Spicebush – Complete Guide To Lindera Benzoin

The Spicebush is one of my favorite native shrubs for it’s shape, beauty, berries, and wildlife it attracts. I’m fortunate enough to have large numbers that grow in my general area, as well as my own yard. I get to see Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars every year, and have even taught myself how to germinate the seeds with 95% germination rates!

The Spicebush is one of the best native shrubs you can grow in your yard. One of the best shrubs you can grow in your yard, the Spicebush has several benefits:

  • it is beautiful in Spring, Summer, and Fall
  • Spicebush adds much value for wildlife
  • And it has several culinary and medicinal uses for people

I’ve had this shrub in my yard since 2018, and have grown dozens from seed in since then. I love observing the wildlife, eating the berries, and looking for caterpillars on the leaves. This will be a complete profile on this awesome native shrub, and I will share all that I’ve learned with you.

In this article:

What is Spicebush

Spicebush is a deciduous shrub native to Eastern North America. Scientifically known as Lindera benzoin, it typically grows 10-12′ tall in full sun and 3-5′ tall in shade and moist to medium-moist soil. Blooming small yellow flowers in Spring, it hosts several butterflies and caterpillars, and produces fragrant foliage and edible berries.

This is really a nice shrub to have around for the wildlife benefits, beauty, and culinary uses. In Spring, Spicebush stands out in the forest by blooming numerous yellow flowers. During Summer, one may encounter large caterpillars rolled up in leaves during the day, waiting for nightfall to feed. And in late Summer or early Fall, female plants produce peppery-tasting berries that be eaten as a snack or saved for later use.

Native Range of Spicebush

The primary native range of Spicebush is bound northward from and imaginary line extending from Texas to Michigan, Ontario and Maine.

Click to enlarge. Sources [1][2][3]

Spicebush Reference Table

Scientific NameLindera benzoin
Common Name(s)Spicebush, Wild Allspice
Native Range, USDA ZoneEastern United States, USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9
Bloom TimeSpring
Bloom Duration, ColorTwo weeks, yellow
Height4′-12′ (1.3-4m)
Spacing / Spread6′-12′ (2-4 m)
Light RequirementsShade to full sun
Soil TypesSandy loam to clay
MoistureMoist to medium
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsBees, butterflies, birds / hosts Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly
Sources [1][2][3]

What are the Benefits of Spicebush

Spring Flowers

Spicebush is one of the first plants to produce flowers in Spring. In the deep woods, it is quite conspicuous when in bloom on cloudy days. The flowers may be small, but they stand out contrasting against the brown color from the previous years fallen leaves.

Fall Color

In fall all the leaves during a brilliant yellow color. It turns color earlier than many other shrubs, and is quite bright.

Spicebush leaves in Fall. This specimen is against a forest, so doesn’t stand out as well.

In fact the fall color can be a way to identify it while driving down the road – a grove of Spicebush really stands out.


The berries are edible and quite an interesting flavor. They are not sweet – no, they are a bit citrus but peppery. But, you can dry the berries and then crush them to use as a seasoning for meat or soup. In fact it has been used as a substitute for Allspice.

But it is more than just berries – you can make a tea from the leaves or new-growth twigs. It is a citrus and spicy tea. Also, they can be used to add new dimensions to vanilla ice cream, or even as a garnish to a cocktail.

Host plant

The Spicebush hosts the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly. On mature trees, females will lay eggs that will eventually turn into caterpillars that feed on the leaves. It is quite fun to look for curled leaves on a Spicebush and see if any caterpillars are hiding inside.

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar on the Spicebush in my back yard. They curl up in leaves during the day.


This shrub is quite versatile when it comes to growing conditions – particularly when it comes to sunlight. I’ve encountered large patches of Spicebush underneath tall Oak-Hickory canopies in what would be considered full shade. But this shrub can also grow in full sun. And I have one growing in my yard in exactly that – full sun.

In the wild you often find it in the woods or near water. I’ve not found it on areas prone to drought, unless it was in shade of taller trees (which protect it from heat, thereby reducing it’s moisture requirements).

Video Guide for Spicebush

Below you will find a comprehensive video guide we created for the Spicebush. It is long, but will visually cover all aspects of this plant. We hope you enjoy it!

