“And the fruit thereof shall be for meat, and the leaf thereof for medicine” (Ezekiel 47:12)
An entry from the journal of Priddy Meeks, a doctor in mid-nineteenth century Utah, sets the scene for our special report on the medicinal uses of chile peppers:
“He reached Parowan with both feet frozen above his ankles. He was left with me to have both feet amputated as it was thought there was no possible chance to save his life without amputation. I was at my wits end to know what to do. I saw no possible chance for amputation. An impulse seemed to strike my mind as tho by inspiration that I would give him cayenne pepper inwardly and see what effect that would have on the frozen feet.
“I commenced by giving him rather small doses at first, about three times a day. It increased the warmth and power of action in the blood to such a degree that it gave him such pain and misery in his legs that he could not bear it. He lay down on his back and elevated his feet up against the wall for three or four days and then he would sit in a chair…
“That was all the medical treatment he had and to my astonishment and to every one else that knew of the circumstances, the sixteenth day after I gave him the first dose of pepper he walked nine miles…and said he could have walked as far again.”
The warm glow from eating chile is more than ecstasy–it’s energy, it’s enlivenment, it’s…an expectorant. Chile enthusiasts know the playful side of their favorite condiment, but many do not know it has a working side as well.
Chile, therapeutically available as cayenne, has an impressive history as an herbal remedy and a general health aid, and we thought readers would be interested to know more about the health benefits of one of their favorite foods. What follows is an overview of scientific research and historical testimony, combined with the stories of people who have experienced the healing powers of hot peppers for themselves. It is important to remember that cayenne is not a miracle cure and should be used in addition to, rather than instead of, conventional medication. Always consult your physician before initiating or changing any medical treatment.
First, a Little Background
Cayenne is available in herb shops and health food stores as bulk powder, capsules, and tincture. It contains vitamins A and C, as well as calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3). Over the last quarter century, it has been the subject of scientific studies in the areas of pain, digestion, and circulation, and there have been some interesting results. Long thought to be an irritant, capsaicin (the chemical that makes chile hot) is actually a counter-irritant–an irritation to an irritation–that reduces pain and swelling, and so is useful as a topical analgesic. It also stimulates circulation, aids in digestion, and breaks up congestion. Chile is a diaphoretic (perspiration producer), which helps people who live in hot climates regulate their body temperatures, and it serves as an antiseptic when directly applied to an affected area. It also has some limited blood thinning capabilities which are helpful in the treatment of high blood pressure and heart disease.
“I’m not saying that every person who takes capsicum is going to prevent atherosclerosis, but it (the herb) is taken that way,” said Robin Dipasquale, who is in the final months of her study and training at Bastyr University in Seattle, a post-graduate four-year degree program for naturopathic physicians. She said that every person has a different threshold for capsaicin, and everyone who takes it experiences individual results.