By Matt Gibson & Erin Marissa Russell
Allspice, sometimes called Jamaican Allspice, or Jamaican pepper, is a tropical evergreen tree that is from the Caribbean, specifically Jamaica, but has been naturalized in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. The name allspice, in a culinary sense, is a combination of several spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg, juniper and clove, but the allspice tree, also has its place in the culinary world.
The reason that this tree is associated with the country of Jamaica, aside from being native to the small island, is because of how the country has incorporated the dried green berries of the female tree into its dishes. All spice is used in several Jamaican dessert dishes and is one of the central ingredients in Jamaica’s famous jerk spice mix.
A member of the myrtle family, allspice was first discovered in 1509, and was named pimento, or pimiento, after peppercorns, which is what the dried berries that the tree is cultivated for, look like. Allspice has been used throughout history to preserve meats, specifically wild pig. If provided with a warm, sheltered spot, allspice trees will grow in USDA hardiness zone 9B, but is typically only hardy to zones 11 and 12.
Varieties of Allspice
There is only one known variety of allspice, and that is the Pimenta dioica. Allspice is derived from the berries which form on female trees within this tree’s genus. There are no other trees that produce berries with a similar flavor and aroma as the allspice tree.
Growing Conditions for Allspice
Because it hails from the Carribean, allspice will grow well in tropical areas. Plant the tree in an area that gets light for about 40 percent of the daytime. The saplings require more light to stay healthy, but the trees only need a little bit of light to thrive. Plant allspice in loose and well-moistened soil. You can grow it outdoors until it reaches 40 feet high.
How to Plant Allspice
Space allspice trees out allowing thirty feet on each side to give each tree plenty of room to expand and let its roots stretch out underground. Allotting this much space to each tree allows their full canopies to spread. Be sure to provide both male and female trees in the general area where you are growing new allspice trees, as both tree types need to be nearby in order to encourage cross-pollination.
Care for Allspice
Add tropical plant fertilizer to the soil and use plant food every three to five weeks. Water the trees thoroughly anytime the soil’s surface seems dry around the tree. Prune your allspice trees back in the spring and summer time.
The trees will bear fruits when they become three years old or older and will display small but pretty and fragrant blooms from June to August. The berries that the trees are cultivated for appear shortly after blooming. Once the berries reach a fully-matured size but are still green and unripe, it’s time for them to be harvested.
How to Propagate Allspice
Allspice trees are propagated most successfully from seed, from which a transplantable seedling will begin to sprout within approximately six months. Seeds do not require any strenuous pretreatments to begin germination, but they do need to be planted immediately upon gathering, as they will become unfertile very quickly when exposed to the elements. For more information on how to propagate by seed, check the How to Plant Allspice section above.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Allspice
Gardeners who grow allspice trees should be familiar with the following pests and diseases. Once you know what the most likely problems for allspice trees look like, you can keep an eye out for them whenever you inspect your plants.
Aphids: Most gardeners have dealt with aphids a time or two and know what they look like and how they behave. However, there are tons of varieties, all with different appearances, coloring, and host plants, so the aphids on your plants today may look different than the ones you’ve dealt with in the past. However, all aphids are tiny little things, and all of them tend to group up on the underside of plant leaves. Because aphids suck the juices out of plants as they feed, the signs of aphid infestation are withered, curled, or deformed leaves. You can use a repeated treatment of hosing down your plants with water from the garden hose to physically knock aphids off, or you can make a homemade neem oil spray. To make the spray, mix a liter of warm water with four or five drops of dish soap and a teaspoon of neem oil.
Fruit Flies: A cloud of buzzing, tiny fruit flies around your plant won’t do them any damage, but they can definitely lessen your enjoyment of the garden. If you see fruit flies appearing in your garden and want to do something about it, you can trap them with a little apple cider vinegar and dish soap. Just place a cup full of apple cider vinegar near your plants, and add a few drops of dish soap to it. The dish soap will change the surface tension of the vinegar so the flies will drown when they land on it, attracted to the vinegar’s sweet smell.
