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Grow Your Own Spices

Parts of These Trees, Shrubs or Lianas Are Used as Cooking Spices

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I think cooking is especially satisfying when you use ingredients from your own garden. If you live in a warmer location, you may be able to plant some of these spice trees, shrubs and lianas. For those in cooler regions, you could try growing some of the juniper species for their berries, the Baies rose plant (for pink peppercorns) or treat some of the smaller species as houseplants. Here are some basic growing facts for 12 different spices from around the world.

1. Allspice

Picture of the Allspice Tree
Image by Elenadan via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license
  • Latin Name: Pimenta dioica
  • Family: Myrtaceae
  • Other Common Names: Newspice, Jamaica pepper, pimenta, pepper, myrtle pepper, pimento
  • Native to: Mexico, Central America and the West Indies
  • USDA Zones: 10-12, may grow in 9b if shelter is provided
  • Height: 20-40' tall
  • Exposure: Full sun

The allspice tree is dioecious so plan on planting both a male and female variety for fruiting.

For this spice tree, you pick the fruit before it matures and then dry it. They can be used whole or ground into a powder. The flavor will usually be better if the fruits are kept whole and ground up right before use.

The name allspice refers to the fact that it smells like a combination of several different spices including cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and nutmeg.

Recipes Using Allspice:

2. Annatto

Photo of the annato shrub
Image by tonrulkens via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license
  • Latin Name: Bixa orellana
  • Family: Bixaceae
  • Other Common Names: Achiote, urucu, lipstick plant, roucou, lipstick tree, aploppas, colorau
  • Native to: Tropics in the Americas
  • USDA Zones: 10-11
  • Height: 6-30' tall
  • Exposure: Full sun

The annatto plant is a shrub or small tree that produces seeds with culinary and dyeing purposes. Like saffron, is often used to add a vibrant yellow color to foods like cheeses and butter, as well as substances like lipstick. It is also used to add flavor and is a main ingredient in achiote paste.

Recipes Using Annatto:

3. Black Pepper

Picture of a Black Pepper Vine
Image by Steenbergs via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license
  • Latin Name: Piper nigrum
  • Family: Piperaceae
  • Other Common Names: Common pepper, green pepper, white pepper, orange pepper, red pepper
  • Native to: Southern India and Sri Lanka
  • USDA Zones: 10-12
  • Height: 10-15' long
  • Exposure: Full sun (if there is light shade) to part shade

If you are in a tropical location and growing this outside, provide a trellis or other means of support. Those in other climates can grow this in greenhouses or as a houseplant that is taken outdoors during the summer after a period of hardening off. Fruiting may be rare in those used as houseplants.

Several different kinds of peppercorns are produced on the black pepper liana. The familiar black peppercorns are produced by cooking and drying the immature drupe fruit. You get green peppercorns if you just dry the unripened fruit. Once they dry after ripening, they are considered to be white peppercorns. You can also place the red fruit in brine to produce orange or red pepper.

Recipes Using Black Pepper:

4. Capers

Picture of the caper bush
Image by Ettore Balocchi via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution license
  • Latin Name: Capparis spinosa
  • Family: Capparaceae
  • Other Common Names: Flinders rose
  • Native to: Mediterranean region
  • USDA Zones: Unknown
  • Height: 1-3' tall
  • Exposure: Full sun

The capers we use as spices are flower buds that have been pickled. In some countries they also pickle the berries. If you live in a cooler region, you can grow nasturtiums and the seeds can be used as a substitute for capers.

As the species name suggests, these shrubs feature spines. There are varieties available that are spineless for easier picking.

Recipes Using Capers:

5. Carob

Picture of a carob tree
Image by tree-species via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution license
  • Latin Name: Ceratonia siliqua
  • Family: Fabaceae
  • Other Common Names:St. John's bread
  • Native to: Mediterranean area
  • USDA Zones: 9-10, sometimes in 8 if shelter is provided
  • Height: 30-50' tall
  • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Carob can be used as a substitute for chocolate when it is ground up. The pods are harvested and dried. They are sweet and are sometimes chewed. The pods can be If you are looking to harvest the fruit you will need more than one tree since the species is dioecious and will have either male or female flowers only.