Grow and Care for Spicebush

Sunlight Requirements

The Spicebush will grow best in partial shade, or full sun areas that never totally dry out. It can grow in the woods, although the growth rate will be less.

Moisture Requirements

Spicebush does best in moist or medium-moist areas. The two areas I most often find this shrub in the wild is near creeks or ponds, and in the woods. The woods provide shade that help reduce evaporation, while bodies of water help supply moisture.

In my own yard, I have it growing in the open. But, the area is where two of my downspouts drain, so the area doesn’t really dry out completely.

Soil Requirements

When it comes to soil, the moisture level matters more than the soil texture. If you grow Spicebush in a moist environment, it can handle almost any texture.

However, if the soil is coarse and drains fast, and not near water, then I would suggest that you either keep it in an area that never totally dries, or ensure it gets shade in the afternoon. You will also probably have to water it occasionally or as needed.


There really isn’t any maintenance needed for Spicebush. The limited amount of leaves it puts down generally don’t need raking as there isn’t enough to harm grass. If you wish to prune it, then you may do so in Spring, and it will bounce back.


As a native plant, Spicebush won’t need any supplemental fertilizer.

Growth rate of Spicebush

Spicebush can grow over 12 inches per year in full sun and moist soil (30 cm+ / year). I can verify this myself, as planted my first Spicebush as a 6″ tall bare root, and after five total growing seasons it is approximately 7′ tall.

This Spicebush was a 6″ (15 cm) tall bare root when I planted it. The height is now 7′ tall (2.1 m) This image is after 5 full growing seasons. It has taken a nice shape, and is very healthy.

In shade, this growth rate will be less. Less sun means less photosynthesis, less leaf area, and thus less energy to increase it’s height. [4]

Identification and Characteristics of Spicebush

In this section I will go through the botanical features you need to identify Spicebush. But I’ve got to tell you, if you are wondering if you’ve found Spicebush, the easiest way to confirm the ID is to tear off a leaf or new-growth twig and smell it. Crushing the leaves will give off an unmistakable aroma, and the young twigs have the peppery taste too.


Spicebush can be single or multi-trunked. The diameter of the trunk or branches rarely grows beyond 2-3″ diameter (5-7.5 cm).

In the open and full sun, the branching will take on a round shrub-like form, trying to gather sunlight from all directions. In deep shade, the branching will be more ‘scraggly’ or erratic, similar to Witch-hazel. But nonetheless the branching will take on an alternate structure.

Spicebush bark. Note the lenticels (white spots).

The bark of Spicebush will be brown in color and have small white spots known as lenticels. It can also be a bit shiny and reflect the sun somewhat.


Spicebush leaves are arranged alternate along the stalk, 4-5″ long by half as wide, and generally ovate in shape. There will be deep prominent veins and a dark green color during the summer, and a bright yellow in Autumn. If you suspect you’ve found Spicebush but are unsure, just tear a leaf in half and smell the portion that is torn ……trust me…you will know if it is spicebush, even if you’ve never smelled it before.

Looking down on many Spicebush branches. The leaves are not that conspicuous.


Spicebush is interesting in that it has male, or female plants. If you are interested in harvesting berries, then you need to be able to differentiate the males from females.

The easiest way to differentiate male from female Spicebush flowers is to look at the center where the stamens are located. The stamen of a flower is a little string or stalk like structure that arises from the center of the flower. But, male Spicebush flowers have many stamens, while Females will only have a single stamen….

If you look at a Spicebush flower, and there are many ‘stalks’ arising from the center of the flower, it is male. If there is a single stalk, it is a female.

The image above is from more of an ‘eye-level’. Both male and female Spicebush flowers occur in clusters along the branches. But, a female flower will have petals, and a single ‘style’ or string protruding from the center. Male flowers will have 5-9 stamens (strings/stalks) protruding from the center of the flower. This is important to know, as only female plants will produce berries. Also, for reference, in my observations the male flowers bloom about 3-7 days earlier than female flowers. I don’t know the reason for this, it is just my observation.

Male Spicebush flowers will have 9 or more stamen that are all of similar length. Three of the stamen in the center will have nectar glands at the base. And all stamen will have two anthers, which are visible with naked eye. Male flowers tend to be a bit larger than female flowers, usually around 4 mm (1/8″-3/16″) diameter.

