Allspice comes from a tall tree that grows prolifically throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean. The allspice tree has a slim trunk that sheds its soft, light-grey outer bark every year. It branches high above the ground, bearing pairs of lanceolate leaves that are shiny dark green on top and lighter below. The leaves contain the same aromatic substances as the berries-primarily eugenol, a compound also occurring in clove.
For centuries it was thought that the plant would grow only in Jamaica because trees planted elsewhere rarely thrived. The allspice plant is frost tender but can be grown indoors as a houseplant, or in a greenhouse. Allspice berries are picked while still green and unripe, then dried in the sun, turning purple and then brown in the process. They resemble peppercorns in appearance but are bigger and lighter in color.
Allspice is an integral part of Caribbean cuisine, adding a warm, rich flavor to many traditional dishes, particularly soups, stews and curries. Since its arrival in Europe, allspice has also become an important part of European, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian and American cuisines, and is a popular ingredient in baking, pickling and preserving; for sausages, herring, mincemeat, cakes and cookies; in spice mixtures; and in liqueurs and wines. It is also commonly used in the food industry in sauces and preserves.
Allspice berries contain an oil that is the source of all its healing properties. Allspice oil is rich in the chemical eugenol, also found in clove and several other healing herbs. Eugenol may promote activity of digestive enzymes. With its warming, relaxing and opening quality, allspice can be used to relieve indigestion and wind, and to treat infections. It is also used in the manufacture of deodorants and some perfumes.