I'm a fan of mulling spices used in wine and cider, but I can't think of any similar fragrant plants that grow in my neck of the woods. Mulling spices I'm thinking of are allspice, clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. I think all of those grow in southeast Asia and generally warm places.

Are there any plants I could replace those seasonings with, that can grow in northern USA, zone 5/6? I figure mulled cider and mulled wine is a northern drink that is not too fancy, so there must be some 'local' analogues. At the same time, perhaps mulled drinks are relatively fancy and could only be made with spices brought from afar.

You could try these:

  • fennel (if you like the smell of licorice)
  • anise (star anise is actually on the Wikipedia article for mulling spices; if you like licorice)
  • dill
  • blackberry leaves (they're quite good in herbal tea form; I believe they could improve the taste and smell of other drinks)
  • roselle (it's said to be used to make and color a cranberry-like drink).
  • Juniper berries (Junipers will grow in cold areas, but be sure to get a kind with edible berries; not all Junipers are edible; also see this link for valuable information about edibility and such)
  • If you can figure out which kinds of pine needles are edible, those might work (they're said to be high in vitamin C)
  • Pineapple sage has a nice pineapple smell (not taste; it might add that smell to a beverage, but I haven't tried it)
  • I wonder if shiso would work.
  • Rhubarb (stalks only, or their juice) may work to help flavor a drink.
  • Basil can be good with sweet things (like cookies, believe it or not), sometimes; so it might work, although mint seems a more obvious choice.
  • Mint (peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, water mint, orange mint, chocolate mint)
  • Chicory is said to be used to make a drink.
  • Okra seeds can be used to make a drink.
  • Alpine strawberries are small, but they can add a lot of flavor when mixed into smoothies; so, I imagine they'd work well in drinks, too. They are easy to dry (and you can blend the dry ones up to get something like a powder).
  • West India Burr Gherkins have a nice tart taste when a bit riper that would probably assist in making a nice beverage.
  • Grape tendrils might work; they're tart.
  • Kiwi may work (you can get cold hardy kiwi)
  • Cactus fruit; there are plenty of cold hardy cacti; prickly pear fruit can be used for water kefir, and I imagine other stuff; I don't know if the pads can be used for a drink, but I have some in powdered supplement form that smell like cloves
  • You could grow citrus trees indoors and use the leaves; their edibility status isn't well documented, if they are edible, but some people use some kinds of citrus leaves for culinary purposes (I'm not sure about beverages).
  • Mulberries (they seem to add some good flavoring qualities that you might like; no pun intended; I used them with cookies as a vanilla replacement, and it kind of worked, although the flavor isn't as strong; strawberries are another thing you can use in place of vanilla—not to add a vanilla taste, but to make some things that require it taste good)
  • Chile peppers have a wide variety of flavors, depending on the variety (including citrus-type flavors); for the north, you might try Aji Habanero or if you have a somewhat longer growing season, Aji Dulce 1 (if you put them in the ground, I recommend mulching)
  • Sweet sorghum canes might add some good flavor (a mild, vanilla-like sweetness), but I haven't tried it.
  • I kind of wonder if Blue Doll F1 pumpkins could make a nice ingredient to add to a cider-like drink. It's a very sweet squash that when baked tastes almost already like pumpkin pie (without adding anything)
  • Caraway; it has a smell kind of like dill, but more like something sweet, too.
  • I wonder if honey mesquite will grow in your area. It's related to carob; I imagine you might be able to use it in a drink, but I don't know.
  • Apricots can add considerable flavor and aroma that might work well.
  • Rose hips might be a good idea

Some of my suggestions are for taste rather than for smell, and they're not all for cider or sweet drinks. I haven't tried most of these. Not all the exact combinations that might make a good mulling spice mixture for a particular purpose are exactly clear to me, but I think the things I mentioned have potential, if you can figure out a way to harness it.

  • 1
    Good comprehensive list of local possibilities at least, thanks. If nobody comes along with spices more specific to mulling, I'll probably accept this as at least a list of potential replacements. Funny, I didn't think of _mul_berries for mulling, but I sure do like mulberries! – cr0 Nov 9 at 23:01
  • And your answer, Shule, I am saving along with Kevinsky's for A SUPER LIST of flavors. Oh my! These lists are treasures! – stormy 2 days ago

This site indicates "The new world has contributed only three significant spices: allspice, capsicum peppers, and vanilla. Allspice was among one of the few spice treasures presented by Columbus to the court of his sponsors."

Seeing as Allspice will not grow in your zone it may be more productive to look at the choices you have with herbs native to North America. I am pretty sure all of these will grow in your area and those that are tender can be potted up and wintered over.

  • Wild mint
  • Horsemint
  • Loveroot
  • California bay
  • Tarragon
  • Sagebrush
  • Juniper
  • Wild onion

If you are willing to use shrubs that are not as well known as spices these might be interesting:

  • Myrica gale also known as sweetgale has been used in beer and schnapps. This plant is an acid loving bog plant so it's not going to be easy to grow.
  • Rose petals can be used to make wine
  • any of the raspberries are tart enough to add some flavour
  • Viburnum trilobum is growing outside my house in zone 5. The Wentworth cultivar is vigorous enough to withstand Japanese beetles and still produce a crop of bright red extremely tart berries
  • Ceanothus americanus, also known as New Jersey tea has "The leaves have a fresh scent of wintergreen" and can be used in teas. Hardy to Canadian zone 4.

I will grant you that some of these plants are not quite "mulling spices" but adding them to a drink will make for an interesting experiment!

  • Great answer @kevinsky! But, neenerneenerneener, not close to mulling spices. Yummy alternative aromatic and tasty plants that will grow just fine almost anywhere. What kind of drink, Kevinsky? Grins! – stormy 2 days ago

Unless you have a greenhouse, a heated greenhouse with humidity control these are tropical/subtropical plants. Cinnamon is the closest to zone 5 being zone 8. Are you on the coast? PNW? You might get away with growing Cinnamon in a maritime influenced zone 5 in a protected atrium? A greenhouse would have to be largish as these are fairly large plants. Not sure about the sunlight hours during the winters for growing year around. Cinnamon is made from the stems so not as difficult. It could be planted in its protected micro environment, mulched and for winter covered with Reemay to be safe. Fun project? I can't go through winter without a pot of this stuff on the wood stove simmering away.

allspice nutmeg cloves cinnamon

Otherwise, I would go to a food store that sells in bulk. Store excess mulling supplies in a food saver vacuum packed and sealed plastic. Don't know about freezing as a final step.

  • Thanks for the tips Stormy. In this question I'm more asking about alternative plants/spices that could be used as local replacements. Good info nonetheless! – cr0 Nov 9 at 22:56
  • 1
    @cr0 Allspice is the closest for duplicating those flavors and aromas but also a tropical plant. One of the downers for not living in the tropics? Thanks for not hammering me for once again not adhering strictly to the Question. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! – stormy 2 days ago

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