With a nod to the
butter margarine ads, Vitex agnus-castus or Chaste Tree really does taste like pepper and you don’t have to use your imagination to find the taste as is often the case where one edible is substituting for another. I came across the plant last year at Trade Wind Fruits which has a fantastic catalogue of interesting plants at really good prices and low shipping costs. Despite the name, not all of their offerings are tropical.
So I ordered some seeds, which really do look like pepper corns,
and got two to germinate. Rather than subject the young plants to a harsh Canadian winter, I decided to over-winter them inside in a south-east facing window. They did quite well and are now being hardened off outside. We’ll plant them on the south side of the house to give them some protection from the northerly winter winds that rip down the small valley where we live. And they’ll get some protection against the windchill that can be substantially below the -23℃ to which they are hardy.
So how do I know that the dried seeds really do taste like pepper? We were in Peterborough earlier this month after picking up a pair of Dolgo crab apples (more about them in an upcoming post) and stopped in at a truly off-the-beaten path health food cum herbalist store. Browsing the many jars, I came up short in front of a jar labelled Chaste Tree. So we bought a few grams and I ground them with the pepper mill. The taste is actually a bit more peppery than pepper but it’s pepper nonetheless.
Even if we can get the trees through our winters, it may be a bit too much to ask for them to flower and then go to seed in a 120 day growing season. Nonetheless, the possibility of having your own pepper, is worth the effort, I think. And if they flower……..