Peruvian Pepper (Schinus molle, also known as California pepper tree, molle, pepper tree, pepperina, Peruvian mastictree and Peruvian peppertree) is a tree or shrub that grows to between 5 and 18 m tall. It is native to the Peruvian Andes (molle comes from the Quechua word for the tree, molli).
The upper branches of the tree tend to droop. The tree's pinnately compound leaves measure 10-30 cm long and are made up of 15 or more leaflets. The plant is dioeceous, with small white flowers borne profusely in axillary clusters. The fruit is a small, leathery, pink/red, spherical drupe 5-8 mm diameter, carried in dense clusters of hundreds of berries. The bark, leaves and berries are all very aromatic.
Cultivation and uses
The tree is cultivated as a decorative plant in parts of North America, in south-east Queensland in Australia, and in Mediterranean coastal regions. It naturalises in all these places, and is considered an invasive species in many subtropical regions. The pink/red berries, although not a true pepper (Piper), are, like the berries of its close relative, the Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), sold as "pink peppercorns". Volatile terpenes are present in the berries, and can irritate the mucous membranes of sensitive people, so moderation is advised in using the berries as a condiment.
The Inca used the sweet outer part of ripe fruit to make drink. Berries were rubbed carefully to avoid mixing with the bitter inner parts, the mix strained and then left for a few days to produce a refreshing and wholesome drink. It was also boiled down for syrup or mixed with maize to make nourishing gruel.
- Coe, p. 186-187
- Coe, Sophie D. (1994) America's first cuisines ISBN 0-292-71159-X
- Jepson Manual, University of California
- Encyclopedia of Stanford Trees, Shrubs, and Vines, Stanford University
- The Sumac Family