Fragrant allspice leaves can be used when cooking


Question: I have a small tree growing very close to the side of the house. I am sure it is an allspice tree. The leaves and tiny green berries on the branches have a strong, delicious smell. I keep pruning it back, but it continues to grow. How big will this tree become? Can I prune it severely without killing it? Last question: Can I use the leaves and berries for cooking? — Thanks for your help, M.K.

Many people are under the impression that when purchasing the seasoning “allspice,” they are actually purchasing several spices mixed together. This is not true. The allspice seasoning comes from the berries of one plant, the allspice tree (Pimenta dioica). This aromatic powder has a flavor reminiscent of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves with a hint of juniper and peppercorn. The tiny fruits (about 1/4-inch across) are harvested and dried when they reach full size but before they mature. These berries lose their flavor and aroma when fully ripe. The name allspice was coined by the English around 1621.

The oblong leaves are also very aromatic, similar to bay leaves, and are often infused into stews and soups and then removed before serving. Unlike bay leaves, they will lose much of their flavor when dried and stored. The leaves, along with the wood, are often used for smoking meats.

The tree is medium-sized and is a native to Central and South America. Flowers are small and white.

Trees need full sun and are drought tolerant when established. Trees are propagated by seed.

It is the only spice that is grown exclusively in the Western Hemisphere. Allspice was used by the Mayans as an embalming agent and by other South American Indians to flavor chocolate. Christopher Columbus discovered allspice in the Caribbean where today it is an indispensable part of Caribbean cuisine including Jamaican jerk seasoning.

Allspice is also important in Middle Eastern cooking, where it is a prominent flavor in stews and meat recipes. In America, allspice appears frequently in desserts such as pumpkin pies, cakes and cookies. The liqueurs Benedictine and Chartreuse contain allspice flavoring. The principal essential oil in allspice is eugenol, the same as found in cloves. Eugenol is used as an anesthetic for tooth aches and as a digestive aid. In addition to Jamaica which exports the majority of allspice, it is also grown commercially in Mexico, Honduras, Trinidad and Cuba. Allspice trees are for sale at Paradise Plants Nursery in Hilo.

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I recently answered a reader about controlling mosquitoes in pots which retain water. Here are some helpful comments from another reader on the same subject:

Hi Nick, I noted your recent column and thought I’d throw in some information as I was involved with mosquito control for over 30 years. You are certainly correct about the control methods noted. BTI will function as long as the level of organic material is not overwhelming. In my experience, if the water color is just slightly brown, mosquito control will probably be fine. Anything darker will need more BTI product. BTI ties up on the organic material and is thus unavailable for control.

Using oil for control is good also, but the oil needs to be of a very light weight to produce a thin coating over the water. Heavy oils (like motor oil) don’t spread properly and may leave gaps where the mosquito larvae will gain access to the water’s surface. A film of liquid dish detergent will also provide control. Application is made by carefully adding a few drops to the surface of the still water.

Depending upon the self-watering configuration, preventing female mosquito access using screening or another barrier can be effective. Another method is to “pull the plug” every five days and flush out the larvae. Your compost comments are also spot on! I really enjoy reading your column. — A.P.

Hilo resident Nick Sakovich is a professor emeritus of the University of California. He has worked in the field of agriculture for 30 years. Email your questions to Sakovich at askthegardenguy@earthlink.net.

 

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