Tasting Spicebush berries - Special caterpillar & why bucks rub all over these: Kentucky Food Forest
During the Forest Stewards of Beargrass Creek State Nature Preserve's valiant efforts to combat the invasive 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 is 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 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.
Jody and I (from Beargrass Thunder) joined Rosemary Bauman, a Forest Steward, who led their mini expedition into the forest to find and taste Spicebush berries, and learn about Kentucky-native plants and critters along the way!
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