Female Spicebush flowers will have one long, prominent stamen with a pistil, and many other stamen, most are short and infertile. But, there will be . Female flowers are a bit smaller than male flowers, roughly 2-4 mm diameter (1/16″-1/8″).


Spicebush roots are shallow, woody, and branched. This is logical considering their preferred habitat.

Spicebush vs Forsythia

If you lurk around Facebook groups or Reddit, you probably have heard that Spicebush is the ‘native’ version of Forsythia (a non-native ornamental, that is very popular). Well, it is true that it will bloom yellow flowers at the same time as Forsythia. But that is where the similarities end.

The truth is that while both Spicebush and Forsythia bloom yellow flowers, the blooms of Spicebush are not that showy as they are so small. While Forsythia blooms are quite large and showy. See below! This image is of an actual blooming Spicebush limb held next to a Forsythia limb while both were blooming (my image). There is no comparison – Forsythia is much showier than Spice bush.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love the Spicebush and don’t like Forsythia. In fact I killed 8 mature Forsythia in my yard (previous owners planted them). But, to say that Spicebush is a native equivalent to Forsythia is just not being honest. The ‘showiness’ difference is just too much. Now, Spicebush has many other benefits (outlined in this article) that Forsythia does not have. But from an ornamental perspective there is no question that Forsythia is more showy than Spicebush.

How to Grow Spicebush from Seed

Spicebush isn’t overly difficult to grow from seed, but there are some steps required to break dormancy. The seed will need to undergo a cold-moist stratification period of approximately 18 weeks (126 days).[5] This is based on research from the University of Kentucky who ran a comprehensive experiment, testing various warm/cold stratification methods. And they found the highest germination rate when seeds were subjected to 18 weeks cold stratification only.

Reference Table for Spicebush seed germination

SpeciesSpicebush (Lindera benzoin)
Cold stratification18 weeks (via refrigerator or Winter Sowing)
Planting depth3/8″ (10 mm)
Container sizeLarge diameter containers, at least several inches deep.

This matches my own experience, but I feel I need to add some more information that will help you germinate the seeds – and that advice is that you do not let the Spicebush seeds freeze outdoors when winter sowing.

To achieve cold stratification requirements, we typically have a few methods at our disposal (as backyard gardeners). In general, we will either need to cold stratify seed in the fridge, or winter sow the seed. Mold can be a frequent problem when cold stratifying seeds in the refrigerator, and the longer a seed must stay in the fridge, the more likely it is to develop mold, which could harm the seed. So, for extremely long periods of stratification, Winter Sowing is usually the safer option. (See here for a description/guide on what Winter Sowing is.)

The first year I was serious about Winter Sowing Spicebush. I had a fairly high germination rate. But, it was a mild Winter. At this stage I simply transplanted the seedlings to large pots.

I Winter Sow seed every year, and it is my preferred method of sowing any seed. But in growing Spicebush from seed for several years, I have learned via experience that you can’t just leave your containers outside in subfreezing conditions for long periods. I originally did this, and would have a decent germination rate when the Winter was mild, but poor to zero germination when the Winter was harsh and we had many days in a row at zero Fahrenheit (-18 C).

So in the Winter of 2022/2023 I decided to germinate more seed, but instead of leaving containers outside exposed to the elements, I would leave them in my unheated garage, which would normally be about 20F warmer than outdoors, roughly 40-50F (4-10C) from November until April. My results were excellent, and I had very high germination rates.

Transplanting Spicebush

Spicebush seedlings can be transplanted outdoors to their final location once they have 2-3 sets of true leaves. The young seedlings should be caged to protect from deer browsing or rabbit damage (both during growing season or in Winter).

More mature specimens of Spicebush can be transplanted as long as the shrub is still relatively young, perhaps 2′ tall or less. You should transplant in very early Spring, once the ground is workable and buds are emerging. More mature specimens of Spicebush are not as easy to transplant. [3]

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Spicebush


The Spring flowers of Spicebush attract small pollinators such as tiny bees and pollinating flies.[11] Later in the season mature Spicebush plants will host caterpillars of the Promethea Moth [6], Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly [7][8], and the Tulip Tree Beauty[9].

Papilio troilus
Spicebush Swallowtail will lay eggs on leaves of Spicebush
This is a very young Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar, on the shrub just off my back deck.


