It is only in the most recent centuries that human beings have travelled long and far across vast oceans. Before then, we remained close to our homes, exploring the flora and fauna the bioregion had to offer us as food, clothing, tools, and shelter. Humans would venture slowly from their homes in search of goods they could not find nearby. They traded shells, textiles, seeds, and animals and met with potential mates at seasonal gatherings. The spice trade between Asia, Middle East, North Africa, and Europe began with Arab traders nearly 4,000 years ago, strategically situated between two major continents. The ancient movement of spices ranged from as far away as Malay, Moluccas, and Sri Lanka all the way to the Northern most reaches of Rome. In 80 BCE, Alexandria, Egypt became the center hub for spice trading through the fall of the Roman Empire in the fourth century CE. The spice market once again was held in Arabia through the Middle Ages. Then, relocated a third time to Venice and Genoa at the turn of the tenth century CE, where it was held through the Renaissance. Spices were, and still are, currency. Now, spices are labeled by modern economics as commodities.
Spices, or aromatic plants, those containing Essential Oils, also known as Volatile Oils, are what give plants their aroma. These scents are used to attract pollinators and deter herbivores and disease. Medicinally, this category of flavor, Spice, not spicy as in, it burns my mouth and makes my eyes water pungency, but as in the colors and scents that grace your spice cabinet. Spices dissipate gas in the upper and lower digestive tract, benefit and clear the lungs from excessive mucus, increase digestive juices, and kill bacteria and fungi, essentially preserving the quality of the food while helping the nutrients to assimilate more efficiently. In aromatherapy, Essential Oils are generally used to lighten the mood, relieve depression, effect the mood and thought patterns, and dissipate negative energy while protecting the human using the medicine.
This ability to preserve and protect food is one of the reasons spices where so valued, as well as for their exotic and enticing scent. Spices tend to thrive around the equatorial belt and into Mediterranean climates, where the bioregions are hotter and, in some cases, more humid. In cooler, more temperate climates, foods would be preserved by smoking, drying, and storing in cool, underground caves or cellars. All peoples fermented or salted foods for preservation.
Spices, in the macro view of human history, moved people around the globe. Dissipating and assimilating, driving people to each other. Spices brought Western Europeans to the Americas and have shaped cultural traditions. Clove and Cinnamon for the Winter Holidays, Cardamom in Turkish coffee, Caraway in Jewish Rye, Patchouli scented silks, Ginger Bread Cookies, and Salt and Pepper on red calico tablecloths. Spices have integrated humanity, under a common love for flavor and aroma.
One of the most common spices is Black Pepper, Piper nigrum. Native to India, this perennial, woody vine, fills the understory, preferring partial sun and abundant water. Cultivated by ground layer, it is the perfect low hanging vine in a perennial polyculture tropical Food Forest. Black Pepper is grown along with Vanilla and Patchouli as a ground cover, on Cinnamon, Cacao, and Coffee trees, surrounded by a canopy of Rambutan, Breadfruit, and Jackfruit! In gardening, it is an effective insecticidespray.