Plant Spotlight: Allspice
From an embalming agent to flavoring chocolate… they don’t call it allspice for nothing.
Spanish explorers “discovered” allspice while on the search for pepper when they landed in the West Indies. They had never seen pepper and assumed this berry was it. After bringing it back to Spain it was named Jamaican Pepper or Pimento, from the Spanish word ‘pimienta,’ which simply means pepper (creative huh?!).
Fascinated by this fragrant and bold spice, there were many attempts to grow allspice in Europe but to no avail. Unbeknownst at the time, allspice not only grows and bears fruit best in tropical areas.. but it must also pass through the intestines of a bird for the seed to be able to germinate. Who knew that bird poop was so important!
The English named it Allspice because it is said to have the aroma and flavor of many spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, pepper and juniper berries. This bold and misunderstood plant can be a small scrubby tree similar to the bay laurel or it can grow up to 60 feet and used to provide shade for coffee trees planted underneath.
FOLK LORE AND HISTORY
Allspice has been used as folk medicine for many centuries and also is important as a Caribbean spice. The berries are the most common part of the plant used. The fruit is picked green and unripe then dried in the sun. It’s a staple in Jamaican jerk seasoning and is the principle wood used in smoke jerk in Jamaica. The leaves are also used in cooking, similarly to bay leaves.
Jamaicans drink hot allspice tea for colds, menstrual cramps and upset stomach. Costa Ricans use it additionally for diabetes. It is also used as relief for digestive problems – flatulence, vomiting, stomach ache, diarrhea and indigestion. And it is known to improve the appetite. It was even used by the Mayans as an embalming agent.
Allspice incense has been used to aid in spells for attracting money and luck as well as wearing sachets of the berries to attract the same.
Allspice has been used in everything from meats to desserts to beauty products. Allspice liqueur – better known as pimento dram is utilized in many cocktail recipes.
Current scientific research is confirming allspices many uses in folk medicine and showing it to even have anticancer properties.
It is also used in toothpaste to soothe toothaches. This mild anesthetic property also makes it useful for arthritis and sore muscles when used as a soak or poultice. It has also been used as a natural herb remedy for fever, colds and the flu. As an extract it is also useful in fighting fungal and yeast infections. It also increases circulation of the skin – improves acne and cold limbs.
Its scent is used to combat headache, combat stress and depression and to overcome fatigue. That’s a pretty powerful little berry.
HOW WE USE ALLPSICE
As and extract and decoction – we use allspice in our bitters and tonics. Its strong diverse flavor and lovely aroma help blend other ingredients and flavors together creating a deeper and more balanced complexity. It is a strong spice so a little tends to go a long way. But it is a spice that we simply cannot live without as a base found in our Bitter Ghost and Aromatic Bitters as well as our classic tonic.