Botanical Name: Schinus terebinthifolia
Species: S. terebinthifolia
Common Names: Brazilian peppertree, Aroeira, Rose pepper, Broadleaved pepper tree, Wilelaiki (or wililaiki), Christmasberry tree and Florida holly
Habitat: Schinus terebinthifolia is native to subtropical and tropical South America (southeastern Brazil, northern Argentina, and Paraguay). It is found in these states of Brazil: Alagoas, Bahia, Espírito Santo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Paraná, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, São Paulo, and Sergipe.
Brazilian peppertree is a sprawling shrub or small tree, with a shallow root system, reaching a height of 7–10 m. The branches can be upright, reclining, or nearly vine-like, all on the same plant. Its plastic morphology allows it to thrive in all kinds of ecosystems: from dunes to swamps, where it grows as a semi-aquatic plant. The leaves are alternate, 10–22 cm long, pinnately compound with (3–) 5–15 leaflets; the leaflets are roughly oval (lanceolate to elliptical), 3–6 cm long and 2–3.5 cm broad, and have finely toothed margins, an acute to rounded apex and yellowish veins. The leaf rachis between the leaflets is usually (but not invariably) slightly winged. The plant is dioecious, with small white flowers borne profusely in axillary clusters. The fruit is a drupe 4–5 mm diameter, carried in dense clusters of hundreds.
The two varieties are:
- S. terebinthifolia var. acutifolia, leaves to 22 cm, with 7–15 leaflets, fruit pink
- S. terebinthifolia var. terebinthifolia, leaves to 17 cm, with 5–13 leaflets, fruit red
Brazilian pepper is widely grown as an ornamental plant in frost-free regions of South America for its foliage and fruit. It is considered as a melliferous flower and is the main source of food for the bee Tetragonisca angustula, which is an important honey producer.
Although it is not a true pepper (Piper), its dried drupes are often sold as pink peppercorns, as are the fruits from the related species Schinus molle (Peruvian peppertree). The seeds can be used as a spice, adding a pepper-like taste to food. They are usually sold in a dry state and have a bright pink color. They are less often sold pickled in brine, where they have a dull, almost green hue.
In the United States, it has been introduced to California, Texas, Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, Louisiana and Florida. Planted originally as an ornamental outside of its native range, Brazilian pepper has become widespread and is considered an invasive species in many subtropical regions with moderate to high rainfall, including parts or all of Australia, the Bahamas, Bermuda, southern China, Cuba, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hawaii, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Norfolk Island, Puerto Rico, Réunion, South Africa and the United States. In drier areas, such as Israel and southern California, it is also grown, but has not generally proved invasive. In California, it is considered invasive in coastal regions by the California Invasive Plant Council.
Brazilian pepper is hard to control because it produces basal shoots if the trunk is cut. Trees also produce abundant seeds that are dispersed by birds and ants. This same hardiness makes the tree highly useful for reforestation in its native environment, but enables it to become invasive outside of its natural range.
Propagation: Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a sunny position in a nursery seedbed. A germination rate of above 50% can be expected, with the seed sprouting within 10 – 15 days
Seed – a peppery flavour. A popular alternative spice, it is used to flavour Cajun and Nouvelle cuisines. Some caution is advised – see notes below on toxicity.
Peppertree is the subject of extensive folk medicinal lore where it is indigenous. Virtually all parts of this tropical tree, including its leaves, bark, fruit, seeds, resin and oleoresin (or balsam) have been used medicinally by indigenous peoples throughout the tropics. The plant has a very long history of use and appears in ancient religious artifacts and on idols among some of the ancient Chilean Amerindians.
Throughout South and Central America, Brazilian peppertree is reported to be an astringent, antibacterial, diuretic, digestive stimulant, tonic, antiviral and wound healer. In Peru, the sap is used as a mild laxative and a diuretic and the entire plant is used externally for fractures and as a topical antiseptic. The oleoresin is used externally as a wound healer, to stop bleeding and for toothaches and it is taken internally for rheumatism and as a purgative. In South Africa, a leaf tea is used to treat colds and a leaf decoction is inhaled for colds, hypertension, depression and irregular heartbeat. In the Brazilian Amazon, a bark tea is used as a laxative and a bark-and-leaf tea is used as a stimulant and antidepressant. In Argentina, a decoction is made with the dried leaves and is taken for menstrual disorders and is also used for respiratory and urinary tract infections and disorders.
Brazilian peppertree is still employed in herbal medicine today in many countries. It is used for many conditions in the tropics, including menstrual disorders, bronchitis, gingivitis, gonorrhea, gout, eye infections, rheumatism, sores, swellings, tuberculosis, ulcers, urethritis, urogenital disorders, venereal diseases, warts and wounds. In Brazilian herbal medicine today, the dried bark and/or leaves are employed for heart problems (hypertension and irregular heart beat), infections of all sorts, menstrual disorders with excessive bleeding, tumors and general inflammation. A liquid extract or tincture prepared with the bark is used internally as a stimulant, tonic and astringent and externally for rheumatism, gout and syphilis.
Recently, the fruit of the plant has been studied and shows promise as a treatment for MRSA. A chemical in the berry appears to stop bacteria from producing a toxin which breaks down tissue. It also appears to suppress the way the bacteria communicate.
The tree has been used to stabilize sand dunes on the Brazilian Atlantic coast, and is also sometimes grown as a hedge.
The tree has a high ecological plasticity, a short life cycle and very rapid growth; it is therefore recommended for the restoration of degraded areas and especially gallery forests.
A resin called ‘Balsamo de misiones’ is obtained from the trunk.
The tree (bark) is a source of tannins.
Essential oils extracted from the seeds have pesticidal activity against the housefly (Musca domestica).
The wood is a dark yellow, turning red on exposure. It is moderately heavy, very dense, hard, soft to work with, with excellent mechanical properties and of high natural durability. It is ideal for making fine furniture, for which it is highly valued in Brazil.
The wood is used for fuel and to make charcoal.
he seeds are known to cause rashes, vomiting and diarrhoea in some sensitive individuals.
The plant is notorious for causing respiratory problems and dermatitis in people who are allergic to it. This is mainly caused by the copious pollen produced by male plants which produces a gaseous material.
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.