Holiday Spices in the Conservatory

December 18, 2017 Erin Bird , Associate Director of Communications

'Tis the season for holiday baking and stove top simmers that fill the home with the rich and cozy smells of allspice, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, clove and citrus. All of these wonderful flavors and aromas come from plants! The Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory is home to a few that you can see during your next visit.


Did you know vanilla is a member of the orchid family? While our Vanilla imperialis produce pretty flowers, they rarely (if ever) produce fruit (vanilla pods) because in the wild, the flower must be pollinated by a specific bee native to South America (Melipona) or hummingbirds within the first day of blooming. After the flower is fertilized, a vanilla pod will begin to grow. The photo featured in the photo gallery below was taken in our Tropical Conservatory and shows where flowers were and where the pods would develop if pollination occurred. Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after saffron because the fruit production is very labor-intensive. You can find this plant on south wall of the Tropical Conservatory across from the bridge near west entrance.


The Tropical Conservatory features the Elettaria cardamomum (Ceylon cardamom), a member of the Zingiberaceae or ginger family. Cardamom species are native to India, Bhutan, Indonesia and Nepal. Our plant is currently not producing fruit, but you can see its large, long leaves just south of the west entrance to the Tropical Conservatory. Similar to vanilla, the seed pods are where the flavor and fragrance exist. Cardamom is the world's third-most expensive spice.


Unlike vanilla and cardamom, the leaves of allspice also contain fragrance, but the dried berries are used for seasoning. The name "allspice" was coined as early as 1621 by the English, who thought it combined the flavor of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The plants are native to southern Mexico and Central America. Our allspice has a zesty twist! It is Pimenta dioica Lemon Scented Form. The leaves smell very much like lemon balm while the berries still produce the spicy flavor we love. You can see our allspice tree on the north side of the west Tropical Conservatory entrance.

The Tropical Conservatory also features several ginger varieties, however none are edible.

And of course, chocolate is a favorite treat this time of year. You can find our cacao trees on the south side of the Tropical Conservatory near the east entrance. Look up to see the pods!

Here is a simple simmer pot recipe to fill your home with holiday fragrance:

5 cups of water Orange peels 3 cinnamon sticks 3 star anise 1 teaspoon-sized knob of fresh ginger 1 teaspoon cardamom pods 1 teaspoon whole cloves 1 teaspoon allspice berries

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over low heat until simmering. I have kept this going for a few hours, adding additional water when needed. You can also throw everything in the crockpot and set it on low with the top off.


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