Know about the Brazilian Pepper Tree

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Know about the Brazilian Pepper Tree

Brazilian Pepper Tree Quick Facts
Name: Brazilian Pepper Tree
Scientific Name: Schinus terebinthifolia
Origin Subtropical and tropical South America
Colors Drupes many in dense clusters, bright red, with calyx at base, with aromatic resinous brown pulp, slightly bitter, 4-5 mm in diameter.
Shapes Green when young turning to bright red as they matures
Taste Slightly bitter
Health benefits Beneficial for colds, hypertension, depression, irregular heartbeat, menstrual disorders, urinary tract infections
Brazilian Pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolia), also known as aroeira, rose pepper, broadleaved pepper tree, wilelaiki, Christmasberry, and Florida Holly, Brazilian holly, Brazilian pepper, Brazilian pepper tree, broad leaf pepper tree, broad-leaved pepper tree, Christmas berry, Christmas berry tree, Japanese pepper, pepperina, schinus and South American pepper, is a sprawling shrub or small tree in the sumac family, Anacardiaceae, which also includes poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac and poisonwood. The plant is native to subtropical and tropical South America (southeastern Brazil, northern Argentina, and Paraguay). It is found in these states of Brazil: Alagoas, Bahia, Espírito Santo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Pernambuco, Paraná, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, São Paulo, and Sergipe.  

As a member of the Schinus genus it is known as a “pepper tree,” although it is not a true pepper. Even so, Schinus molle or the Peruvian Pepper, a close relative of the Brazilian Pepper, is the source of the pink peppercorns that you sometimes see in gourmet pepper mills. Brazilian Pepper is also known as “Hawaiian Christmas Berry” or “Florida Holly” because its red berries mature in December/ January and are sometimes used as Christmas decorations. Genus name comes from the Greek name schinos for the mastic tree which this genus resembles in that the trees exude a mastic-like juice. Specific epithet means pertaining to turpentine and foliage. Supposedly, for the aromatic foliage.

Plant Description

Brazilian pepper tree is an evergreen shrub or small tree that grows about 3-10 m tall (occasionally 15 m) with a trunk 10-30 cm diameter (occasionally 60 cm). Bark is gray, smooth or becoming furrowed into long narrow flat ridges. Twigs are light brown, finely hairy when young, with many raised dots (lenticels). Sap is aromatic, resinous, suggesting turpentine, turning blackish upon exposure. It is previously planted as a garden ornamental, but now as a weed in coastal areas. The tree is quite resinous and aromatic, particularly when the leaves are crushed. The younger branches are covered with small whitish colored spots (i.e. lenticels) and its new stems are softly hairy (i.e. pubescent) or sparsely hairy (i.e. puberulent). Bark of older stems is dark brown or blackish in color, very rough and deeply ridged.


Leaves are alternate pinnate 7.5–15 cm long, with narrowly winged green finely hairy axis of 2.5–7.5 cm and mostly 5, 7, or 9 (3–13 or more in varieties) stalk less leaflets paired except at end. Leaflets are glabrous, elliptical or oblong, 2.5–5 cm long and 1.3–2 cm wide, the largest at the end of the leaf to 7.5 cm by 2.5 cm, short-pointed at both ends, often with inconspicuous small blunt teeth toward apex, slightly thickened, hairless or nearly so, upper surface shiny green with several straight side veins, and lower surface dull light green. The leaves are highly aromatic when crushed, giving off a peppery or turpentine-like smell.


Flower about 3 mm long and broad consists of calyx of five tiny pointed green sepals; corolla of five spreading white petals less than 3 mm long; 10 stamens attached at base of large ring-shaped disk; and pistil with rounded ovary, short style, and dot stigma. Flowering occurs from September through November and fruits are usually mature by December.


The fruits are drupes many in dense clusters, glossy, with calyx at base, with aromatic resinous brown pulp, slightly bitter, 4-5 mm in diameter. The fruit is green and juicy at first, becoming bright red on ripening, and 6 mm wide. The red skin dries to become a papery shell surrounding the seed. The seed is single, elliptical, light brown, less than 3 mm long.

Traditional uses and benefits of Brazilian pepper tree

  • Liquid tincture from the bark is used as a stimulant and tonic.
  • It has been used as a diuretic and for the treatment of tumors.
  • Remedial healers have used it topically for gout, syphilis, as well as cases or rheumatism.
  • Other folk healers recommend the leaves and fruit to be added to baths to help heal open wounds or ulcers on the body.
  • South African people steep the leaves and make a tea to heal colds faster.
  • Dried leaves are used in Argentina for respiratory and urinary infections.
  • Brazilian peppertree is described to be an astringent, antibacterial, diuretic, digestive stimulant, tonic, antiviral, and wound healer.
  • Sap is used as a mild laxative and a diuretic, and the entire plant is used externally for fractures and as a topical antiseptic in Peru.
  • Entire plant is used externally for fractures and as a topical antiseptic.
  • Oleoresin is used externally as a wound healer, to stop bleeding, and for toothaches, and it is taken internally for rheumatism and as a purgative.
  • Leaf tea is used to treat colds, and a leaf decoction is inhaled for colds, hypertension, depression, and irregular heartbeat in South Africa.
  • Bark tea is used as a laxative, and a bark-and-leaf tea is used as a stimulant and antidepressant in Brazilian amazon.
  • Decoction is made with the dried leaves and is taken for menstrual disorders and is also used for respiratory and urinary tract infections and disorders in Argentina.
  • It is used for many conditions in the tropics, including menstrual disorders, bronchitis, gingivitis, gonorrhea, gout, eye infections, rheumatism, sores, swellings, tuberculosis, ulcers, urethritis, urogenital disorders, venereal diseases, warts, and wounds. In Brazilian herbal medicine today, the dried bark and/or leaves are employed for heart problems (hypertension and irregular heart beat), infections of all sorts, and menstrual disorders with excessive bleeding, tumors, and general inflammation.
  • Liquid extract or tincture prepared with the bark is used internally as a stimulant, tonic, and astringent, and externally for rheumatism, gout, and syphilis.
  • Brazilian pepper tree has been used as a remedy for ulcers, respiratory problems, wounds, rheumatism, gout, diarrhea, skin ailments and arthritis, as well as to treat tumors and leprosy in folk medicines.
  • Stem bark is used to treat inflammations, scabies, sore throat and itching.

Culinary Uses

  • Berries are used to make syrups, vinegar, and beverages because of the spicy flavor.
  • It can be added to wines and used as a pepper.
  • Seeds can be used as a spice, adding a pepper-like taste to food.
  • In some countries, dried and ground berries are used as a pepper substitute or as an adulterant of black pepper (Piper nigrum).

Other Facts

  • Its bright red berries and brilliant green foliage are used frequently as Christmas decorations.
  • They have been used in the perfume industry.


  • Brazilian pepper has an aromatic sap that can cause skin reactions (similar to poison ivy burns) in some sensitive people – although the reaction is usually weaker than that induced by touch of the closely related Lithraea molleoides.
  • Contact with the “sap” from a cut or bruised tree can result in rash, lesions, oozing sores, severe itching, welts, and reddening and swelling (especially of the eyes).
  • If berries are eaten they may cause vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Sap may cause dermatitis and eye irritation.
  • When flowering, the tree may cause sneezing, asthma-like reactions and headache.
  • Contact with most parts of Brazilian pepper can cause an itchy skin rash and sometimes inflammation and swelling of the face and eyes.
  • Flowers and fruits can cause respiratory irritation.






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