NEVER EAT ANYTHING YOU ARE UNSURE OF! I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS TO YOU IF YOU MISIDENTIFY SOMETHING!!
Spicebush is a perennial shrub found in marshy areas in Eastern United States. It is a distinctive bush that often hides in plain sight. For Native people of North America and for settlers, it was an invaluable subsistence crop.
The entire shrub is… ok, I won’t say edible, since you can’t eat sticks, HOWEVER, you can use all of the above ground parts to make tea. You can use the leaves fresh or dried to make tea, cut stems to make tea as well. The fruit can be used as tea, however, the fruit turns black and turns rather quickly.
They are multi branched, thin, even spindly looking woody shrubs with ovate, pointed leaves that have smooth edges. Their blooms in the spring often resemble Forsythia; they are yellow/green compact multiple blossoms that form close to the stem.
Spicebush turns a beautiful orange color in the fall and has distinct red fruit with huge black seeds inside.
They are far too oily to dry the fruit. At least, I have not been successful in my attempts. It bruises very fast. In fact, they are super high in fat, which may seem odd to actively seek out, however you have to keep in mind that before the Western diet, it was HARD to get enough fat in the diet. Wildlife depend on the fat content to pack on winter weight.
I had a friend who used the berries to spice her peaches in canning and she liked the results. She said that she would put them on a cookie sheet and froze them, then put the frozen fruit in a container in the freezer to use later. This fall I think I am going to try harvesting the fruit by leaving it attached to the stem and then drying it. It may or not work.
For early colonists, this tea was often their only alternative to imported, expensive, tea. For many Natives, it was an essential medicine crop. I’ve had the tea from dried twigs, and it was a nice, mellow tea. If you can learn to recognize the plant without the leaves, it can be a great wintertime plant to harvest, particularly for a winter cold.
The leaves are large, ovate, and deeply veined. I took this photo in early fall, and the color of the leaf is beginning to change.
These leaves make a decent tea, but it takes some experimentation to get the water/leaf ratio right. It really is a delightful tea, and I have found that commercial “spice” teas just don’t do it for me anymore. They taste artificial to me. I find that it pairs well with dried elderberries and is a fabulous alternative to commercial herbal teas.
If you have ever tried it, please comment and let me know how you found it and how you treated it.