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Promotes digestion, relieves toothache, alleviates muscle pain

Allspice owes its name to its unique flavor: a zesty blend of cinnamon, pepper, juniper and clove. Thanks to its oil, it also has mild but significant healing powers as a digestive aid and topical anesthetic.

Aromatic allspice berries have a long history in Caribbean folk healing. Jamaicans drink hot allspice tea for colds, menstrual cramps and upset stomach. Costa Ricans use it to treat indigestion, flatulence and diabetes. Cubans consider it a refreshing tonic. And Guatemalans apply crushed berries to bruises and joint and muscle pains. Most of these uses have been confirmed by modern science.

"Allspice owes its medicinal actions to eugenol, a chemical constituent of its oil," says Daniel B. Mowrey, Ph.D., director of the American Phytotherapy Research Laboratory in Salt Lake City, Utah, and author of The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine. "Eugenol promotes digestion by enhancing the activity of the digestive enzyme trypsin. It's also an effective pain reliever and anesthetic."

Dentists use eugenol as a local anesthetic for teeth and gums, and the chemical is an ingredient in the over-the-counter toothache remedies Numzident and Benzodent.

"Allspice oil is not as rich in eugenol as clove oil," says James A. Duke, Ph.D., a botanist retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and author of The CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. That's why dentists favor clove oil. But allspice oil has similar anesthetic action and may be applied directly to painful teeth as first aid until professional care can be obtained.

Putting the herb to work

For toothache, apply allspice oil directly to the tooth, one drop at a time, using a cotton swab. Take care not to swallow it. Powdered allspice adds a warm, rich flavor to foods, but its highly concentrated oil should never be swallowed. As little as one teaspoon can cause nausea, vomiting and even convulsions.

Allspice is on the Food and Drug Administration's list of herbs generally regarded as safe. But in people with sensitive skin, particularly those with eczema, allspice oil may cause inflammation. If inflammation develops, stop using it.

For a medicinal tea, use one to two teaspoons of allspice powder per cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 to 20 minutes and strain. Drink up to three cups a day. When using commercial preparations, follow the package directions.

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