749 Pimenta dioicaCommon Names: allspice, pimento, Jamaica pepper Family: Myrtaceae (myrtle Family)
The spice or condiment, allspice, is made from the dried, unripe fruit of the allspice or pimento tree. This is a small tree that grows to 40 ft (12.2 m) tall, with large 4-8 in ( cm) long leaves. These are leathery, evergreen, opposite, oblong, aromatic and quite attractive. The whitish gray bark peels in thin sheets. The white flowers are about a 0.25 in (0.6 cm) across and borne in many flowered pyramidal cymes originating from the leaf axils. The fruit is a brown berrylike drupe, about a 0.25 in (0.6 cm) long. The leaves and fruit smell like a combination of cloves, black pepper, nutmeg, and cinnamon, hence the common name.
Allspice, Pimenta dioica, is native to the West Indies, southern Mexico and Central America. It was "discovered" in Mexico by 16th century Spanish explorers who called it "pimienta", confusing it with black pepper. (Those traveling Spaniards were so intent on finding a new source of black pepper, that they also confused the New World chilis with that precious East Indian spice.) Nowadays allspice is grown commercially in Mexico, Honduras, Trinidad, Cuba, and especially in Jamaica, which practically has a monopoly. It is the only spice whose commercial production is entirely confined to the New World.
CultureLight: Full sun. Moisture: Drought tolerant when established. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 11. May survive with protection in 9B. Established trees can tolerate temperatures down to 28ºF (-2.2ºC), but will be damaged at temperatures around 25ºF (-3.9ºC). Propagation: By seed.
This is a slow growing, beautiful little tree and well worth growing in a container on a patio or, in tropical climates, in a shrub border. It may not flower and fruit outside its native range, but the big glossy aromatic leaves are an attraction.
Allspice is used in pickles, ketchup and marinades, and to flavor pumpkin pies, cakes and candies. An oil pressed from the fruits is used in perfumes and cosmetics. The liqueurs, Benedictine and Chartreuse, contain allspice flavoring. Northern Europeans use allspice in sausages and pickled fish. 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.
The Myrtaceae is a large family of mostly aromatic trees and shrubs that includes eucalyptus, guava, clove tree, and melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia). An oil distilled from the leaves of the closely related bay rum tree (Pimenta racemosa) is used to flavor bay rum.
Steve Christman 3/6/00; updated 1/24/04