Allspice: an aromatic plant and culinary powerhouse
The berries of the Pimenta officinalis tree, an evergreen, are dried to create true allspice. The most common variety of Pimenta dioica is grown in moderate climates.
People often think that the spice “allspice” is a blend of different spices, when it is actually just one spice. This berry, which comes from the P. dioica tropical evergreen tree, has a rich flavor that includes cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and peppery undertones.
The spice goes by many names, including Jamaican pepper, Myrtle pepper, new spice, and pimento/pimenta. It has a warm and aromatic flavor. This allspice tree is also called the pimento tree.
This versatile spice complements both sweet and savory dishes. A mainstay of Caribbean cuisine, jerk chicken and curries are both dishes that heavily feature this spice. Whole berries are also popular in pickling brines.
You can use allspice in its whole form, or grind it into a fine powder.
How tall do allspice plants get?
The allspice evergreen shrub can grow to be 40 feet tall (12 meters). The leaves of this plant are oblong and leathery, and they have a lovely aroma and flavor that makes them useful in cooking. Trees in bloom produce clusters of small white flowers.
The tree typically produces fruit between 3 and 6 years old. A fig tree can keep producing fruit for up to 50 years if it is cared for properly.
Pimento trees produce small green fruits (drupes). Each fruit contains two seeds. Fruits are harvested while still green. After they are dried, they turn brown and look like peppercorns.
A growing caveat you should know
If you don’t live in a tropical climate (or in a climate that is similar to the tropical evergreen’s natural habitat), it is unlikely that your tree will produce fruit.
This means that there are separate Allspice plants that are either male or female. A female plant needs a male pollinator to produce fruit. In some rare situations, a male plant may have a hermaphroditic flower that produces fruit.
You may not be able to grow your own garden-fresh spices if that is what you were looking forward to. The pimento plant’s leaves can be used in cooking in the same way as bay leaves.
This tropical evergreen tree is also quite striking in its own right—even if it doesn’t produce allspice berries or flowers. This tropical evergreen tree is also quite striking in its own right—even if it doesn’t produce allspice berries or flowers. The leaves are glossy, attractive, and aromatic. Not only are they a pretty decoration, but they’re also useful as a flavoring for your food.
Where do pimento trees grow natively?
Pimento trees grow in tropical areas of Central America and the West Indies. This includes Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, and Mexico.
Pimenta dioica trees have grown in Hawaii naturally, including on the islands of Maui, Kauai, and Oahu. The birds are eating the fruit and then they spread the seeds around.
Other “allspice” plants
There are other plants that resemble true allspice, but they grow in different regions. Don’t confuse these with pimento.
- Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus): Also known as Eastern sweetshrub, this plant’s native range includes south-eastern parts of North America. The bark is dried and used as a cinnamon substitute.
- Californian allspice (Calycanthus occidentalis): Also called Western sweetshrub, this deciduous shrub is found in southwestern parts of North America. The dried bark is also dried and sometimes used as a cinnamon or allspice substitute.
- Wild allspice or spicebush (Lindera benzoin): You’ll find this plant in the eastern regions of North America. You can brew the leaves, twigs, and fruit to make a fragrant tea. When foraging for food, please take care to properly identify the plant before using it.
- Japanese allspice (Chimonanthus praecox): This aromatic shrub grows natively in eastern Asia. Flowers are often used in teas.
How to grow allspice from seed
Although you can find allspice seeds from some places, it is better to get them from trees that are healthy and producing fruit. Harvested fruit seeds quickly lose their viability.
This plant has slow growth, but the leaves and berries have a great aroma.
You could buy a small sapling of a pimento tree from a greenhouse or nursery.
Step 1: Collect fruits and soak to remove seeds
Pick the ripe pimentos from healthy, productive trees. Soak the fruits in clean, lukewarm water overnight. If you soak chia seeds in water, it will make the seed coat softer and easier to remove.
The following day, the seeds can be easily extracted from the fruit’s flesh. Each fruit contains two seeds. Rinse clean in a colander.
Let seeds fully air dry in a shady area.
