Herbs can help treat many conditions from burns and scrapes to diabetes, hypertension and more. By learning how to grow herbs and create herbal remedies, you can treat everything from minor injuries to long-term conditions. In Grow It, Heal It (Rodale Books, 2013), herbalists Christopher Hobbs and Leslie Gardener provide descriptions and DIY medical uses for more than 50 herbs. The following excerpt describes the health benefits of cayenne pepper.
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DIY Cayenne Pepper Remedies
Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper
Talk about popular herbs—this one is hot. Cayenne peppers were carried back to Europe from Columbus's travels to the New World. Its primary constituent, capsaicin, is the active ingredient in personal protection sprays and animal repellents. Numerous varieties of Capsicum have been developed or selected: Some peppers are fiery hot, like Thai chiles, and some are quite mild, like the bell pepper. Paprika spice is derived from a related species, and C. frutescens is the source material for Tabasco sauce.
This spicy fruit is a perennial shrub in its native South America, but it's usually grown as an annual in northern gardens. It resembles other members of its family, such as bell peppers, and is dense and compact, with smaller, glossy, lance-shaped leaves. It can grow to a height of about 2 feet, and its small, star-shaped white flowers are followed by green pods (fruits) that ripen to red or yellow.
Preparations and Dosage
Use cayenne pepper in capsules, tablets, or tinctures, and sprinkle it on your food.
Take 1 to 4 capsules of the powder twice daily. For the tincture, use 1 to 4 droppersful two or three times a day. Or make an infusion by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of freshly crushed dried seeds or fruits and letting it steep for 10 to 15 minutes before straining out the herb. Add honey and lemon juice, then drink as needed.
Cayenne is an important circulatory herb, and it was enthusiastically recommended by herbalists of the early 20th century, especially the famed Dr. John Christopher, for just about any ailment. His son, David, told us that his dad would often amaze members of the audience by consuming large quantities with nary a whimper—even placing it in his eyes. Because of the health benefits of cayenne pepper, he recommended cayenne to improve digestion; reduce cholesterol; benefit the heart, blood, and blood vessels; and reduce various pains in the body, such as joint pain, digestive pain, nerve pain, and headaches. He also recommended applying it to the skin to treat shingles, neuralgias, and arthritis. Today, preparations of cayenne's main constituent, capsaicin, are found in prescription medications for treating the pain of shingles and sore joints.
Capsaicin can produce an intense burning sensation when it touches your skin, but this subsides with continued use. Applications of cayenne to your skin can stimulate endorphins and block pain-signaling chemicals, inducing a feeling of well-being and sometimes even euphoria. Why do you think hot chiles are so popular in some cultures? It's all about the high!
Avoid getting cayenne in your eyes. (Yes, it is used medicinally for cataracts, but don't try it at home!) The active components transfer easily to your hands, mouth, genitalia, and other mucous membranes, so wear gloves when handling the peppers and wash your hands thoroughly afterward. The heat from the fruit is actually concentrated in the white fluffy partitions (called the placenta), not in the seeds, as is often assumed.
In the Garden
This popular spicy fruit needs full sun, hot weather, and a long growing season to thrive. It requires a moderate amount of water and rich soil. Start the seeds in a spring greenhouse and keep them on a sunny windowsill or patio. (Scarifying the seeds or soaking them in gibberellic acid will aid germination.) Keep them inside and in the sun or plant out when the weather warms up, and then make sure you harden them off for outdoor growth before transplanting. (Acclimate them by setting them outside for longer and longer periods with each passing day.) Space the plants in your garden at 1- to 2-foot intervals, and stake them if they begin to droop as they grow. Mulch well.
Harvesting Cayenne Peppers: Collect cayenne fruits by cutting, not pulling, them from the plants, and be sure to wear gloves. Red peppers are traditionally dried in the sun on sloped boards or on hillsides. You can dry them whole in the dehydrator or oven, set to the lowest temperature setting, or gather them together by their stems and hang them to dry from a rafter in a warm kitchen.
Reprinted from Grow It, Heal It: Natural and Effective Herbal Remedies from Your Garden or Windowsill by Christopher Hobbs and Leslie Gardner. Copyright © 2013 by Christopher Hobbs and Leslie Gardner. By permission of Rodale Books. Available wherever books are sold. Buy this book from our book store: Grow It, Heal It.