Now is the time to gather the ripe berries of our native spicebush, Lindera benzoin, for use as tea, room fragrance or spice, a plant that has also been used medicinally both by local American-Indian tribes and European colonists.
Spicebush grows all the hills here, and I really only notice it in very early spring and in fall.
In March or April, spicebush unfurls its flowers. Each is small and rather insignificant. But when millions of them are in bloom, it is as if forest undestory – still-unleafed – fills with vaporous pale yellow clouds. Once they are done blooming, spicebush disappear, melting back in the general greenness of the woods. You only notice it if you happen to break off a twig or bruise a leaf – a sweet all-spice fragrance with a hint of camphor fills your nostrils. And of course you notice them again in September and October, when the bright shiny red berries dot the shrubs. They remind me of coffee berries that I grew up up with, but much smaller and not the same shape – but with that same vermillion brilliance that’s really popping at you. The fruit, about the size of my small fingernail, contains one seed. The seeds is more peppery and the pulp sweeter – so some people apparently separate them before storing them. Too much work. I think of them as native all-spice, and use pulp and seeds together. Read more