Step 2: Sow seeds
Prepare the potting soil mixture. It is important for soil to have good drainage and to contain some compost or sand.
If you live in a warm climate, you can sow the seeds directly outside in the spring. If it’s still cold where you live, you can start the seeds indoors and then transplant them outside later. Select a sunny area.
If you don’t want to start your seeds outdoors, you can start them indoors in starter pots that have drainage holes. Use your finger to make a small indent in the soil for each seed. Loosely cover with compost. Water until the soil is moistened.
Step 3: Apply mulch
Applying a thin layer of natural mulch can speed up germination. Some good options for mulch include leaf compost or shredded paper.
If you start them outdoors, make sure the nighttime temperatures are consistently above freezing If you are starting the seeds indoors, keep them in a warm room that receives bright indirect light. If you are starting them outdoors, make sure the nighttime temperatures are consistently above freezing.
Keep seeds moist.
Seeds will germinate in about 15 days.
That’s it! Once your allspice sapling is established, it will be more drought resistant and easy to take care of.
It’s popular to grow allspice because it’s low maintenance and there are few pests or diseases to worry about.
The allspice plant can be used for various culinary uses once it is planted. Let’s talk about how to take care of this plant that’s in the myrtle family, so you can have it in your garden and your kitchen.
Sun and Temperature
Allspice needs sun for most of the day, with at least 6 hours of full morning light. Mature trees do not require as much sunlight as younger trees and can prosper in shady areas, but young trees need full sunlight exposure during the day. The strong afternoon light can scorch the leaves, so make sure to provide some shade for the tree in the afternoon. Allspice is able to withstand temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit and can be found in zones 10 and 11. Trees established for several years will be able to withstand quick freezes down to 26 degrees. In areas outside its hardiness range, the tree should be grown in a container and brought indoors or placed in a climate-controlled greenhouse when temperatures are consistently below 40 degrees. If a tree is exposed to cold weather for too long, it will be damaged and eventually die.
Water and Humidity
Allspice is most commonly found in areas with naturally moist soil. Keep the growing medium moist but not waterlogged. To give young trees the water they need, set up drip irrigation or use soaker hoses. Water daily, for best results. A containerized tree is more likely to need more water than one that is planted directly in the ground. Check that the soil is moist before adding more water. If you do not have access to drip irrigation or soaker hoses, you can use another method such as a low slow stream from a hose or watering can. When it rains, you don’t have to water every tree in your garden.
Allspice prefers well-draining average media of almost any type. The plants grow in a variety of habitats in their natural range. To ensure your tree has the best chance at a healthy growth, amend compacted soil before planting with a mix of average garden media and agricultural sand. Use the same standard for containers in the garden. What is the best pH to grow allspice?
When planting each tree, add powder form of slow-release tropical plant fertilizer to the hole and water it in. Fertilize your plant every 3 to 5 weeks by adding more tropical plant fertilizer around the base of the plant. If you don’t have access to tropical plant food, regular plant food is fine. The second and following years, the idea is 150-180-50 The idea of the NPK for all spice plants is 20-180-50 in the first year. For the second and following years, the idea is 150-180-50. Then move to 300-250-750 after 15 years. The NPK ratios for allspice are 3-4-3, based on horticultural standards. Tropical plant food is just as good.
Prune allspice trees in the spring and summer, after 3 years of growth, to either maintain the tree’s shape or keep it small if you’re growing it indoors. The tree can be trimmed at the bottom to make it look fuller. Cut off any branches that are low down to make the canopy look more like a cone. Prune any dead or crossed branches to encourage growth. The allspice tree will not lose its leaves in winter, and the fruit will drop from the tree naturally. Collect berries as soon as possible to prevent them from sprouting.
We discussed how to plant allspice berries to produce new plants in an earlier section. Utilizing cuttings and air layering are both ways to generate new plants. Cut about 6 inches off the plant using pruning shears, and remove the bottom 3 sets of leaves. Two to three leaves should remain at the top of the plant. To start your cuttings, first dip them in a rooting powder. Then, place them in starter media in starter pots. They will be able to transplant new growth in 2 months.
