Botanical Name: Piper nigrum

Common Name: black pepper

Family: Piperaceae

Ayurvedic/TCM Name: Kali Mirch/Xin Xiu Ben Cao (Newly Revised Materia Medica)

Parts Used: dried unripe fruit

Native Region: Indigenous to Malabar coast of India


Distribution: Southeast Asia, with Vietnam making huge efforts to become the largest producer worldwide (1/3), India, Brazil and Indonesia make up the other 2/3 

Botanical Description: The pepper plant is a perennial woody vine growing up to 4 meters (13 ft) in height on supporting trees, poles, or trellises. It is a spreading vine, rooting readily where trailing stems touch the ground. The leaves are alternate, entire, 5 to 10 centimeters (2.0 to 3.9 in) long and 3 to 6 centimeters (1.2 to 2.4 in) across. The flowers are small, produced on pendulous spikes 4 to 8 centimeters (1.6 to 3.1 in) long at the leaf nodes, the spikes lengthening up to 7 to 15 centimeters (2.8 to 5.9 in) as the fruit matures. The fruit of the black pepper is called a drupe and when dried is known as a peppercorn. [1]

Cultivation: Pepper can be grown in soil that is neither too dry nor susceptible to flooding, moist, well-drained and rich in organic matter (the vines do not do too well over an altitude of 900 m (3,000 ft) above sea level). The plants are propagated by cuttings about 40 to 50 centimeters (16 to 20 in) long, tied up to neighboring trees or climbing frames at distances of about 2 meters (6 ft 7 in) apart; trees with rough bark are favored over those with smooth bark, as the pepper plants climb rough bark more readily. Competing plants are cleared away, leaving only sufficient trees to provide shade and permit free ventilation. The roots are covered in leaf mulch and manure, and the shoots are trimmed twice a year. On dry soils the young plants require watering every other day during the dry season for the first three years. The plants bear fruit from the fourth or fifth year, and then typically for seven years. The cuttings are usually cultivars, selected both for yield and quality of fruit. [1]

Harvesting Guidelines: A single stem bears 20 to 30 fruiting spikes. The harvest begins as soon as one or two fruits at the base of the spikes begin to turn red, and before the fruit is fully mature, and still hard; if allowed to ripen completely, the fruit lose pungency, and ultimately fall off and are lost. The spikes are collected and spread out to dry in the sun, then the peppercorns are stripped off the spikes. [1] To harvest black pepper, the clusters are harvested while still green, but mature. These are immersed in almost boiling water for a few minutes after which they turn dark brown to black. The berries are then dried in the sun for 16 to 20 hours. The skin of the berries shrinks, giving the peppercorn a wrinkled appearance. To prepare white pepper, the berries must be picked when they are ripe or red, and then fermented to remove the flesh surrounding the peppercorns. The fruit flesh ferments by means of bacterial fermentation.
The peppercorns are then washed repeatedly, until the clean greyish-brown peppercorns remain. They are then dried in the sun for 12 hours. The color must be cream to white and the moisture content 12 to 15 %. From 100 kg of ripe berries about 28 kg (28 %) dry white pepper can be produced. [5]

Constituents: Piperine, which is identical in composition to morphia, volatile oil, a resin called Chavicin. Its medicinal activities depends mainly on its pungent resin and volatile oil, which is colorless, turning yellow with age, with a strong odor, and not so acrid a taste as the peppercorn; it also contains starch, cellulose and coloring. [2]

Storage: Store black pepper in the same way as other spices. Whole peppercorns keep for longer than ground pepper. Remember: ready-ground and cracked pepper will eventually go stale, just like other ground spices. [3] As a general rule, whole spices will stay fresh for about 4 years, ground spices for about 2 to 3 years and dried herbs for 1 to 3 years. [4]

Uses: Peppercorns can be used whole, crushed or ground to add heat and flavor to cooking. Use them whole in stews and soups or as part of a bouquet garni. You will often find whole peppercorns spicing up salamis or sausages.

