PIMENTO (Pimenta officinalis/dioica – Myrtaceae)

The berry known variously as pimento, allspice, myrtle pepper or Jamaica pepper is the fruit of a small evergreen tropical tree which grows to a maximum height of 12 m (40 ft). It belongs to the myrtle family, therefore is related to the eucalyptus, clove, niaouli and cajuput trees, and, most closely, to Pimenta acris, the bay tree. It is indigenous to the West Indian islands and South America, and grows most extensively in Jamaica (thus one of its commonest names). There it grows in forests on limestone hills near the coast.

Together with red pepper and vanilla, the berry is one of the three spices which originated in the New World. It was discovered by Spanish explorers in Mexico: as one commentator noted, the Spanish were not botanists and called everything pimienta or pepper. It was reputedly in use in London by 1601. It has been used over the years in both medicine and cooking, primarily the latter.


Description: The tree, which can go on bearing fruit until about 100 years old, first fruits when 3 years old, after a mass of flowers in June, July and August. The valuable elements of the fruit are found primarily in the outer rind of the berries, and the whole berry is ground for the oil. The berry must be picked unripe: if allowed to mature, the properties and aroma would be lessened. Small branches of berries are dried in the sun for some days, then the berries are removed for distillation.

Pimento oil is a volatile, very light oil, at first yellow and gradually becoming darker (its specific colour is due to substances as yet unknown). The smell of the trees and berries is reminiscent of clove, juniper and cinnamon with a dash of black pepper. The oil is very similar.

The principal constituents: Eugenol (from 60 -75 per cent, even 80 per cent), phenol, and a sesquiterpene. A certain amount of resin is also present.

Dangers: The eugenol content means that pimento oil can corrode metal, so do respect dosages. Do not use the oil if your skin is at all sensitive, and avoid very dark brown oil. Also, pimento oil is often adulterated, so do beware. Anotheressential oil can be obtained from the leaves of the same tree, known as pimento leaf oil.


In illness
Its prime uses in aromatherapy are for flatulence and rheumatism. For the former, use crushed berries in flatulence-causing foods.

For rheumatic conditions, add 10 drops of the essential oil to 15 ml (1 tbsp) grapeseed oil and rub gently into the affected area. For this same condition add 5 drops of pimento to a warm to hot bath.
(See also alopecia and arthritis).

In cookery
The whole berry is more pungent than ready-ground. Use the berries whole, or grind them yourself in a mill. The name’ allspice’ (toutes epices in French) is a description of the flavour and smell, which is a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.

In South America, allspice was once used as a flavouring for chocolate.
It was used by settlers in the New World in pumpkin pies, and Jamaica and other islands of the Caribbean still use it in sweet potato dishes, soups, stews and curries. It is good in pates, meatloaves, long-cooking stews, vegetable dishes, marinades for meat and, in Scandinavia, in the marinade for raw herring. It can flavour North African pilaus, and is used in European cooking in sweet biscuits and cakes.

Other uses
All spice, whole or ground, is found in pot-pourri, herb pillows and pomanders.

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