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Kentucky Food Forest: Spicebush berries & Pawpaw fruit

Updated: Nov 14, 2020

Disponible en Español aqui

Rosemary Bauman of the Forest Stewards at the Beargrass Creek State Nature Preserve met with us to launch a new video series called Kentucky Food Forest! We started with Spicebush and Paw Paw, as these two are abundant in our local environment plus they are ripe and ready to eat this time of year. Also, they each have their own species of caterpillar/butterfly which is very exciting! Watch the first two installments of the series below:


During the Forest Steward's valiant efforts to combat the bush honeysuckle over the last few years, they realized that another plant would need to be chosen to replace that "layer" of the forest after the honeysuckle was removed. The spicebush was most likely chosen because not only is it a native shrub with colorful and edible berries that can be used in many different recipes, but that it also the sole food source of the Spicebush Swallowtail! Not to mention it's a great food source for many birds and other critters, and also with the berries being toxic to deer, Spicebush wouldn't likely be wiped out by the massive deer population in the nature preserve.

However, even though deer won't eat the berries, bucks love Spicebush for another reason. The Spicebush makes for the perfect surface for "girdling," or when a buck rubs their antlers on a tree. They do this to rub the velvet layer off of their antlers, to mark their territory, as well practice sparring. Not only is Spicebush the perfect height and width that can simulate another buck's antlers, but it's also extremely aromatic and leaves them smelling great; almost like a DIY deer cologne.

While the berries of the Spicebush may not taste too great by themselves, they can be incorporated in many different kinds of recipes including cakes, pies, bread, and even ice cream! It also makes a great substitute for spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg. You can easily forage the berries and either refrigerate them, or you can dry them which concentrates the flavor before you experiment with new recipes.

Also, just one more interesting fact about this plant is that one of the first Pokemon to be designed was based off the Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar; you may be familiar with Caterpie! The resemblance is uncanny.

The paw paw has been a favorite of Beargrass Thunder for a while; we have been eagerly waiting for these to become ripe all year! Paw paw fruits are known to be a type of delicacy around these parts. The fruit is only ripe during a period of about three weeks out of the whole year. It is most commonly eaten raw but can also be substituted in many banana-based recipes as well as blended into ice cream or even pancake batter!

The fruit itself is often described as a mango, banana, and pineapple mixed together. It was a skin-like peel, and the delicious fruit inside is very sweet and has a consistency similar to custard. Needless to say, it is very delicious!

Not only is the fruit of the Paw Paw amazing, but like the Spicebush, the Paw Paw also has its own special species of caterpillar/butterfly called the Zebra Swallowtail, who's caterpillar depends on the Paw Paw tree as it's food source!

Both of these plants would be a great choice to consider planting on your property, as they are both native to the area, and also the sole food source for their respective species of caterpillar and butterflies! If you are interested in how to acquire Spicebush or Paw Paw, please reach out and contact us, as we may be able to help!


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