Cayenne pepper belongs to the capsicum genus which also includes bell peppers, chilies, paprika, jalapenos and habaneros. It contains capsaicin, the constituent that makes peppers hot. The more capsaicin a pepper has, the stronger the heat. A method of measuring the heat is the Scoville Heat Units (SHU). While Bell peppers contain 0 SHU, cayenne peppers have 30,000-50,000 SHU and habaneros, over 100,000!
Capsaicin is not only a taste bud challenger. It is a potent pain killer. Capsaicin blocks substance P which is a neurotransmitter responsible for the sensation of pain.
Solanaceae (nightshade family)
Capsicum, paprika, Tabasco pepper, Hungarian pepper, chiles, bird pepper
Cayenne is a hot pepper in the capsicum genus. The plant usually grows to 75 cm (2 1/2 feet). It has narrow, bright green leaves with a pointed tip and white, drooping flowers. The seeds and pods are dried and ground into a fine red or red-brown powder
A frost tender perennial, cayenne pepper is usually cultivated as an annual. It loves the warmth of the sun and must be cultivated in a warm and protected area. It needs a fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 4.3 and 8.3. Sow seeds indoors in seed trays 8-10 weeks before last frost if growing outside and 2 weeks earlier if growing under cover and transplant them outside after the last expected frost. The seeds need light to germinate. After transplantation, cover the plants with a cloche or frame to keep them warm until they are established and growing strong. In cool climates, grow them in a greenhouse. Although cayenne peppers do well where tomatoes grow, they need higher temperatures and a more protected site. Cayenne is easily grown in pots. Seed viability falls after a year.
For medicinal grade cayenne powder, pick the peppers when they are fully ripe.
Dry the pods by stringing a heavy thread through the base of the stems. Hang them in the shade. As an alternative, use a dehydrator at 35-40 Celsius (95-104 F). Store the dried and ground peppers in an air-tight container in a dark cabinet to preserve its freshness and potency. Cayenne exposed to daylight quickly loses its potency.
Capsaicinoids (0.3- >1%) with capsaicin (63-77%) as the main component, dihydrocapsaicin (20-32%), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), fatty oils, caratenoids.
Stimulant, analgesic, carminative, antiseptic, anti-microbial, tonic, digestive, rubefacient, anti-catarrhal, sialagogue, stimulating diaphoretic
Hot and dry
Acrid, biting and hot
Weak with characteristic aroma
MEDICINAL USE OF CAYENNE PEPPER
For medicinal use, cayenne pepper is the hot pepper of choice. When applied to the skin, the capsaicin present in the pepper stimulates the pain and heat receptors of the skin increasing blood flow. At the same time, capsaicin blocks the release of substance P which is a neurotransmitter responsible for what we call pain.
Cayenne is very effective when applied to strained muscles to relieve spasms, especially in the shoulder-arm area and the muscles surrounding the spine. It greatly diminishes nerve pain (neuralgia and diabetic neuropathy), especially nerve pain caused by Herpes zoster (shingles). It soothes areas affected by arthritis and rheumatism.
Topic application for:
- Muscle spasms, especially in the shoulder-arm area and the area near the spine
- Arthritis and rheumatism
- Nerve pain (neuralgia)
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Shingles (postherpetic neuralgia)
- Neck pain
How to use it safely
It’s important to use cayenne pepper preparations only on intact skin. Never use it on inflamed skin. Only apply a thin layer and don’t massage it in.
- Fluid extract
- Ointments and salves
- Poultice and plaster
Some people may experience hypersensitivity reactions but this is rare.
Cayenne should not be applied on mucosa (causes intense burning pain) and injured skin. People with sensitivity to paprika should not take preparations containing cayenne.
Cayenne is a delicious seasoning. It is much stronger than paprika and best when only sprinkled on food. It is widely used in European, Creole, Cajun, Mexican and East Asian cuisines. It is the main ingredient of hot Tabasco sauce and one of Wocertersauce ingredients. It pairs well with seafood, meat and eggs. It lends a spicy taste to soups, stews, casseroles, sauces and marinades. It’s a must in chutneys and a great addition to ketchup and pickles.
Wichtl M. 2004. Herbal drugs and phytopharmaceuticals – A handbook for practice on a scientific basis. 3rd ed. Stuttgart: medpharm Scientific Publishers
Larkcom, J. 2002. Grow your own vegetables. London: Frances Lincoln