The pink peppercorn tree (Schinus molle), part of the cashew family, Anacardiaceae, is an evergreen tree which grows rapidly, up to 26 feet in height.1 While the trees will grow in a variety of soils, they prefer it well-drained, enjoying dappled shade with southern or western exposure. The trees’ flowers are either female or male and bloom from April to June. Being dioecious, both female and male trees need to be present for fertilization. While pink peppercorn is native to Peru and naturalized in California (considered an invasive tree) and the Mediterranean, there is also a Brazilian pepper tree (S. terebinthifolius) which can be found in Florida and the Mediterranean.2 The tree is also called false pepper, mastic, or California pepper, although the tree did not appear in the state and other parts of the Southwest until the Franciscans brought them to plant at their missions as drought tolerant trees that provided shade during hot, sunny afternoons.3 Clusters of red-pink berries extend downwards from the weeping branches.
The peppery berries are dried and ground to use as a spice, incorporated into beverages, syrups, and vinegars, and used to spice Chilean wines.4 Indigenous people in Central and South America have used all parts of the tree medicinally and in ceremony. Both Schinus species have been used to treat wounds, stimulate the digestion, and as a tonic, diuretic, and astringent. The tree also has antibacterial and antiviral properties. Schinus species trees are also considered beneficial in the treatment of menstrual issues, gout, rheumatism, gingivitis, eye infections, and bronchitis. The whole plant can be used as a topical antiseptic and to treat fractures.
An essential oil can be distilled from the pink peppercorn berries. The aroma is spicy, sweet, woody, smoky, and reminiscent of a crackling campfire. The principle chemical constituent is phellandrene; other constituents include pinene, carvacrol, and caryphyllene.5 Therapeutic uses are similar to black pepper (Piper nigrum, Piperaceae), which include muscular aches and pains, poor circulation, muscle stiffness, loss of appetite, colds, and infections.5
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1Scinus molle – L. Plants for the Future website. https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=schinus+molle. Accessed April 20, 2022.
2Pepper Rosé (Schinus terebinthifolius Raddi and Sch. molle L.). Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages website. http://gernot-katzers-spice-pages.com/engl/Schi_ter.html. Accessed April 20, 2022.
3California Pepper Tree. Monrovia website. https://www.monrovia.com/california-pepper-tree-42578.html. Accessed April 20, 2022.
4Taylor L. The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers; 2005.
5Lawless J. The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. San Francisco: Conari Press; 2013.