Name: Cayenne (Capsicum frutescens)
Otherwise known as: Capsicum Minimum, Chilli, Red Hot Pepper
Habitat: A perennial member of the Solanaceae family growing to 1m with long-stalked, spear-shaped leaves producing white/green flowers in the axils that transform into the familiar conical shaped fruit that change from green to red as it matures. Native to Central America, now cultivated throughout the tropics where it flourishes in hot steamy conditions. It was introduced into Europe by the Spaniards in the 16th century.
What does it do: The name is believed to derive from the Greek, ‘kapto’ – I bite.
The active ingredient of cayenne is capsaicin which is responsible for the pungent and irritating effect of the pepper. Regarded by professional herbalists as the safest and purest stimulant it opens up every tissue in the body to an increased flow of blood, producing natural warmth and equalising circulation in the aged.
Cayenne contains more vitamin C than citrus, also vitamin A and B complex vitamins, iron, calcium and phosporus. The carotene molecules exert a strong anti-oxidant effect.
The plant has a number of beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system: studies show that cayenne reduces the likelihood of developing arteriosclerosis by lowering blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It also combats platelet aggregation.
Capsaicin is claimed to give relief from the pain associated with shingles (herpes zoster) and from the severe pain arising from ‘tic doloureax’, (trigeminal neuralgia) believed to be the cause of Judge Jefferies bad temper. Experiments conducted on post-mastectomy patients indicated that considerable relief from pain was attained by application of capsaicin cream. In l994 the American Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported that capsaicin reduced dramatically the pain of mouth sores arising from chemotherapy.
The consumption of hot peppers by cultures that live in the tropics helps them to cope with very high temperatures.
Cayenne will give relief from chilblains, and is now thought to be helpful in the treatment of psoriasis.
Taken internally it will relieve wind and colic and stimulate the digestive process, it will also prevent infections of the digestive system. As a gargle it is specific against throat infections.
Alexander McCowan is author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants