Lindera benzoin (spicebush)

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Painting by Eileen Malone-Brown

Artist’s Statement:

Until this project, I didn’t know the name of the shrub that I so looked forward to seeing each early March along the George Washington Parkway near my home. The lemon yellow flowers of the spice bush float in the misty-moisty spring air creating a lovely soft yellow haze, soon joined by the other delicate colors of early spring foliage. I was able to monitor its seasonal changes on my daily walks and record them in the nature journal I kept for this project. In an effort to capture the luminescence of the shrub itself, I turned to egg tempera to paint its main portrait depicting its branches from spring to autumn, highlighting particular components in cameos at the bottom. I was inspired to use a picture of Clover Fields (Lay, p. 37), Lucy's childhood home in Albemarle County to provide a stylized setting for my medicinal vignettes. To depict the seeds and bark, I used gold gilding.

Medicinal Uses:

American Indians made a tea from the bark of Lindera benzoin or spicebush as a “blood purifier” and for sweating, colds, rheumatism and anemia. Settlers used a twig tea to treat colds, fevers, worms, gas and colic and bark tea to expel worms, for typhoid fevers and a diaphoretic for other fevers. Stem bark extract strongly inhibits the growth of Candida albicans, a yeast organism normally found in the mouth, vagina and anus but which can grow out of control with a change in environment. The berries were used by the American Indians to make a tea for coughs, cramps, delayed menses, croup and measles and by the settlers to prevent gas and flatulence and colic. Fruit oil was applied to treat chronic rheumatism, bruises, muscles and joints. Leaves contain a small amount of camphor and can be used as an insect repellent. (Foster and Duke, p. 283).

Lindera benzoin was not mentioned the first edition of the United States Dispensatory (1833), an early official compilation of plant drugs and their preparations. The fact that it was omitted indicates that Indian applications were slow to catch on among European settlers who evidently preferred to use the hard honeycomb-like berries as an allspice substitute rather than as medicinal remedy. Spicebush was only briefly mentioned in the Dispensatory’s 2nd edition. (Lloyd and Lloyd)