Allspice earned its name for its strong flavoring, said to resemble a mixture of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Also known as Jamaica pepper, myrtle pepper, newspice, and pimenta, allspice is actually the dried fruit of Pimenta dioica, a slow growing, tropical, evergreen shrub native to the Caribbean, southern Mexico, and Central America, which can grow between 25–60′ tall. Trees have grey, peeling bark and large glossy leaves, with clusters of small, white, aromatic flowers. Fruit are brown or purple when ripe, each containing 1–2 seeds, but are usually harvested green when their flavor is stronger. Whole berries are then dried to be sold as a culinary spice. Allspice can grow well in a container outside of its tropical native range, either in a greenhouse or as a houseplant. Trees will start to produce fruit after about 5 years.
Seed: Before planting, soak seeds in water for 24 hours to weaken the outer hull. Discard any floating seeds.
Seed Depth: 3/8″
Space Between Plants: 20–30′
Space Between Rows: 30′
Germination Soil Temperature: 65–90°F
Days for Germination: 14–90
Sow Indoors: Anytime for container growing in temperate climates.
Sow Outdoors: In early fall. In tropical climates, transplant saplings into their permanent location in autumn after the first rain.
Vegetative: Can be propagated by air layering or grafting.
Grows best in tropical to subtropical climates. Hardy at USDA Zones 10 and above, but it will grow in Zone 9b with adequate winter protection. Established trees can survive frosts down to about 28°F. If you live in a colder region, it will grow well in a container if kept inside your home or a greenhouse during the winter. An evergreen tree originally native to the rainforests of South and Central America and the Caribbean, most commercial production occurs now in Central America and Jamaica. Does not tolerate severe dry seasons of more than 3 months.
Natural: Full sun. Young plants prefer afternoon shade in warm weather.
Artificial: Will grow indoors in a sunny window. Provide additional lighting using fluorescent or HID lamps if needed.
Soil: Prefers well drained sandy, loamy, or clay soils. A pH of between 6.1 and 7.8 will keep plants healthy and nourished. Will tolerate basic pH, but needs to drain quickly.
Soilless: Start plants or seeds in a mixture of compost and sand or perlite. Adding sand and perlite to your container or planting bed is highly recommended to improve drainage.
Hydroponics: Due to its size, allspice will need a large hydroponic system to grow in. You could try a media-based drip system with perlite or clay beads, which drain well.
Water: Requires moderate levels of water. Once established, plants are fairly drought tolerant. Aim for about an inch of water every week for young trees. Take care not to overwater, and don’t water mature plants again until the top 2″ of soil feel dry to the touch.
Nutrients: Requires moderate levels of nutrients. Add compost to the soil when transplanting, and use a balanced organic fertilizer 2–3 times per growing season, beginning in the spring. Provide a higher balance of phosphorus in its first year, and use a fertilizer with higher potassium levels once trees have reached 15 years of age.
Pruning: Prune the tops of the tallest branches after 3 years to promote branching. Remove any dead branches in early spring.
Pest(s): More susceptible to pests if grown below 1500′ altitude.
Disease(s): More susceptible to diseases if grown below 1500′ altitude.
Companions: Grows well with coffee as a shade provider. Can also be grown with bananas for its first 5 years as trees mature. Because it is a dioecious plant with separate male and female individuals, you must ensure that you have at least one tree of each type for pollination to occur.
Harvest: Berries are picked green when they have reached their full size of about 1/8–1/4″ but are not yet ripe. Hand-picking is common. Berries are allowed to dry in the sun and will turn deep brown when ready. If your tree is a clone that was vegetatively propagated, you can expect to begin harvesting in about 3 years, while trees grown from seeds will take 5–6 years to become productive.
Storage: Whole dried allspice berries will keep for a very long time if stored in a dark place in airtight containers. Once ground, the flavor diminishes rapidly, so only keep small amounts of the dried spice and use as quickly as possible.
Seed Saving: You can leave some of the berries to ripen and dry on the tree, then collect them for starting new plants from seed. Soak fruits overnight in water, then remove the seeds from inside the fruit by rubbing on a sieve and washing with clean water. Dry seeds in the shade and store in a dry, cool, dark place until you are ready to plant.
Preserve: The unripe berries are traditionally sun-dried for later use. Dried allspice berries can be used as a flavoring agent in pickle recipes. Leaves can also be dried for later use and are sometimes called West-Indian Bay Leaf, but this name is used for other species as well.
Prepare: Common in Caribbean dishes, allspice is an important part of jerk seasoning mixes, moles, and in pickling. The wood is used to smoke jerk seasoning or in grilling other foods to impart the spicy flavor. Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine also feature allspice as a flavoring in their stews and curries. In the US, you’ll mostly find allspice in dessert recipes, including cakes, pies, and fruit cobblers. Allspice is additionally used to flavor liqueurs. In all cases, the flavor will be strongest when whole berries are ground just before using. Leaves can also be used either fresh or dried.
Nutritional: Provides vitamin C, calcium, manganese, iron, magnesium, potassium, and copper. Also a good source of dietary fiber.
Medicinal: Eugenol oil and other aromatic compounds found in all parts of the plant have weak antioxidant, antibacterial and anesthetic properties, and can be used for toothaches and aiding digestion. Topical applications will increase the flow of blood under the skin and make skin feel warmer as well as relieve pain, so it is often used in home treatments for arthritis and sore muscles. Elements of the plant may also have anti-cancer properties and the ability to help with lowering high blood pressure.
Use freshly ground allspice to add a fresh twist in this Roasted Butternut Squash recipe.
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