Allspice berries are the fruit produced by the allspice tree, an evergreen tree native to Jamaica, some areas of Mexico, and Central America. It has come to be cultivated in some countries in Southeast Asia; however, it is generally believed that the highest quality fruit comes from the island of Jamaica. Other names by which allspice berries are known include Jamaica pepper, English Spice, clove pepper, and Myrtle pepper. When Spaniards first encountered the berries, they assumed they were peppercorns; consequently, they called them pimienta, the Spanish word for pepper.
It is actually the aroma of the fruit that influenced its name. Many people thought it had the fragrance of a mixture of various culinary spices: cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Ground allspice berries are widely used by cooks worldwide to season foods such as Indian curries, sweet meats, cakes, fruit pies, and cobblers. Allspice and the spice known as cloves are very similar in flavor and the one can be used as a substitute for the other for culinary and medicinal purposes. The majority of cooks and chefs agree that only the whole berries should be purchased and ground as needed for optimum potency.
The berries are considered by many to be an herbal remedy for various ailments, including poor localized circulation, stiff joints, and tired muscles. Allspice berries contain a chemical substance called eugenol, and it also has tannins which are substances that bind proteins in the body. These are some of the properties responsible for its medicinal use, allowing it to serve as an herbal remedy. During the Napoleonic war, Russian soldiers employed the dried fruit of this herb to help keep their feet warm by placing some in their boots. Tannins in allspice berries act as a mild anesthetic that, when coupled with its warming effect, help to alleviate the discomfort of stiff muscles if used as a poultice.
An herbal remedy for mild toothache involves placing clove oil on a cotton swab and holding it on the tooth to help dull the pain. When clove oil is not available, allspice oil can be used instead. These oils can be made at home; however, they tend to be less potent than commercially manufactured ones. Some people choose to sprinkle freshly ground allspice berries on meals, especially on hot cereals such as oatmeal. This is not only to season the dish, but also to take advantage of the medicinal properties of the fruit during a meal.
Many people report that this spice is highly effective in helping to alleviate conditions such as excess abdominal gas and colic. Ground allspice berries may be taken internally in capsule form. Expectant mothers, however, are usually advised against ingesting this spice in any form.