American Spicebush - Gastro Obscura
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Fruits & Vegetables

American Spicebush

The plant's fruit, leaves, and bark offer a spice rack of flavors.

When you bite into the small, round fruit of the American spicebush, you might be surprised by its lack of sweet or tart flavors. In their place, however, is a veritable spice rack, including notes of mace, pink peppercorn, sassafras, and the common sweet-spiced seasoning known as allspice (also, incidentally, based on a fruit).

But the fruit isn’t the only flavorful side of this North American plant. Its bark and leaves also offer peppery, cinnamon-like seasonings that Native Americans used to flavor meat and brew fragrant, medicinal teas. With its blend of flavors, the versatile plant has also served as a handy substitute during shortages of other seasonings. During the Revolutionary War, for instance, reserves of the Caribbean-derived allspice ran low. Home cooks simply plucked the spicebush fruit growing in their backyards, ground it into a powder, and swapped it into their recipes.

Modern foragers, too, can use the fruit in just about any recipe that calls for cinnamon or allspice. Dishes and drinks range from pork chop glaze to blueberry-spicebush pancakes to gin.

Need to Know

The shrub grows across North America, with its habitat stretching from the East Coast to Texas.

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