By Suzanne Wodek
Lindera benzoin, commonly called spicebush, is a native deciduous shrub with a broad, rounded habit, which typically grows 6’–12’ high. This is a dioecious shrub with amazing garden interest. The male plants have small, showy, pale yellow flowers in early spring, while the females are the stars in early fall. They are laden with half-inch-diameter berries that turn from green to yellow to glossy crimson. The soft yellow of the leaves makes the red berries visually pop. Spicebush’s role as the host plant for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars is another good reason to add this to your garden. The genus name commemorates Swedish botanist John Lindler; benzoin refers to an aromatic resin.
Spicebush is best when planted in partial sun to light shade in wet to moderately dry soil. Plant both a male and a female plant for berries.
Native Americans made a tea from the bark to act as a blood purifier, to sweat colds and to treat rheumatism and anemia. They also used the dried fruits of this plant as a spice; thus, the common name. Early settlers made a twig tea to treat colds, fevers, worms, gas and colic. A bark tea was made to expel worms, to treat typhoid fever and to act as a diaphoretic for other fevers. The leaves and berries of this plant can be eaten raw or cooked.
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The Botanical Gardens, located at 151 W. T. Weaver Boulevard, is a nonprofit organization housing a collection of plants native to the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and memberships are encouraged. To learn more, visit, AshevilleBotanicalGardens.org.