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In search of unique/exotic trees

 
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Location: north-central Maine
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Hi there,

I am in search of a North American source for seeds of Litsea cubeba, which is called Mountain Pepper in Chinese (although related in fact to camphor). I lived in Taiwan for many years and loved cooking with the fragrant yet peppery berries, which we bought in the mountains, dried and ground up in a pepper mill. The essential oil, I see, is also marketed. We live in Maine, and so it would have to a greenhouse operation, which naturally means it would have to be dwarfish.

Thanks,

cb
 
pollinator
Posts: 590
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
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I did a bit of research and found that Litsea cubeba is also known as ... Dieng-si-sing, Earking, Entsurem, Jayar, Mang tang, Mejankeri, Ser-nam, Sernam, Shan ji jiao, Siltimur, Siqbil, Tanghaercherkung, Terhilsok and Zeng-jil. I looked each one of these up and aside from finding sources for the essential oils (apparently used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine) could find no source for any of them. From the descriptions of the taste, however, I thought you might like to try a substitute. The fragrant sumac, Rhus aromatica, produces tons of small red berries coated with very tart malic acid. The seeds inside are hard and a bit like black pepper, so that when the berries are dried and ground, they taste a lot like lemon-pepper. They have been used for centuries as a spice in middle-eastern dishes (although it is a different species of sumac that they use--I think it is Rhus coriaria). If a tart, peppery flavor is what you are after, this is a great substitute and best of all, it's an easy to find and grow, hardy native plant. It is also supposed to be really good for you, so it's a win-win. Shape.com (By the way, all the sumacs in the genus Rhus are edible. They should not be confused with poison sumac, which is Toxicodendron vernix, a relative of poison ivy.)

Here is a good photo of the native variety, Rhus aromatica ... It makes great "lemonade" as well as a spice. (Tastes like a combination of lemonade and cranberry juice.)
 
Craig Butler
Posts: 43
Location: north-central Maine
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Thanks, Deb, for your thorough response. I read somewhere recently that of the many thousands of edible plants in the world, the vast majority of the world consumes only about 2 dozen! It makes one feel so undereducated to walk through the woods or fields and barely recognize a single edible species, and so your post has rekindled an interest in alternatives. Was there an online or catalog resource you recommend?
 
Deb Stephens
pollinator
Posts: 590
Location: SW Missouri, Zone 7a
103
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I agree that there is much more plant diversity available to us than most humans take advantage of, and I would bet that our remote ancestors used many more of them than we do, living as they did so close to nature. In fact, the plant diversity in our area is one of the best parts of living next door to a national forest. We forage quite a lot of the native plants and continually look for new ones we can use.

As for finding Rhus aromatica ... As you can see from this map it grows wild pretty much everywhere from the Midwest to the Atlantic seaboard except Maine (wouldn't you know?!)
However, it is in Canada and your nearest neighboring states, so I suspect it also grows where you are. At any rate, it is certainly capable of growing there even if it isn't listed for your specific area. If you are close to one of the states it grows in, I would look around for a wild plant or two you could transplant. Wherever you find one plant, you're bound to find many more because it becomes quite widespread in places that suit it. If you don't find any nearby, drop me a pm with your address and I will dig up a few and mail them to you bareroot. Around here it is practically a weed! I'm sure you will have no trouble establishing enough to satisfy your desire for cooking spice (and "lemonade") in short order. The bonus is that they are very ornamental as well, and ... NO GREENHOUSE NEEDED!
 
Craig Butler
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Location: north-central Maine
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Thanks again, Deb. It is an attractive plant; maybe even find its way into a wreath... Thanks for the map reference: I should get to know this resource better. Forest farming is something I've only recently become aware of. Thanks so much for the offer of plant stock! I'll do some local sleuthing first.

Take care,

Craig
 
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Deb Stephens wrote:I did a bit of research and found that Litsea cubeba is also known as ... Dieng-si-sing, Earking, Entsurem, Jayar, Mang tang, Mejankeri, Ser-nam, Sernam, Shan ji jiao, Siltimur, Siqbil, Tanghaercherkung, Terhilsok and Zeng-jil. I looked each one of these up and aside from finding sources for the essential oils (apparently used extensively in Ayurvedic medicine) could find no source for any of them. From the descriptions of the taste, however, I thought you might like to try a substitute. The fragrant sumac, Rhus aromatica, produces tons of small red berries coated with very tart malic acid. The seeds inside are hard and a bit like black pepper, so that when the berries are dried and ground, they taste a lot like lemon-pepper. They have been used for centuries as a spice in middle-eastern dishes (although it is a different species of sumac that they use--I think it is Rhus coriaria). If a tart, peppery flavor is what you are after, this is a great substitute and best of all, it's an easy to find and grow, hardy native plant. It is also supposed to be really good for you, so it's a win-win. Shape.com (By the way, all the sumacs in the genus Rhus are edible. They should not be confused with poison sumac, which is Toxicodendron vernix, a relative of poison ivy.)

Here is a good photo of the native variety, Rhus aromatica ... It makes great "lemonade" as well as a spice. (Tastes like a combination of lemonade and cranberry juice.)


I will have to try it as a spice. I will be growing fragrant sumac and staghorn sumac this year. Sumac seeds can also make 50% of the diet for quail. It is a more natural food source for them and will make them healthier.
 
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