Originally from the tropical regions of the Americas, cayenne was first introduced to Europe in the 16th century. In cooking, it is renowned for its hot, burning taste, and it is not surprising to learn that, medicinally, it is a powerful warming stimulant. It acts on the circulation and digestion and is used to treat a wide range of complaints from arthritis and chilblains to colic and diarrhea.
Habitat & Cultivation
Cayenne is native to the tropical Americas, and is now cultivated throughout the tropics, especially in Africa and India. It is grown from seed in early spring and flourishes in hot, moist conditions. The fruit is harvested when ripe in summer and is dried in the shade.
Many closely related species and varieties of C. frutescens exist, all with different grades of pungency. Paprika, or Hungarian pepper (one of the mildest peppers), and the large green and red peppers that are eaten as vegetables are both varieties of C. annuum and are important medicinal foods.
- Capsaicin (0.1–1.5%)
- Volatile oil
- Steroidal saponins (capsicidins—in seeds only)
- Relieves muscle spasms
- Increases sweating
- Increases blood flow to the skin
Capsaicin: Extensive clinical research shows that capsaicin, the compound in cayenne mostly responsible for its hot, pungent taste, has strong, local analgesic activity in certain types of nerve pain. Applied to the skin, capsaicin desensitizes nerve endings and acts as a counter-irritant.
It is standardly prescribed for relief of neuralgic pain. It may also provide effective pain relief in conditions such as arthritis and headache.
Traditional & Current Uses
Warming stimulant: The herb’s heating qualities make it a valuable remedy for poor circulation. It improves blood flow to the hands and feet and to the central organs.
Antimicrobial: In Mayan herbal medicine, cayenne was used to counter microbial infections—different Capsicum species including cayenne are now known to have significant antimicrobial activity. Adding cayenne to food reduces the chances of developing gastric or intestinal infection, and the herb is frequently used by herbalists to treat gastroenteritis and dysentery.
External uses: Applied locally to the skin, cayenne is mildly analgesic. It is also rubefacient, increasing blood flow to the affected part, and this helps to stimulate the circulation in “cold” rheumatic and arthritic conditions, aiding the removal of waste products and increasing the flow of nutrients to the tissues. Cayenne may also be applied to unbroken chilblains.
Internal uses: Cayenne is taken to relieve gas and colic and to stimulate the secretion of digestive juices. It may be taken in frequent, small doses for a weak or failing heart. A pinch of cayenne is excellent when used in gargles for sore throats. Cayenne is also helpful in relieving acute diarrhea.