drilling, implants and tooth bling were some long ago procedures with fascinating modern day correlations.  Ironically, despite having toothpaste and dental procedures, it seemed that the Egyptians suffered a great deal of tooth discomfort, which was apparent from the formulas for pain potions found recorded on papyrus and in the condition of the teeth of many mummies. Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Celebrate National Honey Month with Honey and Vinegar Candy

honey-bee-354993_640September is National Honey Month and we are celebrating this ancient super food this week with a recipe for Honey and Vinegar Candy! It’s a healthy and simple, bite-sized candy packed with all of the nutrients that come from the sweet, gooey goodness of honey. Continue reading

KIDS’ BLOG! Chinese Kites Soar Throughout History

Chinese Bird KiteDid you know that kites were invented 2,300 years ago?  A Chinese philosopher, Mo Di, who lived from 468-376 BCE, designed the very first kite in the shape of an eagle.[1]  It was not made out of paper, because paper had not been invented yet.  Instead, he used wood.  Imagine how hard it must have been to fly a wooden kite!  Amazingly, he did manage to keep it in the air for a whole day.  His student, Gongshu Ban, later nicknamed Lu Ban, learned how to build kites from Mo Di.  He even improved upon his mentor’s design, making a bamboo kite in the shape of a magpie, which is a bird common on the Eurasia continent.  Lu Ban was able to keep his kite in the air for up to three days.[2] Continue reading

Ancient Dentistry Part 1: Drills, Gemstones and Toothpaste!

dentistry-316945_640 (1)We all cringe at the thought of going to the dentist — and that’s with the comfortable recliners, the soothing music, the anesthetics and analgesics. Imagine what a visit to the dentist must have been like thousands of years ago.

In modern-day Pakistan, where the earliest evidence of dentistry has been found, Stone Age dentists were wielding drills made of flint. Nine-thousand-year-old teeth found at a Neolithic graveyard showed clear signs of drilling, but also signs that rotting gum tissue had been removed, leading researchers to consider the crude drills “surprisingly effective.”[1]

In fact, in a 2006 article for the journal Nature, researchers wrote about the “perfect,” “amazing” holes those flint drills had made.[2] The holes were about one-seventh of an inch deep, except in one case where the dentist had managed to drill a hole in the inside back end of a tooth, boring out toward the front of the mouth.[3] There is no evidence of dental fillings; however, at least one researcher believes some sort of “tarlike material or soft vegetable matter” may have been placed inside the holes.[4] Unfortunately for those early patients, it’s unlikely that the dentists used any kind of anesthetic. Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Watermelon and Feta Salad: Celebrate an Ancient Summer Fruit

Image credit: Lorianne DiSabato on Flickr.

Image credit: Lorianne DiSabato on Flickr.

As summer in the northern hemisphere takes its final breaths, we’re all trying to cling to those sun-kissed moments and never-ending days that are filled with family, food and fun. AntiquityNOW wants to help you hold on a bit longer to these waning days so this week we’re bringing you a refreshing watermelon and feta salad recipe. Perfect for barbecues, pool parties or lazy days at home, watermelon is truly the taste of summer and feta is the perfect companion to the sweet, ruby red fruit. And while you’re enjoying the unexpectedly delicious pairing, you can learn about the ancient history behind this quintessential summertime melon. Continue reading