My woods are lousy with spicebush. The shrub grows abundantly in deciduous forests across the U.S. and Canada. It’s a gift to foragers and cooks—accessible and versatile, with a shapeshifting flavor. Although I’ve used spicebush in teas, boozy infusions, baked goods, and tubs for years, I still can’t get a handle on when or where it shines best. Right now, I recommend that you find time to gather its bright red berries before they drop off, likely by early October.
The berries, which ripen on female plants between late summer and early fall, are your entry point. They’re easy to spot. They’re firm, glossy, elongated, and no bigger than the tip of your pinkie. Smash one and a piney, citrusy, resinous quality will announce itself. Once you are certain it is what you think it is, try popping one in your mouth. These bracing, bold berries are not juicy berries that you gobble by handfuls, but thoughtful nibbles. Don’t be too greedy when harvesting. Birds and mammals like the berries a lot, too. I try not to strip more than a quarter of them from any given bush.
The unripe green berries have some of the same flavor and aroma, though it is not as developed. The leaves have more of a lemongrass thing going on, and if you split apart one of the plant’s pliable green twigs, you’ll get more of that.