Species Spotlight: Lindera benzoin (Edible Spicebush)
Lindera benzoin (edible spicebush) is an esteemed and highly versatile native plant, indigenous to the Mid-Atlantic region. Among many other uses, people have used this plant for generations as a cooking and baking ingredient. The essential oils within the leaves, twigs, bark, and berries are traditionally used in recipes in place of where one would typically use the flavor of allspice. The drupes, which mature in the fall, can be dried, pitted, and crushed. You can use the resulting powder as a spice in almost any dish that calls for similar spices like allspice, cinnamon, or cloves. The twigs, which smell just as good as the berries, can be boiled and simmered to extract the fragrant oils in decoctions or teas. Consider recipes such as spicebush dry rub, or spicebush latte!
If you want to grow this species in your own space, it is possible to do, and a fantastic choice for a native food forest, or restoration planting. Contact us to learn more about our agroforestry and stream restoration services, or to place an order for your own contract-grown plants.
Tips for Identifying Lindera benzoin
The leaves are simple, alternate, with smooth margins and a leathery feel. Flowers are small and yellow-green, form in clusters along the branches, and bloom in March and April before the foliage begins to appear. Since the plant is dioecious, the male plants’ flowers are a bit larger than the females’, but otherwise they have the same appearance. Flowers give way to fruit, or drupes, that are less than 1 inch long and only about a cm wide with a pit in the center. It is deep red in color and has a distinct spicy aroma when crushed or bruised. The bark is light brown to light gray and has visible lenticels.
When trying to identify spicebush, you can use more than one of your senses. If you have any doubts, use your fingernail to scratch a small part of the bark off and take a big sniff. Its sweet, spicy aroma will confirm your identification.
Uses as a Restoration Plant
Lindera benzoin is a highly beneficial member of your local ecosystem. This large shrub in the Lauraceae family can reach upwards of 10 ft, making it a formidable ‘workhorse’ species for wetland plantings.
Edible spicebush can germinate and grow under a complete canopy in the forest, but openings in the canopy or availability of more sunlight leads to a faster growing rate. It prefers mesic soil conditions and is commonly found along streams and in low woods. If you call the eastern half of the U.S. home, you are likely to find a spicebush growing somewhere in your home state. It stretches as far west as Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma, and us far north as Ontario, Canada. Check the USDA Plants Database for more details.