Jamaica Pepper, familiarly called Allspice, because it tastes like a
combination of cloves, juniper berries, cinnamon and pepper, is the
dried full-grown, but immature fruit of Pimento officinalis (Lindl.),
or Eugenia Pimenta, an evergreen tree about 30 feet high, a member of
the natural order Myrtaceae, indigenous to the West Indian Islands and
South America, and extensively grown in Jamaica, where it flourishes
best on limestone hills near the sea. In this country, it only grows
as a stove plant.
It is also cultivated in Central America and surrounding states, but
more than half the supply of the spice found in commerce comes from
Jamaica, where the tree is so abundant as to form in the mountainous
districts whole forests, which require little attention beyond
clearing out undergrowth.
The tree begins to fruit when three years old and is in full bearing
after four years. The flowers appear in June, July and August and are
quickly succeeded by the berries.
|The special qualities of the fruit reside in the rind of the berries. It
loses its aroma on ripening, owing to loss of volatile oil, and the berries
are therefore collected as soon as they have attained their full size, in July
and August, but while unripe and green.
Gathering is performed by breaking off the small twigs bearing the bunches;
these are then spread out and exposed to the sun and air for some days, after
which the stalks are removed and the berries are ready for packing into bags
and casks for exportation.
The spice is sometimes dried in ovens (Kiln-dried Allspice), but the method by
evaporation from sun-heat produces the best article, though it is tedious and
somewhat hazardous, requiring about twelve days, during which the fruit must
be carefully guarded against moisture, being housed at night and during rainy
and damp weather.
The green colour of the fresh fruit changes on drying to reddish brown. If the
fruit is allowed to ripen, it loses almost the whole of its aromatic
properties, becoming fleshy sweet and of a purple-black colour. Such pimento,
to render it more attractive, is then often artificially coloured with bole or
brown ochre, a sophistication which may be detected by boiling for a few
seconds with diluted hydrochloric acid, filtering and testing with potassium
ferrocyanide; the liquid should assume at most a bluish-green colour.
The fruits as found in commerce are small nearly globular berries, about 3/10
inch in diameter, somewhat like black pepper in appearance, with a rough and
brittle surface and crowned by the remains of the calyx teeth, surrounding the
short style. The fruit is two-celled, each cell containing a single,
kidney-shaped seed. The remains of the calyx crowning the fruit and the
presence of two single-seeded cells are features that distinguish Pimento from
Cubebs, the fruit of which is one-celled, one-seeded and grey and from Black
Peppercorns, which are also one-celled and one-seeded.
The spice derives its name from the Portuguese pimenta, Spanish pimienta==pepper,
which was given it from its resemblance to peppercorns.
-Constituents---The chief constituent of Pimento
is from 3 to 4.5 per cent of a volatile oil, contained in glands in the
pericarp of the seeds and obtained by distillation from the fruit.
It occurs as a yellow or yellowish-red liquid, becoming gradually darker on
keeping and having a pleasant aromatic odour, somewhat similar to that of oil
of cloves, and a pungent, spicy taste. It has a slightly acid reaction. It is
soluble in all proportions of alcohol. The specific gravity is 1.030 to 1.050.
Its chief constituent is the phenol Eugenol, which is present to the extent of
60 to 75 per cent, and a sesquiterpene, the exact nature of which has not yet
been ascertained. The specific gravity to some extent indicates the amount
present; if lower than 1.030, it may be assumed that some eugenol has been
removed, or that the oil has been adulterated with substitutes having a lower
specific gravity than that of eugenol. The eugenol can be determined by
shaking the oil with a solution of potassium hydroxide and measuring the
residual oily layer. The United States Pharmacopoeia specifies that at least
65 per cent by volume of eugenol should be present. On shaking the oil with an
equal volume of strong solution of ammonia, it should be converted into a
semisolid mass of eugenol-ammonium.
The clove-like odour of the oil is doubtless due to the eugenol, but the
characteristic odour is due to some other substance or substances as yet
unknown. A certain amount of resin is also present, but the oil has not yet
been fully investigated.
Bonastre obtained from the fruit, a volatile oil, a green fixed oil, a fatty
substance in yellowish flakes, tannin, gum, resin, uncrystallizable sugar,
colouring matter, malic and gallic acids, saline matter and lignin. The green
fixed oil has a burning, aromatic taste of Pimento and is supposed to be the
acrid principle. Upon this, together with the volatile oil, the medicinal
properties of the berries depend, and as these two principles exist most in
the shell, this part is the most efficient. According to Bonastre, the shell
contains 1O per cent of the volatile and 8 per cent of the fixed oil; the
seeds only 5 per cent of the former and 2.5 of the latter. Berzelius
considered the green fixed oil of Bonastre to be a mixture of the volatile
oil, resin, fixed oil and perhaps a little chlorophyll.
On incineration, the fruits yield from 2.5 to 5 per cent of ash.
They impart their flavour to water and all their virtues to alcohol. The
infusion is of a brown colour and reddens litmus paper.
The leaves and bark abound in inflammable particles.
Medicinal Action and Uses---The chief use of Pimento
is as a spice and condiment: the berries are added to curry powder and also to
mulled wine. It is popular as a warming cordial, of a sweet odour and grateful
The oil inaction resembles that of cloves, and is occasionally used in
medicine and is also employed in perfuming soaps.
It was formerly official in both the British and United States Pharmacopoeias.
Both Pimento Oil and Pimento Water were official in the British Pharmacopoeia
of 1898, but Oil of Pimento was deleted from the British Pharmacopceia of
1914, though the Water still has a place in the British Pharmacopceia Codex.
Pimento has also been dropped from the United States Pharmacopoeia, but
admitted to the National Formulary IV. Pimento is one of the ingredients in
the Compound Tincture of Guaic of the National Formulary IV.
Pimento is an aromatic stimulant and carminative to the gastro-intestinal
tract, resembling cloves in its action. It is employed chiefly as an addition
to tonics and purgatives and as a flavouring agent.
The Essential Oil, as well as the Spirit and the distilled Water of Pimento
are useful for flatulent indigestion and for hysterical paroxysms. Two or
three drops of the oil on sugar are given to correct flatulence. The oil is
also given on sugar and in pills to correct the griping tendencies of
purgatives: it was formerly added to Syrup of Buckthorn to prevent griping.
Pimento Water (Aqua Pimentae) is used as a vehicle for stomachic and
purgative medicines. It is made by taking 5 parts of bruised Pimento to 200
parts of water and distilling down to 100, the dose being 1 to 2 fluid ounces.