To air layer allspice,cut a slanted incision about halfway through a branch with new growth in spring, and wrap it in moist sphagnum moss. Transplant the cutting that is below the root when new roots poke out of the moss.
Harvesting and Storing
After you take care of your allspice plants and help them produce fruit, it’s time to harvest. After you remove the pimento seeds from the peppers, you can add them to other spices to create new flavor profiles, like cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, chili powder, and curry. You could also use the leaves in addition to the fruit.
When the fruits are large enough, cut them off the plant. Unripe fruits are still green, like juniper. Look for green fruits that are about half an inch to a quarter inch large. To pick unripe fruit, like juniper berries, carefully select them by hand and place them in a basket or bag. Place unripe berries on a dry surface in the sun to dry. Proceed to the next step when the peppers are dark red. Some of the berries should be set aside to be used as seeds to grow new allspice saplings. To release the seeds from the rub them against a sieve. Leaves should be harvested and used immediately. Fruit can be harvested from the tree when it reaches the desired size. Some plants will produce fruit at 3 years old, while others will produce berries at 5 to 6 years old.
Dried berries can be stored in an airtight container for 3 to 4 years. Ground allspice is a spice that can be used to preserve meats or to add flavor to other dishes. It is often combined with other spices such as clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. But ground allspice loses potency quickly. Grind them only just before cooking with them. Pimenta leaves do not get better with age and should be used soon after being picked. Try combining them with other spices like clove. Pimenta berries should be stored in a dark, cool area like clove.
Pimenta may sometimes have a few signs of trouble. Practicing integrated pest management in combination with careful observation will help reduce the amount of maintenance required. Pimenta can be harvested and used for cooking for many years.
If you grow allspice in a compacted area, the roots will not be able to absorb enough nutrients and the plant will drop flowers, preventing access to the sun-dried berries and seeds. If the earth is too compacted, you can transplant a young tree in a rehab container.
If you fail to water your pimenta tree frequently enough, it will become stressed, making it more vulnerable to suffering from pests and diseases. This also limits your ability to cook with the dried berries.
If your pimenta has black-tipped branches and leaves, this is a sign that it has been damaged by the cold. Remove the damaged parts caused by the cold and move the allspice to a place where the temperature is regulated.
Fertilize every 5 weeks or allspice may show signs of nutrient deficiency.
Mealybugs, whiteflies, and aphids may feed on the sap of allspice leaves and plant matter. Mealybugs look like tiny cotton balls. Aphids have bodies that are shaped like pears, and whiteflies are tiny moths that are the size of gnats. To get rid of aphids and whiteflies, turn on a hose and spray them with water. Ladybugs and lacewings will eat them too. Neem oil spray can treat all three of these pests. Don’t spray the flowers when they’re blooming because it’ll scare away the bugs that help pollinate them.
A fungal disease called rust affects the bottom leaves of allspice plants. The first sign of the disease is white lesions. They cause the leaves to turn green, then black, and eventually fall off the plant. You can prevent rust on your pimenta by providing proper drainage and spreading mulch around the base. If your foliage already has rust, you will need to remove it. There is no treatment for rust once it has already infected the foliage. Use a copper-based fungicide to prevent the spread of the disease to the rest of the tree.
This disease appears as a powdery white substance on the leaves of plants and thrives in cool, wet weather conditions. Remove affected leaves as they appear. If the leaves fall, this is a sign the disease is progressing significantly. Copper fungicide sprays and neem oil can help prevent powdery mildew.
The bacterial crown gall causes large masses to form on the base of pimenta trees and on their roots as well. A gall at the trunk is the first sign. If the disease progresses, it can cause the plant to wilt and eventually die. Prevention is the best way to avoid crown gall. There is no known cure for the disease. If your tree is infected with crown gall, you will need to remove any infected material from the tree. Many species of trees can live with crown gall for a long time, but it is important to remove any infected material to prevent the spread of the disease. Do not compost those materials.