Spice Bush

Herb of Month: Spice Bush, Lindera benzoin

(derived from an Arabic word meaning aromatic gum)
Description: A shrub, native to Missouri, Iowa and Illinois, with a broad, rounded habit, slightly wider than tall, which typically grows 6 to 12 feet high in moist locations in bottomlands, wood, ravines, valleys and along streams. The name refers to the sweet, spicy fragrance of the stems,
leaves and fruits when bruised. Greenish-yellow flowers bloom in the spring, before the foliage emerges and attract a great many bees. Thick, oblong leaves turn bright yellow in the fall. Flowers of the female plant produce small, bright red berries, which are very attractive but do not display
until the foliage drops in the fall.

History: Native Americans used the dried fruits as a spice and the leaves for tea. Because of its habitat in rich woods, early land surveyors and settlers used spice bush as an indicator species for good agricultural land.

Cultivation: A good choice for planting in shade but can also grow in full sun. Moist and acid soil is best. Easily grown and fast growing. Used for shrub borders, woodland gardens, along streams, and in naturalized plantings. Plant with marsh mallow, blue flag iris, new England aster, and
sweet violets. Female plants need a male pollinator in order to set fruit. Sow seed in the fall before the seed dries out, or hold the seeds in the refrigerator for four months and sow in spring. Can start new shrubs from cuttings taken in summer. There are no serious insect or disease problems
with this shrub.

Uses: Extracts have been used for drugs and the benzoin of drug trade is produced by a type of spice bush. Essential oils made from spice bush keep insects away. Over 20 species of birds, as well as deer, rabbits, raccoons and opossums will browse the leaves or eat the fruits. The fruits are a special favorite of wood thrushes. The spicebush swallowtail lays its eggs and its caterpillars feed on spicebush and other plants in the laurel family. Young twigs, fresh or dried leaves, or berries can be steeped for tea. Dried berries can be ground as a substitute for allspice. Dried leaves and berries can be added to potpourri.

Precautions: Sources give the range for this shrub as zones 4 to 9 or 5 to 9, although the USDA map does not show Lindera benzoin as being present or prevalent in Nebraska.

— Submitted by Jennie Oliver