Allspice (Pimenta officinalis L.) Myrtle family
Fast facts: promotes digestion, relieves toothache, alleviates muscle pain.
Description of Plant and Culture: Allspice is the dried berry of the pimento, an evergreen tree growing to 40 feet in height; it bears opposite, leathery, oblong to oblong-lanceolate leaves whose pinnately arranged veins show prominently on the underside. Small white flowers grow in many-flowered cymes in the upper leaf axils from June to August. The fruit is a fleshy, sweet berry which is purplish-black when ripe. The berries used for allspice are collected when they have reached full size but are not yet ripe. The name comes from the berry’s taste, which has been described as a combination of cloves, Juniper berries, cinnamon, and pepper.
Medicinal Properties: Aromatic, carminative, stimulant
Allspice owes its name to its unique flavor: a zesty blend of cinnamon, pepper, juniper and clove. Thanks to its oil, it also has mild but significant healing powers as a digestive aid and topical anesthetic.
Aromatic allspice berries have a long history in Caribbean folk healing. Jamaicans drink hot allspice tea for colds, menstrual cramps and upset stomach. Costa Ricans use it to treat indigestion, flatulence and diabetes. Cubans consider it a refreshing tonic. And Guatemalans apply crushed berries to bruises and joint and muscle pains. Most of these uses have been confirmed by modern science.
“Allspice owes its medicinal actions to eugenol, a chemical constituent of its oil,” says Daniel B. Mowrey, Ph.D., director of the American Phytotherapy Research Laboratory in Salt Lake City, Utah, and author of The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine. “Eugenol promotes digestion by enhancing the activity of the digestive enzyme trypsin. It’s also an effective pain reliever and anesthetic.”
Dentists use eugenol as a local anesthetic for teeth and gums, and the chemical is an ingredient in the over-the-counter toothache remedies Numzident and Benzodent.
“Allspice oil is not as rich in eugenol as clove oil,” says James A. Duke, Ph.D., a botanist retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and author of The CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. That’s why dentists favor clove oil. But allspice oil has similar anesthetic action and may be applied directly to painful teeth as first aid until professional care can be obtained.
Uses: Pimento water and oil of pimento are helpful for flatulent indigestion or simple flatulence; the oil is used for hysteria. Taken with a laxative, the oil lessens the tendency toward griping.. As an ointment or a bath additive, allspice is said to have some anesthetic effects. Also used for rheumatism and neuralgia.
Putting the herb to work
For toothache, apply allspice oil directly to the tooth, one drop at a time, using a cotton swab. Take care not to swallow it. Powdered allspice adds a warm, rich flavor to foods, but its highly concentrated oil should never be swallowed. As little as one teaspoon can cause nausea, vomiting and even convulsions.
Allspice is on the Food and Drug Administration’s list of herbs generally regarded as safe. But in people with sensitive skin, particularly those with eczema, allspice oil may cause inflammation. If inflammation develops, stop using it.
For a medicinal tea, use one to two teaspoons of allspice powder per cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 to 20 minutes and strain. Drink up to three cups a day. When using commercial preparations, follow the package directions.
The Herb Book, by John Lust, pgs., 90, 510-511,541.
The Herbalist Almanac, by Clarence Meyer, pgs., 39, 217.
Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants, by Steven Foster and James A. Duke, pg., 242.
Planetary Herbology, by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., O.M.D., pg., 168.
Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, Victoria Neufeldt, Editor in Chief, pg., 37.
Old Ways Rediscovered, by Clarence Meyer, pg., 104.
The Rodale Herb Book, edited by William H. Hylton, pg., 145.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.