Black Pepper: History & Health Benefits

During this cold and dark time of the year we are learning more about one of the hottest and most popular spices in the world: cayenne.  The health benefits of cayenne are truly astounding!  From its heart-protective qualities to boosting the immune system, it will even stop bleeding from a cut or wound!

The History

Black pepper has been in common use for thousands of years in the old world and is the most popular spice of our modern day. It accounts for 1/5 of the total spice trade in the world. India it has been in use for at least four thousand years.

The history of pepper begins in prehistoric India and Southeast Asia where the pepper vine grows naturally. It then spread to the ancient Egyptians and Romans and later was in the spotlight during the height of the early European spice trade routes. 

Trikatu is a popular formula in Ayurveda that is comprised of equal parts of black pepper (Piper nigrum), long pepper (Piper longum), and Ginger (Zingiber officinale). 

Trikatu is used to increase warmth, increase circulation and break up congested mucus.  It is also commonly added in small amounts to other formulas. Not only does this help to increase bioavailability of the herbal formula, it also acts as an activator or diffusive herb similar to Samuel Thompson’s use of cayenne. 

 I am black on the outside, clad in a wrinkled cover, Yet within I bear a burning marrow. I season delicacies, the banquets of kings, and the luxuries of the table, Both the sauces and the tenderized meats of the kitchen. But you will find in me no quality of any worth, Unless your bowels have been rattled by my gleaming marrow.
 -A riddle authored by Saint Aldhelm, a 7th-century Bishop of Sherborne


White, Red, and Black Pepper... Among Others

Historically, long pepper (Piper longum) was used interchangeably with black peppercorns (Piper nigrum). Although they are in the same genus, they look dramatically different and, if you do a taste test, you’ll find that long pepper is dramatically hotter than the black peppercorns. This monograph is specifically about Piper nigrum

When buying whole peppercorns you might notice that there are red, white and green peppercorns in addition to the black peppercorns. 

All of these come from the same plant but are prepared differently to achieve the different look and slightly different taste. 

Black peppercorns are harvested when unripe, boiled briefly and then dried in the sun. 

White peppercorns are harvested when fully ripe and then have the outer flesh removed so that only the seed remains. 

Green peppercorns are harvested when unripe and then treated in a way to preserve the green coloring either through freeze drying, pickling or other means. 

Red peppercorns are harvested when fully ripe and then treated in a way to preserve the red coloring. 

You can buy rainbow pepper at Mountain Rose Herbs. 

Galen, in treating of the pepper in his work on Simples, merely says of its medicinal powers, that it is strongly calefacient [warming] and desiccative [drying].     -PAULUS AEGINETA

Black Pepper Health Benefits

Besides adding a pleasant taste to our food there’s another reason that black pepper is found on practically every table in US restaurants. Black pepper is a warming stimulant that is especially used for supporting digestion. 

Black Pepper is a remedy I value very highly. As a gastric stimulant it certainly has no superior, and for this purpose we use it in congestive chills, in cholera morbus, and other cases of a similar character.
John Scudder, 1870

As a gastric stimulant it is a useful addition to difficultly-digestible foods, as fatty and mucilaginous matters, especially in persons subject to stomach complaints from a torpid or atonic condition of this viscus.
- Jonathan Pereira  The Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, Vol. II, 3th American ed., 1853

Most of our pepper today is used as a food condiment, and often people think of it as a simple food seasoning, but historically it has a broader range of use. Its hot and stimulating characteristics make it useful for a variety of cold and flu symptoms such as for fevers with chills (stimulating diaphoretic) and for mucus congestion (stimulating expectorant).

A Remedy

A remedy from New England that also appears in Chinese folk medicine is pepper (Piper nigrum). The irritating properties of pepper stimulate circulation and the flow of mucous. It is most appropriate for a cough with thick mucous, but inappropriate for a dry, irritable cough with little expectoration. Directions: Place a teaspoon of black pepper and a tablespoon of honey in the bottom of a cup, and fill it with boiling water. Let it steep for 10-15 minutes. Take small sips as needed.  - Paul Bergner, Folk Remedies Database

Black Pepper Increases Bioavailability

What we’re just beginning to figure out about black pepper’s ability to increase the bioavailability of nutrients has long been known and practiced in Ayurveda. Adding a bit of black pepper to herbal formulas or to our dinner plate means that we have potentiated their qualities and nutrients. This can be crudely translated as getting the biggest bang for your buck. This potentiating factor is most famously known for turmeric. When adding black pepper to turmeric preparations the turmeric’s bioavailability dramatically increases. This is also seen to be helpful with goldenseal and juniper berries (Buhner). 

Many of the studies done on increased bioavailability have focused on Piperine, an isolated constituent of black pepper. Besides increasing the bioavailability of herbs, it has been shown that piperine can dramatically increase the absorption of selenium, vitamin B, beta-carotene and other nutrients.

Pungent herbs have been shown to generally enhance the absorption of drugs in humans and animals due to increased blood perfusion of the gastrointestinal mucosa with increased local circulation and enhanced digestive secretions. For example, the pungent alkaloid piperine found in the two peppers of the trikatu combination (black pepper (Piper nigrum) fruit, long pepper (Piper longum) fruit, and ginger (Zingiber officinale) root) increases absorption of curcumin, phenytoin, propranolol, theophylline.
- Francis Brinker  
2010 AHG Proceedings

long black pepper
Long Pepper (Piper longum)
Trikatu - A Famous Ayurveda Formula

learn more about Plant Preparations & other special considerations at 

This article originally appeared at:

You just earned points!
Login to save points.
Earn your spot on the leaderboard.

You earned Health Freedom Idaho points!

You're on your way to the top of the leaderboard!