Visually, Spicebush doesn’t stand out from the other plants in the woods. You have probably walked right past it hundreds of times and never even thought twice about it.
Well, that’s about to change because in your local woods lies an ingredient that is as versatile as it is delicious, Spicebush. It also happens to be the perfect flavor to accompany your wild game dinners.
Spicebush (lindera benzoin also known as wild allspice, northern Spicebush, and Benjamin bush) is a shrub native to the eastern US and parts of eastern Canada. It grows 6-12 ft tall and forms thickets most commonly found in the understory of thick woods. In spring it grows yellow green flowers along its stalk, and shortly after starts forming its fruit.
The entire Spicebush plant smells great and can be used in cooking and more. It’s aromatic and peppery and smells very similar to allspice, but the best part are the berries. If you pick them in the early summer they are green and have a flavor a little closer to black pepper. When they ripen in the late summer / early fall they are more complex, spicy, and even a little citrusy. We usually get some in each stage because both are great in their own way.
When it comes to using Spicebush it’s almost harder to find something it doesn’t pair well with. You can boil the stems and leaves to make tea, grind the leaves to add into tomato sauce, and even use the berries to spice a coffee cake. I would even go as far as to say you can use it as a replacement or addition in any recipe that calls for black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, or allspice.
My favorite way to use it is with wild game. You can grind it into your dry rubs for BBQ, or throw some berries in your braising liquid when you’re making a venison leg roast. You can season your breading with it when you're making your fried squirrel, or you can stuff some leaves in when you’re baking a whole trout or smallmouth bass. I really can’t say enough about this incredible plant, it’s versatility, and fantastic flavor.
They are best used fresh, but the berries, leaves, and stems can be dehydrated and used all year round. Often times it's easiest to just toss the berry in whole for flavor but a rub is a great way to store it for future use. Just keep in mind that once dehydrated, it is harder to grind than a peppercorn and has a seed inside. I would suggest using a coffee grinder. The berries are ripe and red now in the early Fall so get out there and get some!
Spicebush Meat Rub:
2 tbsp salt
2 tsp Spicebush berries
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp paprika
1 tbsp sugar or brown sugar
Blend all ingredients in your coffee grinder until incorporated.
This will make enough seasoning for one roast, or you can use it as a steak seasoning.