The berries produced by female Spicebush plants will attract and be eaten various song and game birds such as Pheasant and Quail, various Thrushes, Robins, Kingbirds, Flycatchers, and the White-throated Sparrow.[3]


Spicebush is generally not bothered by traditional garden pests. Although it is fed on by several other insects besides the aforementioned moths and butterflies. However, none of this truly effects the appearance.

Deer and Rabbits

The strong aroma in the foliage and twigs is alleged to keep deer and rabbits away from Spicebush, and many references list it as deer and rabbit resistant.[10] However, this does not mean they will never browse it, as has been documented by other researchers. [4]

I have personally seen significant deer browsing to the Spicebush I have growing off my back deck. However, it is generally uncommon, or not preferred, as evidenced by the numerous specimens I encounter in the forests of Pennsylvania.

Nonetheless, one should consider protecting the plant from deer and rabbits until it is established, or large enough to withstand occasional browsing by deer and rabbits. When I first bought my tiny bare-root, I kept it caged for the first 3 years to avoid any browsing by deer or rabbits. In Winter, rabbits sometimes gnaw at the bark of young trees and shrubs when the snow is deep.


Spicebush is generally disease resistant and trouble free.

Where you can buy Spicebush

Spicebush is not typically sold in large nurseries, as it isn’t a generally thought of as a landscaping shrub. But it can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.

Another option for obtaining Spicebush is purchasing bare roots. My first Spicebush was actually a bare root plant I purchased online (and the one I’ve spoken of being near my back deck). There are several companies that deal in bare root trees/shrubs. The company I purchased from is known as coldstreamfarm.net. I have no affiliation with them, but I’ve had good luck with my Spicebush as well as other species such as White Cedar.

Where to buy seeds

Seeds from Spicebush are somewhat difficult to purchase, and I’ve not really found many sources. There are various companies who do sell them, even from Amazon. But I cannot endorse any of them. So, do your own due diligence before purchase.

Uses of Spicebush

Culinary uses

Spicebush has been used as a food, tea or seasoning for thousands of years, starting with the Native Americans and continuing right through the pioneers on the frontier, who didn’t have access to spices.

Leaves / Twigs

The leaves and young twigs of Spicebush can be used to make a tea, or used for infusions. Crushed, they are very fragrant. In fact when I encounter a Spicebush when hiking, I will grab a leaf and tear it in half just to smell it.

To make spicebush tea, steep 1/2 cup of leaves or twigs for about 10-12 minutes in boiling water.


Spicebush berries have many uses. Their flavor very unique, I’ve never tasted another ingredient like it. Spicebush berries are not sweet but somewhat peppery and spicy, but also have some other flavors going on too – they are one of a kind.

The berries of Spicebush will start out a green color early in Sumer, changing to red in late Summer or early Fall, until finally turning brown. Spicebush berries should be picked when the berry turns red, as they are ripe.

Fresh Spicebush berries will keep for a week or two fresh in the refrigerator. You can use them as a garnish for vanilla ice cream, add them to liquor or cocktails, or add them to other deserts like apple pie or crisp.[12] You can also just eat them as a regular snack, the seed will crush in your mouth just like any other edible nut. I do that in late Summer or early Fall when the berries turn red.

Adding Spicebush to ice cream was somewhat of an acquired taste….

But I’ve got to tell you, just eating the berries/nuts as a snack is my preferred way. It just tastes nice and peppery, like a snack that fills you up quickly.

Spicebush berries can also be dried outside or in the oven to preserve them longer. I’ve frozen them after drying and pulled them out when needed. I’ve ground them in a coffee grinder and used them as a dry rub on chicken that I then grilled. The flavor was somewhat similar to lemon pepper, but not quite the same….it was very unique.

Spicebush dry rub from my coffee grinder!
Yes, this is a piece of chicken I seasoned with Spicebush and then grilled. It is a nice seasoning.

Landscaping Uses

Spicebush can be used as a specimen, a privacy hedge, or as a general understory shrub. [13] The key factor to note is that it is not drought tolerant (in full sun), so you should locate it in a location that never fully dries out, or be prepared to water occasionally. In shade Spicebush is drought tolerant once established.

I have a single female Spicebush just off the NE corner of my back deck. This location receives rainwater from my gutters, and sun in the morning and late afternoon. It is thriving, and we had a number of caterpillars on it for the first time in 2022. I originally planted it as a 6″ tall bareroot, and it is now approximately 6′ tall after 6 years.

