News – The Many Offerings of Spicebush

Mar 09, 2015 – Farm News – by Lizza Smith

Spice Bush Landing Photo.jpg

Lindera benzoin, commonly called Spicebush, is a fairly nondescript deciduous shrub in the summertime, but don’t be fooled, like the geeky kid who sat silently in the back of your math class who is now secretly hacking Neiman Marcus’s security system, it packs a punch.

It gets beautiful subtle yellow flowers that bloom tight to the branches in very early spring, before the leaves….remind you of anything?

Yes, you guessed it, often called the ‘suicide prevention plant’ due to its bright yellow blooms signaling the end (finally) of winter, Forsythia.

You can prune the heck out of Spicebush, into a meatball, baseball or football shape, it will thrive. In deep shade, in full sun, in wet or fairly dry soil, Lindera benzoin will make it. In autumn the leaves light up to a lemony yellow, perfect for a shady border planting such as the one pictured below. 

Does this toughness and resilience remind you of anything? Perhaps the now banned, everyone’s former favorite parking lot plant, Burning Bush.

Unlike Forsythia or Burning Bush, Spicebush is native to our beloved New England area, providing food and nesting sites for birds. It also provides habitat and food for the weird-looking Spicebush Swallowtail larvae. If you see a rolled up leaf, peek inside and you may find one.

Crush Spicebush’s leaves in your fingers and enjoy a distinct, refreshing aroma. These fragrant leaves, as well as the twigs, may be easily made into a delicious iced or hot tea. Newly emerging leaves are reported to be delicious in salads. Ripe berries may be dried in the oven then ground up in your food processor to make a spice similar to allspice. 

Lindera benzoin or Spicebush offers so much: the very early spring beauty of Forsythia, the toughness and adaptability and beautiful fall color of Burning Bush, and, it’s edible for people and birds and one cool caterpillar. So, stop pining for Burning Bush, offer a more subtle beauty in the landscape in early spring than Forsythia, stop whining that natives are wimpy, bedraggled plants that you don’t know about or can’t find! Buy and plant a Spicebush and have it all. Prune it, eat it, enjoy it. And do something good for the earth all the while. 

-Lizza Smith, Nursery Sales