Common names: Cayenne, cayenne pepper, red pepper, chili pepper, capsicum
Latin name: Capsicum annuum
Part used: Fruit
Medicinal uses: Internally, cayenne is used to help heal colds, improve poor circulation, and strengthen weak digestion. It also may help stop diarrhea. Cayenne contains carotenoids and vitamins C and E, antioxidants that help protect the body against cancer. Externally, cayenne is used in over-the-counter and prescription salves and liniments for arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, shingles, and sore muscles. One of cayenne’s active ingredients, capsaicin, is effective in blocking the transmission of pain impulses in the body.
Forms commonly used: Fresh peppers, dried and powdered (as a spice), capsules, tablets, creams, ointments, and tinctures.
Side effects: For internal use, the Botanical Safety Handbook (CRC, 1997) lists cayenne as a Class 1 herb, meaning it is safe when used appropriately. Externally, however, the herb is contraindicated for use on “injured skin or near eyes.” Pregnant women shouldn’t use therapeutic doses of the herb. Avoid touching your face after handling fresh peppers.
Notes: The burning sensation you feel after ingesting cayenne won’t hurt you; in fact, studies have shown that cayenne can help heal ulcers rather than aggravate them. Cayenne is grown worldwide and is in the same family as bell and jalapeño peppers. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in many self-defense sprays (pepper sprays).