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