Nine varieties of Lindera have documented use in Herbal Medicine: Lindera assamica, Lindera benzoin - Spice Bush, Lindera glauca, Lindera megaphylla, Lindera obtusiloba, Lindera praecox, Lindera pulcherrima, Lindera strychnifolia, Lindera umbellata
Native to my region are: Lindera benzoin var. benzoin (Smooth Northern Spicebush), Lindera benzoin var. pubescens (Hairy Northern Spicebush), Lindera melissifolia (Pondberry, Southern Spicebush), Lindera subcoriacea (Bog Spicebush)
Spicebush is one of my absolute favorite plants - it smells of allspice and you can find it in the woods with your nose alone, if you try. The flavor is also very nice.
The Cherokee used Spicebush:
A bunch of twigs as big as your fist is boiled in water for a short time for beverage tea. The bark of spicebush, Cornus florida and Prunus serotina are steeped. Add this tea to pure corn whiskey and drink to break out the measles. Boil together the bark of spicebush and Hamamelis virginiana and some needles of Pinus virginiana for five or ten minutes. To “break out” fever, drink this tea hot and cover up. Give tea to a baby to drink for hives. Drink cool, sweet tea for red measles
King’s Medical Dispensatory of 1898 states:
This shrub grows in damp woods, along streams and shaded places, in the United States and Canada, bearing greenish-yellow flowers in March and April, before the leaves are unfolded, and maturing its fruit, which consists of bright, crimson-colored, ovoid berries, growing in small bunches, in the middle of autumn. The whole plant has a pleasant, aromatic taste, owing chiefly to a volatile oil, and yields its virtues to boiling water or alcohol. The dried berries were used during the American Revolution, and in the South during the late Rebellion, as a substitute for allspice.
Description.—BARK. Benzoin bark occurs in quills or thin, curved fragments, externally black-brown, somewhat shining and smooth, except where covered with small cork-like warts. In older specimens the corky warts are more conspicuous and the bark is more of an ashen color. Internally it is smooth, and yellow or light brown in color. Its fracture is abrupt and granular. It has a faint aromatic odor, and to the taste is sharp and astringent.
FRUIT.—The fruit is a long, red, ovate drupe, with a circular depression indicating the point of attachment of the pedicel. It contains 1 white seed, quite large, possessing an oleaginous taste. The integuments of the fruit become very dark—almost black—on drying, appearing granular, and have an agreeable odor and spice-like flavor.
Chemical Composition.—J. Morris Jones (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1873, p. 301), found in the bark a volatile oil, probably of the cinnamyl series, developing, on treatment with oxidizing substances, a bitter-almond odor. He also found sugar, resin, starch, and tannin. From the berries Dr. A. W. Miller (Proc. Amer. Pharm. Assoc., 1878, p. 772), obtained by warm expression and extraction with gasoline, 50 per cent of fatty and volatile oil of a greenish-brown color. By distilling this oil with steam, about 1 per cent of a pale-green, volatile oil was obtained, of a specific gravity of 0.850, and possessing a warm aromatic taste resembling that of allspice. Mr. P. M. Gleim (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1875, p. 246), obtained by the distillation of fresh berries the unusual yield of 5 per cent of a colorless, fragrant, volatile oil, having a density of 0.87.
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Aromatic, tonic, and stimulant. An infusion or decoction has been successfully used in the treatment of ague and typhoid forms of fever; also as an anthelmintic. The berries afford a stimulant oil much esteemed as an application to bruises, chronic rheumatism, itch, etc., and has some reputation as a carminative in flatulence, flatulent colic, etc. The bark, in decoction, is said to be refrigerant and exhilarating, and exceedingly useful in all kinds of fever, for allaying excessive heat and uneasiness; a warm decoction is employed to produce diaphoresis. The decoction may be drank freely.
Related Species.—Lindera sericea, Blume. Japan. Tonic and stimulant. Source of the Japanese kuromoji oil, an essential oil distilled from the leaves and young twigs, and having considerable fragrance (see Schimmel & Co.'s Report, April, 1897; also see analysis by NY. Kwasnik, Archiv der Pharm., 1892, p. 265).
Lindera triloba, Blume. Japan. Tonic and stimulant.
Botany in A Day tells us:
Medicinally, the sap is high benzoin, which can be made into an ointment to help heal wounds. You may have seen benzoin or benzoic acid listed in the ingredients of healing ointments in your first aid kit.
Plants for A Future states:
Medicinal use of Spice Bush: Spice bush has a wide range of uses as a household remedy, especially in the treatment of colds, dysentery and intestinal parasites. It warrants scientific investigation. The bark is aromatic, astringent, diaphoretic, febrifuge, stimulant and tonic. It is pleasant to chew. It is used in the treatment of coughs and colds. The bark can be harvested at any time of the year and is used fresh or dried. The fruits are carminative. The oil from the fruits has been used in the treatment of bruises and rheumatism. A tea made from the twigs was a household remedy for colds, fevers, worms and colic. A steam bath of the twigs is used to cause perspiration in order to ease aches and pains in the body. The young shoots are harvested during the spring and can be used fresh or dried. The bark is diaphoretic and vermifuge. It was once widely used as a treatment for typhoid fevers and other forms of fevers.
Edible parts of Spice Bush: The young leaves, twigs and fruit contain an aromatic essential oil and make a very fragrant tea. The twigs are best gathered when in flower as the nectar adds considerably to the flavour. The dried and powdered fruit is used as a substitute for the spice "allspice". The fruit is about the size of an olive. The leaves can also be used as a spice substitute. The new bark is pleasant to chew.
Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians tells us:
American Indians made tea from all parts of the spicebush. They drank the tea as a spring tonic, and to treat coughs, fevers and measles. Spicebush was also used to bring on delayed menses. During the Civil War, spicebush was considered as a substitute for allspice, and the berries were used as an aromatic seasoning.
Peterson Field Guides Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants tells us:
American Indians used berry tea for coughs, cramps, delayed menses, croup, measles; bark tea for sweating, “blood purifying”. Colds, rheumatism, anemia. Settlers used berries as an Allspice substitute. Medicinally, the berries were used as a carminative for flatulence and colic. The oil from the fruits was applied to bruises and muscles or joints (for chronic rheumatism). Twig tea was popular for colds, fevers, worms, gas and colic. The bark tea was once used to expel worms, for typhoid fevers and as a diaphoretic for other forms of fevers. Should be investigated.
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The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.