Botanical Name: Lindera benzoin
Species: L. benzoin
Common Names: Spicebush, Common spicebush, Northern spicebush, Wild allspice, or Benjamin bush
Habitat: Lindera benzoin is native to Eastern N. America – Maine and Ontario to Kentucky, Missouri and Kansas. It grows in wet woods and by streams on sandy or peaty soils. Stream banks, low woods, margins of wetlands; uplands, especially with exposed limestone, from sea level to 1200 metres.
Lindera benzoin is a deciduous shrub growing to 6–12 feet (1.8–3.7 m) tall. It has a colonial nature and often reproduces by root sprouting, forming clumps or thickets. The leaves are alternately arranged on the stem, simple, 6–15 cm (2–6 in) long and 2–6 cm (1–2 in) broad, oval or broadest beyond the middle of the leaf. They have a smooth edge with no teeth and are dark green above and paler below. The leaves, along with the stems are very aromatic when crushed with a spicy, citrusy smell, hence the common names and the specific epithet benzoin. In the fall the leaves turn a very bright and showy yellow color.
The yellow flowers grow in showy clusters which appear in early spring, before the leaves begin to grow. The flowers have 6 sepals and a very sweet odor. The ripe fruit is a red, elipsoidal, berrylike drupe, rich in lipids, about 1 cm (1?2 in) long and is eaten by several bird species. It has a “turpentine-like” taste and aromatic scent, and contains a large seed. Spicebush is dioecious (plants are either male or female), so that both sexes are needed in a garden if one wants drupes with viable seeds.
Like other dioecious plants, the female plants have a greater cost of reproduction compared to the male plants. In the wild, the population tends to have more males than females possibly due to the heavier reproductive costs on females.
Lindera benzoin is often cultivated in gardens or edges of gardens. The brightly colored fruits and early flowers along with the spherical growth form make the plant desirable in gardens. It is hardy in USDA zones 4-9 and tolerates shade excellently but will also grow in full sun. When grown in sun the plant tends to grow denser and have more berries and flowers compared to growing in shade or partial shade. It is best to grow the plant from seed as its extensive rootsystem does not handle transplanting well. At least three cultivars have been developed although they are rarely available:
*Rubra’ has brick red male flowers, the winter buds are also a darker red brown color. Since it is male it produces no fruit.
*Xanthocarpa,’ which has yellow-orange fruits, was discovered in Arnold Arboretum in 1967 by Alfred Fordham.
*Green gold’ a male, non-fruiting cultivar with larger ornamental flowers.
Although several butterflies and moths used spicebush as a host, they are not considered a serious pest.
The young leaves, twigs and fruit contain an aromatic essential oil and make a very fragrant tea. The twigs are best gathered when in flower as the nectar adds considerably to the flavour. The dried and powdered fruit is used as a substitute for the spice ‘allspice. The fruit is about the size of an olive. The leaves can also be used as a spice substitute. The new bark is pleasant to chew.
Spice bush has a wide range of uses as a household remedy, especially in the treatment of colds, dysentery and intestinal parasites. It warrants scientific investigation. The bark is aromatic, astringent, diaphoretic, febrifuge, stimulant and tonic. It is pleasant to chew. It is used in the treatment of coughs and colds. The bark can be harvested at any time of the year and is used fresh or dried. The fruits are carminative. The oil from the fruits has been used in the treatment of bruises and rheumatism. A tea made from the twigs was a household remedy for colds, fevers, worms and colic. A steam bath of the twigs is used to cause perspiration in order to ease aches and pains in the body. The young shoots are harvested during the spring and can be used fresh or dried. The bark is diaphoretic and vermifuge. It was once widely used as a treatment for typhoid fevers and other forms of fevers.
The leaves contain small quantities of camphor and can be used as an insect repellent and disinfectant. An oil with a lavender-like fragrance is obtained from the leaves. The fruit, upon distillation, yield a spice-scented oil resembling camphor. An oil smelling of wintergreen is obtained from the twigs and bark.
Many animals feed on the leaves, twigs, and berries of spicebush. Some mammals include whitetail deer, Eastern cottontail rabbit, opossums. Over 20 species of birds including both gamebirds and song birds such as ring-necked pheasant, bobwhite, ruffed grouse and others have been known to feed on spicebush. The berries are a favorite food of wood thrushs.
Spicebush is a favorite food plant of two lepidopterous insects: the spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) and the promethea silkmoth (Callosamia promethea). It also supports the caterpillars of the cynthia moth, eastern tiger swallowtail, imperial moth, and the tulip tree beauty.
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.