Companion Plants

For companion plants, Spicebush will grow well with other moisture loving shrubs such as Buttonbush, Ninebark, or Rhododendron. It can be used as an understory tree in mature forests, and if grown in shade, will be much more drought tolerant as the forest canopy reduces water demands. I’ve seen this growing well around a variety of mature Oaks, Walnut, and Hickory trees that provide shade.

For flowers, a wide variety can be grown under or near Spicebush. Really anything that likes moist or medium-moist soil will do well, provided it’s sun requirements are met. So, if the Spicebush is in full sun, you can grow sun-loving plants like Echinacea, Rudbeckia,

Medicinal Uses

Spicebush has been used medicinally for centuries, beginning with the Native Americans. But early settlers realized the medicinal values, and it was even included in the early United States Medical directories. [14][15]

There are over 30 medicinal uses by 6 different Native American Tribes.[16] Uses ranged from food/tea to cold medicine, respiratory or pulmonary aid, venereal aid, emetic and diaphoretic. Essentially it was viewed as being able to treat a wide variety of symptoms, almost as a panacea.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to native shrubs, Spicebush really has a lot to offer in terms of beauty, wildlife value, and culinary uses for yourself. It isn’t aggressive, is very adaptable in that it can grow in a wide variety of light/moisture levels, and is generally trouble free.

Find more native plants here


[1] – Lindera benzoin, Spicebush. USDA NRCS.

[2] – Newsom, G, Guala, G., SPICEBUSH Lindera benzoin (L.) Blume, USDA NRCS, 2000

[3] – DeGraaf, Richard M, Trees, shrubs, and vines for attracting birds : a manual for the Northeast, Amherst : University of Massachusetts Press, 1975, pp.195

[4] – Niesenbaum, Richard A. “The effects of light environment on herbivory and growth in the dioecious shrub Lindera benzoin (Lauraceae).” American Midland Naturalist (1992): 270-275.

[5] – Poston, A. L., and R. L. Geneve. “Propagation of spicebush {Lindera benzoin.” Proc. Intl. Plant Prop. Soc. Vol. 56. 2006.

[6] – Scriber, J. Mark, Juliana Potter, and Kelly Johnson. “Lack of physiological improvement in performance of Callosamia promethea larvae on local host plant favorites.” Oecologia 86 (1991): 232-235.

[7] – Carter, Maureen, and Paul Feeny. “Host-plant chemistry influences oviposition choice of the spicebush swallowtail butterfly.” Journal of chemical ecology 25 (1999): 1999-2009.

[8] – Iftner, David C, Butterflies and skippers of Ohio, Columbus, Ohio : College of Biological Sciences, Ohio State University, 1992, pp215.

[9] – Niesenbaum, Richard A., and Emily C. Kluger. “When studying the effects of light on herbivory, should one consider temperature? The case of Epimecis hortaria F.(Lepidoptera: Geometridae) feeding on Lindera benzoin L.(Lauraceae).” Environmental Entomology 35.3 (2006): 600-606.

[10] – Clausen, Ruth Rogers, 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants : The Prettiest Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs, And Shrubs That Deer Don’t Eat, Timber Press Inc, 2011, pp225

[11] – Butterfly Gardening And Conservation, Missouri Department of Conservation, 2005. pp20.

[12] – Kenneth F. Kiple, Bowling Green State University, Ohio, Kriemhild Coneè Ornelas; The Cambridge World History Of Food, Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp2150

[13] – Buffer Manual: Using Vegetative Buffers To Protect Our Lakes And Rivers, Massachusetts Department Of Environmental Protection, 2003, pp 111.

[14] – Frederick Stearns & Co; Helfand, William H., The pharmaceutical products of Frederick Stearns & Co., Detroit, Mich. : Frederick Stearns & Co., US NIH National Library of Medicine, 1903, pp218. http://resource.nlm.nih.gov/100892352 Accessed 01MAY2023

[15] – Eli Lilly and Co. Lilly’s Handbook Of Pharmacy And Therapeutics, Indianapolis, Ind. : Eli Lilly & Company, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1897, pp. 348. http://resource.nlm.nih.gov/101096250 Accessed 01MAY2023.

[16] – Lindera benzoin. North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 30APR2023.

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: https://youtube.com/@growitbuildit Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

Recent Posts