Freshly ground peppercorns have much more flavor than ready-ground pepper, so buy fresh whole peppercorns and invest in a pepper grinder. Try grinding fresh black pepper over a bowl of strawberries and see how it enhances the flavor of the fruit, releasing a very subtle pepper flavor.

Lightly crushed or cracked peppercorns can be used to spice up creamy sauces or to coat fillet steaks or chicken breasts. The light crushing releases the fragrant spiciness; using ground pepper in this way would just release too much heat.

Black pepper’s flavor diminishes during cooking, so it’s best to season dishes towards the end of cooking or at the table.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Black pepper is a great source of magnesium, vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, iron, and fiber. It contains the essential oil piperine, which, when used in aromatherapy, helps ease aching muscles, digestive issues, and even inflammatory arthritis. Black pepper also possesses antibacterial, antioxidant, immune-boosting and fever-reducing properties. Some studies show it helps individuals quit smoking and is used in “quit smoking” treatments. Additionally, it’s health benefits include: [6]

  1. Improves digestive health – stimulates digestive juices and enzymes, promoting digestion; helps relieve stomach gas, flatulence and colicky pain.
  2. Prevents cancer – piperine, a major alkaloid constituent of black pepper, exerts anti-tumor activities in breast cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and melanomas. [7]
  3. Lowers blood pressure – piperine lowers blood pressure in animals and similar effects can be expected in humans.
  4. Promotes weight loss – fights the formation of fat cells; use on your grilled chicken or grilled vegetables instead of calorie-heavy Italian dressing – add a dash of pepper and squirt of lemon to save calories.
  5. Relieves cold and cough – pepper stimulates circulation and mucous flow; enhance the effect by combining it with honey. Mix 1 teaspoon of powdered black pepper with 2 tablespoons of honey in a cup. Fill with boiling water, cover and let it steep for 15 minutes, strain and sip it. Three times a day will clear congestion.
  6. Fights infections – antibacterial properties helps prevent infection and spread of disease.
  7. Anti-oxidant benefits – fight disease-causing free radicals and boost immunity. It also increases the bioavailability of nutrients in numerous foods and supplements, like turmeric.
  8. Oral health – treats gum inflammation. Mix equal parts of salt and pepper and rub on gums. For toothache, mix black pepper with clove oil and apply tooth affected area for temporary relief.
  9. Enhances brain health – piperine inhibits one enzyme that beaks down serotonin, the calming neurotransmitter. This enzyme also degrades the functioning of another hormone called melatonin, which regulates the sleep/wake cycle. It has shown importance in Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and strokes.
  10. Improves male fertility – increases testosterone levels and increases sperm count
  11. Helps quit smoking – cigarette cravings were reduced in test subjects who inhaled black pepper vapor.
  12. Aids in treatment of diabetes – black pepper oil inhibits two enzymes that break down starch into glucose.
  13. In skin care – it fights wrinkles and exfoliates skin. Mix a teaspoon of pepper with 1 tsp of honey or turmeric, a little water and apply to face twice a day. Crush some black pepper (1/2 tsp) and mix with 1 tsp of yogurt. Apply to face and wash after 20 minutes.
  14. Revitalizes hair – mix a tsp of lemon and ground black pepper seeds and apply to scalp and hair. Leave on for 10-15 minutes and rinse off with cold water. Mix a tsp of pepper with equal amounts of honey and apply to hair to strengthen hair roots.

Black pepper should be consumed in moderate quantities and not in excess as it is a spice and not a food type. When used with other ingredients like turmeric, fenugreek, cinnamon, and cumin, it formulates a great combination of spices.

Side Effects:If black pepper gets into the eyes, it will cause redness, burning and tearing. If inhaled, can cause sneezing and runny nose. It is fine to take black pepper in food amounts when pregnant or breast feeding. Higher doses can cause complications.

Disclaimer: This newsletter does not give medical advice. The information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained in this newsletter are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider in situations of serious medical concern.

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Billie Nicholson, Editor
January 2018

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