Lace Bugs: Lace bugs have tiny light-colored bodies with darker spots and wings, and they look like little bits of lace on your plants. Unless there are a ton of lace bugs on your plants, their feeding won’t do any noticeable damage. What they can do is only cosmetic. But if your plants have too many lace bugs, or they’re bothering you, first try knocking them off the plant with a few rounds of well-placed jets of water from your garden hose. More severe lace bug infestations can be fought with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.
Mealybugs: A mealybug infestation resembles a collection of white cotton attached to your plants. When a plant is host to lots of them, it may exhibit yellowed or curled foliage. Avoid giving vulnerable plants too much water or fertilizer. You can fight mealybugs off with natural predators like ladybugs, lacewings, or mealybug destroyers. You can also make a homemade neem oil treatment to repel them out of a liter of warm water, four or five drops of dish soap, and a teaspoon of neem oil.
Rust: Rust tends to impact the lower leaves of a plant. It starts with white lesions that are slightly raised off the surface of foliage, and these are quickly covered with yellowish-orange spores. As the disease progresses, the lesions may become tinged with green and finally turn black before leaves drop from the plant. You can avoid the problem entirely by choosing resistant varieties, but if the infection takes hold, affected foliage must be removed with clean, sterilized shears and discarded. Avoiding wet conditions by providing plenty of drainage and watering plants from the base goes a long way toward preventing rust. A layer of mulch can also stop the splashing water that helps the disease to spread. Do not use infected plants or their debris in compost.
Scale: Scale insects look like small armored bumps on the branches or stems of infested plants. They come in a variety of colors and can kill single branches or the entire plant. Use predatory insects like lacewings or ladybugs to keep them at bay, or in severe cases, treat with horticultural oil.
Spider Mites: Because spider mites are so tiny, you’re more likely to see strands of their webs on affected plants than you are to see the mites themselves. In severe cases, the entire plant may be covered with their webbing. Fight them with natural predators like big-eyed bugs, ladybugs, miniature pirate bugs, predatory thrips, predatory mites, or spider mite destroyers. You can also use horticultural oil or insecticidal soap to stave them off.
Whiteflies: Whiteflies tend to group up underneath the leaves of infested plants, much like aphids. Unlike aphids, however, if they are disturbed, a group of whiteflies will take flight. Try battling them with a few rounds of hosing down affected plants with the garden hose. If your plants require more treatment, try yellow sticky traps or natural predators like ladybugs or lacewing larvae.
How to Harvest Allspice
The flowers of the allspice tree turn into small purple or black berries, and the allspice seasoning you’re familiar with comes from the seeds inside the berries. Each berry may contain one or two seeds. Harvest the berries without worrying about their ripeness, and lay them out in the sun to finish maturing. Eventually, they’ll be sun-dried, and you’ll be able to hear the seeds rattling inside.
Once the berries have dried to a dark red-brown shade, pick them up out of the sunshine. The seeds will still be fragrant and ready to store or grind up. Make sure to pick up the berries so you can harvest the seeds once they’re ready, as waiting too long can cause them to lose their allspice scent and taste. If you intend to grow new trees from the seeds, plant them as soon as they are ripe, as they expire in just two months.
You can also harvest allspice leaves to use in cooking. They are best used fresh, so hold off from picking them until right before you plan to use them.
How to Store Allspice
Allspice leaves should only be harvested one or two days before you need to use them, as they quickly lose their pungency. Drying causes them to lose their flavor, but they’ll keep in the refrigerator inside a plastic zipper bag or food storage container for a day or two.
Seeds may either be stored whole and ground right when they are needed or stored ground for convenience. Either way, you can keep them in a glass jar or small container saved back from another spice in your spice cabinet, or you can seal them into a plastic food storage container.
Allspice is an uncommon tree that has so many culinary uses, it’s hard to understand why it’s so uncommon after all. Find out for yourself how much fresher and more delicious the taste of fresh allspice is than that of store bought allspice by planting your own allspice tree this year.