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  • Capsicum frutescens L.
  • Capsicum minimum (Roxb)
  • Solanaceae
  • var. longum
  • Nightshade family

Common Names

herbsAfrica pepper
herbsAfrican red pepper
herbsAmerican pepper
herbsAmerican red pepper
herbsBird pepper
herbsChili pepper
herbsCockspur pepper
herbsGarden pepper
herbsGoat's pepper
herbsPod pepper
herbsRed pepper
herbsSpanish pepper
herbsZanzibar pepper

Parts Usually Used


Description of Plant(s) and Culture

A very hot pepper, cayenne is a perennial plant in its native tropical America but is annual when cultivated outside tropical zones. Growing to a height of 3 feet or more, its glabrous stem is woody at the bottom and branched near the top. The leaves are ovate to lanceolate, entire, and petioled. The drooping, white to yellow glowers grow alone or in pairs or threes between April and September. The ripe fruit, or pepper, is a many-seeded pod with a leathery outside in various shades of red or yellow.

Cayenne pepper (capsicum frutescens, var. longum) comes from the ground, dried ripe red pepper pods of a small tropical shrub. This ground red pepper, combined with yeast and flour, is baked into a hard cake, which is then ground into the finished spice. Used in curries and chili powders; in small amounts added to bland foods like eggs and cream sauce. It has no odor and its taste is hot and acrid.

Paprika (capsicum frutescens) comes from the cayenne pepper. Different varieties of paprika vary in quality and pungency; some of the best come from Hungary. Uses include: goulashes, and to add color and flavor to many bland, savory dishes.

Other varieties: Long red cayenne (C. annum), also called Manchi-phalam in Sanskrit; Jalapeno, Anaheim, Hungarian Wax, Purple Venuzuetan.

Where Found

From the Greek kapto, "I bite", capsicum is a biting plant. The best comes from Africa, Asia, and South America. It is produced in good quality in the Southern States, especially those that lie beyond the southern line of Tennessee. Grow in West Indies, Hungary, East Indies, Central America.

Medicinal Properties

Appetizer, antiseptic, febrifuge, antibacterial, carminative, diaphoretic, rubefacient, condiment, nerve tonic, digestive, irritant, sialagogue (stimulates secretion of saliva), stimulant, and tonic (cayenne is usually mixed with other herbs in medicinal doses)

Biochemical Information

Alkaloids, apsaicine, capsacutin, capsaicin, capsanthine, capsico PABA, fatty acids, flavonoids, sugars, carotene, volatile oil, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, and C

Legends, Myths and Stories

Native to northeastern coastal areas of South America, these red hot peppers have been used in folk medicine since 7,000 BC.

The hot red cayenne chili arrived in the West from India in 1548 and was known as Ginnie pepper. Gerard describes it as "extreme hot and dry, even in the fourth degree," and he recommended it for a skin infection commonly known then as the King's Evil. Cayenne was popular with the 19th century physiomedicalists who used its warming properties for chills, rheumatism, and depression.

The Herbalist Almanac states that if paprika is fed to yellow canary birds, their plumage turns red. Paprika also improves the coloration of hatchery reared trout. It is also called pimiento; but should not be confused with allspice, also called pimento. (Note difference in spelling).

Contrary to popular belief, hot, spicy food may actually be good for your health; if it contains liberal amounts of cayenne, also known as capsicum. Cayenne is also very nutritious; peppers in general contain iron, phosphorous, calcium, B-complex and more vitamin C than oranges.

According to Dr. Irwin Ziment of the UCLA School of Medicine, the hot, stinging sensation that follows biting into a chili pepper triggers the release of endorphins by the brain, chemicals that relieve pain and can cause a mild euphoria. Elevated triglycerides (over 190 mg) are a major risk factor for heart disease in women.

The 1987 study published in the Journal of Bioscience states that rats fed a diet high in cayenne experienced a significant reduction in blood triglycerides and low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol. Capsaicin, a compound found in cayenne that gives the spice its "kick", is an anti-inflammatory.

