Ozark Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, or sometimes called Benjamin bush or justBenjamin, is another spring tonic used in the Ozarks. It’s not to be confused with benzoin resin, which is obtained from several species of the Syrax family. It got its name from the spicy, cinnamon-like scent of its leaves and bark, which resembles benzoin resin. It’s leaves are brewed as a tea to help with colds, respiratory complaints, and also drank in the springtime as a blood thinner and toner. It’s sometimes mixed with other plants, but the taste is so delicate that most folks prefer it on its own.
The plant is a hard one to find when it doesn’t have any berries on it. Most of the year it looks like any other bush in the woods, but come June or July it’ll be covered in bright red berries that are sometime used by hillfolk as an allspice or cinnamon substitute. Below is a photo of me sniffing the spicebush, as you do. If you’ve ever smelled the plant you’ll know why I have my face in it, and why I can’t resist chewing on a twig whenever I find a bush.
Vance Randolph mentions the spicebush in his “Ozark Magic and Folklore”:
“Many Ozark people make a tea from the bark of the spicebush in March and April. They drink this just as they do sassafras tea and regard it as a tonic and blood thinner. It tastes quite as good as sassafras, I think. Some old folks say that in pioneer days the spicebush was used to season game it softened the wild taste of venison and bear meat. Spicebush twigs are still used as a mat beneath a possum, when the Ozark housewife bakes the animal in a covered pan or a Dutch oven.”
For more information here’s a good site about the uses of the spicebush.