Sichuan pepper production at home?

Posted by Fuchsia on May 15, 2011
Agriculture, Sichuanese cuisine, Unusual delicacies

Look at this beauty! It’s a tiny Sichuan pepper tree! It was a present from Richard S., a friend of the Oxford Food Symposium’s, who managed to track one down in a specialist nursery in the UK. He told me he’d give me one a long time ago, and here it is! The leaves have some of that bewitching pepper fragrance if you squeeze them between your fingers. I have no idea how long it will take to bear fruit, but I hope it will eventually – I have seen one fruitful Sichuan pepper tree growing in Oxford, so I know it’s possible in the English climate! At the moment it’s sitting in a pot on my sunny, south-facing windowsill, but I hope to transplant it to my parents’ garden in Oxford before too long, where it will have more room to grow.

As those of you who have read my ‘Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper’ may know, I have never quite got over abandoning a tiny Sichuan pepper tree from Hanyuan at Beijing airport a few years ago. I had transported it very tenderly all the way from the mountains of Hanyuan to Beijing, but Britain was in the midst of the foot and mouth epidemic, with widespread paranoia and tight restrictions on agricultural imports, and I chickened out at the last moment and left it behind.

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25 Comments to Sichuan pepper production at home?

Alex M
15 May 2011

Which nursery? I assume it’s not Battersea Homebase.

Fergal Daly
15 May 2011

I attended a demo by a Sichuanese chef in Dublin (he made awesome dandan mian for us at the Chester Beatty library). He said that there are prickly ash trees in St Stephen’s Green in Dublin city centre but that when he tried, he could not get any anything useful from their fruit.

Ben
16 May 2011

I believe Mark Diacono’s “A Taste of the Unexpected” has advice on how to grow Sichuan Pepper in the UK. Yet to try it myself…

Tom
16 May 2011

A nursery here in Oregon that sells the plant says that it’s dioecious–in other words, each individual bears only male or female flowers, and you need both sexes to produce the peppercorns.

Fuchsia
16 May 2011

Gosh Tom, does that mean I’ll have to arrange hot dates for my plant when it’s a little more mature? I could put an ad in a lonely hearts column… Perhaps there are other Sichuan pepper trees in the same predicament, stranded a long way from the hills of Hanyuan, desperately seeking compatible foliage for an urgent, intense exchange of pollen?

Tom
17 May 2011

Fuchsia–it’s entirely possible! There’s nothing sadder than a lonely Sichuan pepper tree!

Nigel
17 May 2011

You’re right Ben – Mark Diacono does cover it in his book. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/dec/13/szechuan-pepper-chinese-five-spice

I am trying to grow from seed, but I think they need stratification (a good frost or some time in the fridge) before they’ll comply. For plants, search for Zanthoxylum schinifolium. There are nurseries in the UK that grow and supply it, but many are out of stock. I blame Fuchsia.

Nigel
17 May 2011

I tasted fresh Sichuan peppercorns at a botanical garden in Limoux, France last year and they were intense – the citrus-like flavour was more pronounced and the numbing was medical grade anaesthesia. You can buy green Sichuan peppercorn oil, labelled as Rattan Chilli Oil – a 50:50 blend of rapeseed oil and fresh Sichuan peppercorns – at some Chinese supermarkets in the UK now. It’s potent stuff.

mart
22 May 2011

Mark mentions them in the latest food programme, he has like a forest of them it seems. You’ll need at least three I think. He sells them btw http://www.otterfarmshop.co.uk/ I tried to grow them from seed, one came up but died. Seeds need cold stratification (pop them in the freezer…) Did manage to grow Jujubes from seed. As with normal hot peppers you can also use the leaves in recipes so even without seeds they are still usefull.

Carolyn Phillips
30 May 2011

I have a Sichuan peppercorn tree in my yard here in the SF Bay Area, and it grows fast and bears the peppercorns like a trouper. It was given to me by a fellow mala lover who grows his from the seeds, and it definitely is self-pollinating. Besides, if you grow these thorny guys yourself, you also get to enjoy the tender leaves in spring. (I wrote about this on my blog: http://carolynjphillips.blogspot.com/search/label/Sichuan%20peppercorns.) Hope this helps… and good luck!

Sharon
22 June 2011

Does anyone know of US sources for seed or plants?

