Spice: Cayenne – More Than Just Zing

cayenne plant

Known to most of us as just the ‘red pepper’, the Cayenne pepper plays an important part in diverse cuisines. Culinarily speaking, it is a spice.  However, herbalists and naturopathic doctors refer to it as a medicinal herb (known as Capsicum minimum, Capsicum frutescens or Capsicum baccatum).

Because of its zest, it is commonly known as a popular spice.  After all, who wants bland food?  Not the Mexicans, nor the Creoles, nor the Cajun, nor the Chinese, that’s for certain. If I made a list of all the cuisines who love red pepper, it would be quite a long one. People love it for good reason; it is more than just zing.

Hot ’n’ Healthy

The Cayenne pepper is hot because it contains capsaicin. According to the Scoville scale (which measures spicy heat), a red pepper may contain anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville units. That is considered moderate heat, in comparison; a habañero pepper has up to 580,000 Scoville units and can literally burn your mouth. The main property about capsaicin is that it helps circulation, and Cayenne has just the right amount of capsaicin to produce health benefits without burning a hole right through your stomach. Here they are:

  • It relieves pain (analgestic). The capsaicin from the Cayenne pepper inhibits the production of a chemical substance that carries pain messages to the brain. Skin pain, muscle pain, bone pain, nerve pain, you name it; pepper beats pain.
  • It promotes weight loss. Because the body heats up when the red pepper is ingested, metabolism speeds up. Capsaicin also breaks down carbohydrates by regulating blood sugar levels.
  • It clears congestion (decongestant). Got a cold? Have a cup of cayenne tea or eat a spicy dish. You’ll be breathing easy again in no time.
  • It is an immune system-booster. It contains the vitamins A, B2, B6, C, E, and K; and as we all know, more is good when it comes to these letters.
  • Soothes the digestive tract, promotes peristaltic action and aids in relieving constipation, promotes stomach secretion and saliva. It helps to rebuild stomach tissue and relieves stomach ache, gas and even hemorrhoids.
  • Stomach ulcers. Yes, believe it or not and contrary to common belief, cayenne can help heal stomach ulcers.
  • Traditional uses include treating varicose veins and circulation.
  • It is good for the heart. Capsaicin reduces blood cholesterol and triglycerides. It also promotes circulation and cardiovascular strength without raising the blood pressure and without undesirable side effects. This makes for a less-stressed and healthy heart, which is what everybody wants.
  • Cayenne has an energizing effect on the body.
  • Rich in calcium and potassium, it is also an excellent source of Vitamins A, B-Complexes and C.

Heart-Helper and Life Saver

In traditional and folk medicine, cayenne has an impressive success rate of  emergency help for a heart attack. There’s more behind the heat than just hot.  Not only can it help a myriad of ailments, but it just may save your life too.

There are abundant accounts of people preventing or surviving a heart attack by ingesting some form of cayenne pepper. In one seemingly miraculous case, a 90-year old man had a heart attack and was pronounced dead by paramedics. But thanks to his daughter, who managed to give him Cayenne extract orally, he regained semi-consciousness. His daughter continued with the extract in the ambulance.  By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital he was fully conscious and eventually recovered fully.

Similar anecdotes point out that a person given red pepper within 30 seconds may survive a heart attack (much like the advice to always have low dose aspirin with you). Many “pepper-proponents” advise carrying cayenne pepper powder or oil for emergencies until an ambulance can come.

Famed naturopath, Dr. John Christopher, contributes getting warm cayenne tea down a heart attack victim soon enough with saving the lives of his patients when called in for an emergency house call.  “I never lost one.” he said.  Dr. Christophers Formulas Cayenne Pepper Extract comes in various heat units.  Do an online search on this extract for specific information regarding emergency use.

The warm tea quickly enters the system much faster as absorption begins in the lining of the mouth and immediately sets off positive chemical reactions as well as nutrient absorption.  Capsules may be more ‘convenient’ but are only half as effective.  Eventually they dissolve in the stomach like a mini exposion, shocking the stomach that received no ‘warning’ – which taking as a tea will accomplish.

Dr. Richard Schulze, the medical herbalist: If you master only one herb in your life, master cayenne pepper. It is more powerful than any other.

“One of the reasons why cayenne extract (tincture), oil or even powder orally works so rapidly is because absorption starts immediately through the membranes of the mouth, triggering chemical and neurological responses as the cayenne enters the blood stream.”

Capsicum (cayenne pepper) is said to be unequal for its ability to boost circulation and increase heart action. Capsicum exerts a variety of desirable actions on the entire cardiovascular system. It has the extraordinary ability to enhance cardiovascular performance while actually lowering blood pressure.

Capsicum has an energizing effect on the entire system. It has traditionally been used for overcoming fatigue and restoring stamina and vigor. It is a natural stimulant without the threatening side effects (palpitations, hyper-activity or rise in blood pressure) of most other stimulating agents.

Some Final Words

As we are about to end our peppery journey, a few last reminders:

  • Never give cayenne to children below 2 years of age, and be careful when handling it around them.
  • If you’re on heart medications, like ACE inhibitors, talk to your doctor before taking red pepper. Similar caution goes out to people on antacids, and blood thinners.
  • If you’re allergic to latex, nuts, kiwis, avocado, or banana you may also be allergic to cayenne.

Moderation is always advised, and being careful is simply smart. Never touch your eyes right after you’ve handled Cayenne pepper; and never, ever, go to the bathroom without washing your hands first!

Tip:  Handle any hot pepper with gloves.  Be sure to wash the cutting board well.  Milk contains 80% of the protein casein, a fat attracting lipophilic substance which effectively dissolves and carries away the capsaicin which will alleviate the heat whereas water will spread it, intensifying the effect.  It is a very big mistake to drink water if you have ingested something that is hotter than you can handle.  Instead, hold milk or yogurt in your mouth for instant relief.  If you get any in your eyes, likewise, rinse with milk or use a yogurt compress.  The same holds true for skin irritation from capsaicin.  Click here for information on how to take cayenne for therapeutic purposes.

Related article:  Dosage and Method:  Cayenne

2 comments… add one
  • z. 19/01/2014, 17:19

    I think you meant to say “[aids in relieving] constipation”, not “promotes [it]”

    • admin 26/02/2014, 20:44

      Thanks for pointing that out. I’ve edited it.


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