The incidence of blood clots in countries that routinely use curry in their cuisines is much lower than in the United States. Herbs such as turmeric, garlic, cayenne, usual ingredients in curry powder, are believed to help prevent platelets from sticking together and forming dangerous blood clots that could result in heart attacks and stroke.


A stimulating stomachic. A catalyst for all herbs. Improves circulation, aids digestion by stimulating gastric juices, stimulates the appetite, reduces inflammation, is a mild stimulant or tonic, improves metabolism, relieves gas, colds, chills, and stops bleeding from ulcers. Good for the kidneys, lungs, spleen, pancreas, heart, and stomach. Taken for nausea, scrofula, swollen lymph glands, rheumatism, arthritis, and pleurisy. Use with lobelia for nerves.

Recently, cayenne has been used successfully to treat patients with cluster headaches, a particularly painful type of headache.

Used externally, cayenne liniment can soothe the stiffness and pain of rheumatism and arthritis.

Can be used as a general stimulant to build up resistance at the beginning of a cold, tonsilitis, laryngitis, hoarseness, shingles. It can be taken as an infusion for stomach and bowel pains or cramps. Small quantities of the fresh fruit or the powder will stimulate appetite, expels worms. For external use, cayenne is made into plasters or liniment or the tincture is applied to increase blood flow to areas afflicted with rheumatism, arthritis, pleuritis, or pericarditis. Said to increase fertility and delay senility. In West India a remedy for scarlatina. Wards off seasickness.

While red pepper smarts a little, it can be put in an open wound, either in a fresh wound or an old ulcer, and it is very healing instead of irritating; but black pepper, mustard, and vinegar are irritating to an open wound and do not promote healing.

Formulas or Dosages

Infusion: use 1/2 to 1 tsp. pepper per cup of boiling water. Take warm, 1 tbsp at a time.

Powder: for acute conditions, take 3-10 grains, for chronic conditions 1-3 grains.

Arthritis poultice:

  • Mullein leaves (6 parts)
  • Slippery elm bark (9 parts)
  • Lobelia (3 parts)
  • Cayenne (1 part)

Add 3 oz. mixture to boiling water to make a paste. Spread the paste on a cloth and apply to the affected area.

Kloss's liniment:

  • 2 oz. gum myrrh
  • 1 oz. goldenseal
  • 1/2 oz. cayenne pepper

Put this mixture in a quart of rubbing alcohol (do not take internally). Let it stand for a week or 10 days, shaking every day. This can be used wherever a liniment is used or needed. (heals wounds, bruises, sprains, scalds, burns, and sunburns. Apply freely. In pyorrhea, rinse mouth with liniment or apply liniment on both sides of the gums with a little cotton, Q-tip, or gauze.

To stimulate vitality: combine equal parts of cayenne pepper and ginger root powders. A half to 1 tsp. may be taken 2 or 3 times daily to stimulate circulation, vitality, and digestion and to prevent illness.

Nutrient Content

Sugars, carotene, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, C

How Sold

Powder, tincture, tablet, teas, liniment, and capsules.

Capsules: take 1 capsule 1 to 3 times daily.

Tea: a cup of tea can be taken for stomach cramps or a cold on a daily basis. Prepared teas are available, or make it from dried herb.


Prolonged application to the skin can cause dermatitis and raise blisters. Excessive consumption can cause gastroenteritis and kidney or liver damage. Avoid touching the eyes, genitalia, or any cuts after handling fresh chilies.

If taken internally, do not exceed recommended doses. High doses taken internally can cause gastroenteritis and kidney damage.

Cayenne can be irritating to hemorrhoids. Should not be used by people with gastrointestinal problems. Never apply cayenne ointment or liniment to broken skin.

The seeds can be toxic, so do not use them.

Avoid therapeutic doses of cayenne during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

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