PNW Landscape Plant Guide

brought to you by the plant geeks at Calendula Farm

Sichuan Pepper (Zanthoxylum simulans)

This one is crazy weird. Various species of Zanthoxylums have been used and revered in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cuisines for millennia. It is in Chinese Five Spice. It’s known in Japan as Sansho Pepper. The fruits (seed pods) are the most useful. Foods cooked with it read as spicy, floral, and citrus at first, then things get really interesting.

It is not a pepper, which are largely defined by their capsaicin, the chemical that stimulates heat sensors. Hot peppers literally tell your brain that you are on fire. Sichuan Pepper has no capsaicin but chemicals called Sanshools. These target the nerves in your face which tell your brain you’ve been touched. Sanshools stimulate that nerve in a way causing it to vibrate at 50 hertz. Literally an electrical frequency. It feels spicy hot at first, then tingly, then the lips and tongue feel numb. The flavor is there, but you can’t feel much with your lips or tongue for a little while. Don’t try to drink during this because you will likely miss your mouth, entertaining your dining companions.

In the garden it’s a pretty background shrub with orderly leaves all along geometrically arranged branches. It can get 10-15 ft. tall. Insignificant greenish flowers appear in June and red berries ripen later in summer. There are male or female plants but you will get some berries on one plant of either gender, more if you have both. It’ll grow anywhere but deep shade. Rose-like thorns are spaced far enough apart to easily avoid.