Chris
10 July 2011

I’ve tried to grow them from seed found in asian shop without succes, maybe they had been irradiated

Anyway, good luck fushia with your little tree, keep it green !

Louise Graham
17 July 2011

You can buy plants from Crug Farm Plants in Wales http://mailorder.crug-farm.co.uk/default.aspx?pid=11504

Helle (Helen)
29 July 2011

I have been trying to buy a plant from Mark Diacono since March. Despite them being on his shop website he says he does not have any at present.

Chee
20 August 2011

Well, just to add to the confusion, two weeks ago, I bought the Szechuan pepper plant froma reputabl nursery. I bought a nice one with the peppers on it so that would be a female. But, they weren’t able to tell me which were the male plant as they didn’t have a lot remaining and I didn’t want to take my chances. Just this morning, I went to my favourite vendor at the Farmer’s Market in Lake Oswego, and this is what he told me. He says the plant actually has both male and female in it. If we get only one that has the berries already, it will self-pollinate again, but takes like two years before you see any fruits. If you have more than one, preferably three, the chances of getting pollinated increases and thus, you will get berries faster and more. So, hopefully, he is right and I shall let everyone know two years from now.

Dale
7 November 2011

Chris. Possibly not. When I was reading up on them I learned that the seeds don’t stay viable very long. I got some from a seed company here in Canada, and two of them sprouted just fine. I’ll try to dig up the name.

Dale
7 November 2011

Here you go…
This isn’t the greenhouse I got my seed from, but it is the same stuff – simulans though, not piperitum.

http://www.plantexplorers.com/vandusen/product_info.php/products_id/469

Paul Barney
20 March 2012

Seed needs to be sown fresh in the autumn and allowed to experience a number of freezing episodes over the winter. Protect from voles. Z. simulans (syn. schnifolium) are self-fertile in my experience. Z. piperitum is dioecious. We have plants for sale.

Wolf
13 June 2012

I am interested in buying plants Paul

Visa
14 February 2013

I have been around this ingredient all my life and just started to research this plant. My mom said it grows wild in Iowa. Might have to make a trip up there to confirm.

Jenny Song
25 June 2013

If you want some real Hanyuan flower pepper we have it at http://www.chinaspice.co.uk Unlike the Sichuan pepper normally sold in the UK it has an intense spectrum of flavours, and a numbing effect that takes the breath away. We also have the seeds. The seeds have an oil content which repels water, so before sowing they need to be soaked in an alkali solution. Then rubbed in coarse sand to remove some of the outer skin. Then sown indoors in a large pot covered in 50 mm of sand (this is the method the Chinese seed merchants recommend)

Sam Rathner
27 June 2013

Hi guys,

I am here in Beijing, I see these pepper plants in the back garden also, but cant find anywhere selling them, love to get some small ones before I leave. could any one tell me where I can get a small plantor two.
Thanks
Sam

Nix
28 July 2013

I bought a plant last year from agroforestry.co.uk, it came happily through the winter in North/Central London and has fabulous smelling leaves but no flowers this year. I’m hoping it’s just not old enough yet.

gkh
2 October 2013

dammit; I got all excited, then noticed you’re not in the US :’(
there is nothing more wonderful tasting than FRESH Szechuan peppercorn. Would you know of anywhere I can get then on my side of the pond? I KNOW that customs would smack me with the no-stick if I tried to get cuttings from across any borders. Heck, we can get hit with fines for taking seasoned wood across STATE borders :-/

Dana Johnson
23 December 2013

Just ordered seeds from horizonherbs.com in Oregon. Supposed to be Simulans.
Re wild plants in northern US, the Northern Prickly Ask is similar, aka the toothache tree, but flavor intensity is near Zero compared with the real thing. National Zoo in DC had one growing I used to pick the berries from until they cut it down. I could have fed whoever did that to the Tigers! Trunk was near 18 inches across and they are an endangered species in Maryland, though abundant farther north, often used as hedges and viewed as a weed tree. At last I have seeds of the Simulans on it’s way. They are supposed to be growing a similar variety in Fresno California as part of the Hmong transplanted culture after the Vietnam War. Nearly got on a plane to find them. What I’ really like is a clone of Fuscia, at least living next door to invite my family including our Sichuan daughter over for meals and a chance to practice our Chinese language and cooking.

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