American Spicebush

An understated beauty with history.

  • Spicebush twigs

    courtesy Missouri Botanical PlantFinder/Tammy Palmier
  • Spicebush

    courtesy Missouri Botanical PlantFinder/Tammy Palmier
  • Spicebush female shrubs
    Only the female shrubs develop berries.
    courtesy Missouri Botanical PlantFinder/Thomas Pope
  • Spicebush leaves
    Identify American spicebush by its oval, pointed, alternate leaves.
    courtesy Missouri Botanical PlantFinder/Chris Starbuck

  • Spicebush twigs
  • Spicebush
  • Spicebush female shrubs
  • Spicebush leaves

Winter’s end on the banks of the Black River near South Haven, Michigan, is punctuated with cheerful dots of limey-lemon color. Although most folks today don’t know it, that early spring eruption occurs compliments of the American spicebush – a medium-sized shrub that once lived in the spotlight.

The American spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is a native shrub that displays clusters of tiny, greenish-yellow flowers in March and April before its leaves appear. The hardy plant is found in the north from Maine to Michigan and through the South down to Florida and Texas. As an 8-to-12-foot-tall, under-story species, spicebush thrives in the dappled shade of damp woods with rich soils, in ravines, alongside streams and in partially shaded, swampy areas.

This unassuming native often goes unnoticed, but it makes a lovely addition to the home landscape that delivers visual appeal all year. Shortly after the blossoms fade, tiny oblong drupes (berries) develop on the female plants. In fall, when the spicebush’s light green leaves change to a creamy butter yellow, its berries ripen to a brilliant red. The berries are lovely to look at and have the added value of providing food for birds and other wildlife.

But there is much more to the American spicebush’s story than landscape appeal.

Old aromatic

The American spicebush has a long history of medicinal and culinary uses, as its many names would indicate. Lindera benzoin is also known as “spicewood,” “wild allspice,” “fever bush,” “Benjamin Bush” and “snap-wood,” in addition to spicebush. Be sure to request it by its botanical name at the nursery, or you may end up with Calycanthus floridus, Carolina Allspice, or Calycanthus occidentalis, California Spice Bush.

A member of the Laurel family, American spicebush is named for the Swedish botanist, Johann Lindler, and “benzoin” comes from an Oriental gum of the same name because the shrub has a similar spicy aroma and flavor.

Richard Zane Smith
4/21/2011 9:06:31 PM

Kweh omateru,(greetings friends) hundreds of the spicebush (Lindera Benzoin) grow on our property along a flowing spring branch along a limestone bluff in NE Oklahoma. Cherokee and Uchee here, use the spice wood for a medicinal herb, and snapped twigs are also bundled and dropped into kettles of boiled venison for flavor. When scouting for good arrow shaft material,not finding any suitable dogwood shoots, I discovered that selected straight spicebush shoots cut of the right thickness are making very strong arrow shafts. I've never heard of this material used for arrows, but when peeled,dried,sanded,and pulled through a sizing hole cut into a piece of Osage orange they polish up like they were varnished. ske:noh(peace/wellbeing) Richard

4/4/2010 8:45:22 PM

I would like to ask for information regarding the spicebush use as a remedy to reduce high blood pressure. D Does anyone know the spicebush helps this dangerous medical problem? Some people I know say it has helped them with this problem. Thanks.

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