Lindera Benzoin, the Common Spicebush
(Note: Picture to the left copied from the Wikipedia page on Spicebush)
This lovely bush grows throughout the eastern US, from north to south, except for the most northern states. It likes streams, creeks, shaded woods and good soil. The leaves are glossy and green, elliptical with a pointy, stalked end. The leaves, twigs, bark and berries all smell of spice, a sort of lemony-spicy fragrance. The berries taste a bit like allspice, and were used by pioneers as a substitute for the spice.
We have a bunch of these bushes growing back in the marshy woods on a road leading to a small pond. They grow right by the roadside, and it was easy to see the bright berries. I immediately started harvesting berries, twigs and a bagful of the leaves.
The berries I froze: washed the berries, put them on a cookie sheet and put that in the freezer overnight. When I want to use some for a spice or for a tea, I can just take out however much I'll need. The berries have a hard seed in them--you can either chop the berries and remove the seed, or chop the seed up with the berries. When added to recipes, the berries make a nice additional flavor, like a less-strong allspice.
The twigs can be dried and saved for use in tea, or used in an extract. I'll probably use the twigs and some of the leaves and make an extract in case of fever or colds this winter. The rest of the twigs and leaves I'll save for tea. Apparently the leaves lose their flavor when dried, according to Wildman Steve Brill, so these will get used for tea as long as they're still flavorful.
Another common name for spicebush is feverbush. The twigs, leaves and bark when decocted (simmered for 15-30 minutes) make a tea that increases perspiration. If you're feeling sick, sweating is a good way to rid your body of toxins. When I feel ill, I will resort to hot baths (while drinking cold water) or hot diaphoretic teas and usually I'll feel better by the next day. While you can't "sweat out" a fever, anything that helps your body rid itself of toxins is very helpful.
The following is a quote from an article from Grit magazine. The magazine has many interesting articles--so check it out if you're a homesteader or like the rural life. This article by Cindy Murphy is an excellent example of Grit's usual fare.
"During the Civil War, spicebush tea often substituted for coffee when rations ran short. Dried leaves were often used for this purpose, but young branches were also steeped to make a tonic. This spicy beverage had medicinal qualities as well. It was used to reduce fever, to relieve colds and dysentery, and to destroy intestinal parasites. Lindera benzoin is considered a warming herb that improves circulation and increases perspiration rate."
Many critters like the spicebush, from swallowtail butterflies to birds and squirrels, but deer don't care for it. If you are interested in edible landscaping and have room for some spicebushes, you now are aware of some of its uses for humans.
Spicebush is not an edible, but if you find some in the wild, you'll have something very important when you are only eating stored foods such as beans, rice, wheat: a flavorful homegrown spice. Most spices such as cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice etc. come from the far east and may or may not be available come SHTF. So keep it in mind, and take a look around you to see if you have spicebushes in your area.