Perennial woody climber growing to about 16 ft (5 m). Has large oval leaves, spikes of small white flowers, and clusters of small round fruits, which ripen from green to red.
Habitat & Cultivation
Native to southwestern India, pepper is now cultivated in tropical areas around the world. The fruit is harvested from plants that are at least 3 years old. Green peppercorns are picked unripe and pickled, black peppercorns are picked unripe and dried, red peppercorns are picked ripe and dried, and white peppercorns are picked ripe and soaked in water for 8 days before drying.
Fruit, essential oil.
Pepper contains a volatile oil (including beta-bisabolene, camphene, betacaryophyllene, and many other terpenes and sesquiterpenes), up to 9% alkaloids (especially piperine, which is largely responsible for the herb’s acrid taste), about 11% proteins, and small quantities of minerals.
History & Folklore
Cultivated as a spice and a medicine since ancient times, pepper was a vital commodity in world trade for thousands of years. Attila the Hun is reputed to have demanded 3,000 lb (1,360 kg) of pepper as ransom during his siege of the city of Rome (408 CE).
Medicinal Actions & Uses
The familiar sharp taste of pepper reflects the stimulant and antiseptic effect it has on the digestive tract and the circulatory system. Pepper is commonly taken to warm the body, or to improve digestive function in cases of nausea, stomachache, flatulence, bloating, constipation, or lack of appetite. The essential oil eases rheumatic pain and toothache. It is antiseptic and antibacterial, and reduces fever.
Piperine, the main active constituent within black pepper, has significant therapeutic benefits, with a 2012 research paper listing “immunomodulatory, antioxidant, antiasthmatic, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer and antiamebic properties.” Piperine appears to aid the absorption of herbal and chemical medicines, e.g. curcumin (from turmeric, Curcuma longa), and in some cases, to slow their clearance by the liver.
Do not take the essential oil internally without professional supervision.