Recipes Using Carob:

6. Cinnamon

Picture of the true cinnamon tree
Image by wlcutler via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution license
  • Latin Name: Cinnamomum verum is known as true cinnamon, though several species are used for cinnamon
  • Family: Lauraceae
  • Other Common Names: Sri Lanka cinnamon, true cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon, common cinnamon
  • Native to: Sri Lanka and India
  • USDA Zones: 10-11+
  • Height: 20-55' tall
  • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of several species of the Cinnamomum genus. If it is not taken from Cinnamomum verum (true cinnamon), it is sometimes known as cassia to denote that fact.

Recipes Using Cinnamon:

7. Cloves

Picture of the clove plant
Image by YIM Hafiz via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license
  • Latin Name: Syzygium aromaticum
  • Family: Myrtaceae
  • Other Common Names: Clavos de olor, laung
  • Native to: Indonesia
  • USDA Zones: Unknown
  • Height: Can be over 40' tall
  • Exposure:

The flower buds on the clove tree are dried in the sun and used for cooking and medicinal purposes. I have used clove oil before to curb a toothache. It is also sometimes used in cigarettes.

Recipes Using Cloves:

8. Juniper Berries

Common juniper image
Image by Silversyrpher via Flickr

Though the fruits of the different juniper species are called berries, they are actually cones. They can be used whole or ground. Gin is made from the common juniper (Juniperus communis) cones.

Recipes Using Juniper Berries:

9. Mace and Nutmeg

Picture of the Nutmeg/Mace Tree
Image by Lee Edwin Coursey via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license
  • Latin Name: Myristica fragrans is the main species grown for commercial use, though other Myristica species are known as nutmeg.
  • Family: Myristicaceae
  • Other Common Names:Common nutmeg, fragrant nutmeg
  • Native to: Indonesia
  • USDA Zones: 10-11
  • Height: 10-70' tall
  • Exposure: Full sun

Parts of this tree are used in creating two different spices. Nutmeg is made from the seeds and is usually in powdered form. Mace comes from a reddish aril (covering) surrounding the seed. Both a male and female tree will be needed for fruit on this dioecious species.

Recipes Using Mace:

Recipes Using Nutmeg:

10. Pink Peppercorns

Photo of pink peppercorns
Image by rrunaway via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution license

Peruvian Pepper:

  • Latin Name: Schinus molle
  • Family: Anacardiaceae
  • Other Common Names: False pepper, California pepper, American pepper, Peruvian mastic, escobilla, mastic tree, Peruvian peppertree, molle del Peru, peppercorn tree, pirul, and pepper tree
  • Native to: South America
  • USDA Zones: 9-11
  • Height: 25-40' tall
  • Exposure: Full sun

Brazilian Pepper:

  • Latin Name: Schinus terebinthifolius
  • Family: Anacardiaceae
  • Other Common Names: Christmasberry, rose pepper, wilelaiki, Florida holly, aroeira, Brazilian peppertree
  • Native to: South America
  • USDA Zones: 9-11
  • Height: 10-45' tall
  • Exposure: Full sun

Baies Rose Plant:

  • Latin Name: Euonymus phellomanus
  • Family: Celastraceae
  • Other Common Names: Spindle tree, corktree, winged spindlebush
  • Native to: China
  • USDA Zones: 5-9
  • Height: 8-15' tall
  • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

While most types of peppercorns come from the black pepper vine, pink peppercorns come from three other plants. They are the Baies rose plant (shrub), Brazilian pepper and the Peruvian pepper (trees).

Recipes Using Pink Peppercorns:

11. Star Anise

Picture of star anise
Image by fuzheado via Flickr used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license
  • Latin Name: Illicium verum
  • Family: Schisandraceae
  • Other Common Names: Chinese star anise, star aniseed
  • Native to: China and Vietnam
  • USDA Zones: 8-11
  • Height: 12-60'tall
  • Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Star anise fruits are collected right before they mature. The spice part used is the pericarp. It is used in liquors and cooking, especially as an alternative to the anise (Pimpinella anisum) plant. Star anise was also used as a component of the flu medicine Tamiflu.

Recipes Using Star Anise:

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