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ALLSPICE (Pimenta officinalis, P. diocia)

 

Common names

Clove pepper, Jamaica pepper, pimento

 

Medicinal part

Fruit: the mature but still green berry.

 

Description

Allspice, the dried berry of the pimento, comes from an evergreen tree that grows as high as 40 feet. Native to the West Indies and Central America, it is now cultivated in South America and Mexico. Its large, leathery, oblong leaves with prominent veins on the underside are followed by small white flowers that produce clusters of half-inch berries from June to August. When ripe, the fruit is a sweet berry, but when used for allspice, it is picked while unripe and then dried. Primarily a Caribbean tree, it is not grown in the United States.

Many of us, if we know allspice at all, know it only as a spicy ingredient in Caribbean food. If we have visited the islands, we've heard it called pimento, its local name, which we think of a large red bell pepper often used to flavor cheese spreads. But the Caribbean pimento, which we call allspice, is far more interesting than as a mere flavoring for exotic food.

Combining the flavors of cinnamon, pepper, juniper, and clove-hence the rubric allspice-it is used as a digestive aid, pain reliever, and anesthetic. Different islanders use it for different purposes: Jamaicans make a hot tea from allspice for colds, stomach upsets, and menstrual cramps; in Costa Rica, it is used for indigestion, flatulence, and as a treatment for diabetes; Guatemalans crush allspice berries for an external application to heal bruises and joint and muscle pain; in Cuba it is considered a tonic.

Allspice's secret ingredient is an oil that is the source of all of its healing properties. Allspice oil is rich in the chemical eugenol, which is also found in cloves and other healing herbs. It is thought that eugenol promotes the activity of digestive enzymes. Studies have proved that eugenol is an effective topical pain reliever, bearing witness to the Guatemalan tradition of treating painful joints and muscles with the crushed berries.

In this country and elsewhere, dentists use eugenol as a local anesthetic. It is an ingredient in a substance used on patients with sensitive or inflamed gums prior to cleaning the teeth, a process which can irritate the gums. Eugenol is also an ingredient in such over-the-counter products as Numizident and Benzodent, which are sold as toothache remedies. The pure oil of allspice may be used as a first-aid remedy by applying it directly to aching teeth or painful gums until professional help can be obtained. However, never ingest the oil directly; a small amount can cause nausea, vomiting, and even convulsions. Allspice is generally sold in whole-berry and powdered form for cooking purposes and so is readily available in the supermarket or from a herb and spice supplier.

Considered a mild antioxidant, allspice may help prevent the cell damage that scientists claim leads to cancer. However, scientific tests suggest that eugenol may be a weak factor in growth of tumors. Since this dual factor exists (as it does with many healing herbs), persons with any cancer history should not use allspice medicinally.

Allspice is on the FDAs list of herbs generally regarded as safe. Thus, healthy adults, except for pregnant and nursing women, can safely use allspice in the recommended amounts.

As with all herbs, if the condition does not improve in two weeks. or if you experience unpleasant side effects, discontinue use and consult your doctor.

Dosage

Oil of allspice : For toothache or gum pain, apply the oil directly, sing a cotton swab, 1 drop only. Do not swallow the oil

Powder for tea : As a digestive aid, use 1 or 2 teaspoons of allspice powder per cup of boiling water. Allow to steep for 10 to 20 minutes; then strain. You can drink up to 3 cups per day.

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