"Bird Pepper" Illustration, 1858

The Great Chile Pepper Health Debate

Dave DeWitt Chiles and Health Leave a Comment

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Capsicum nigrum, Batavia, 1809Capsicum annuum. From the Greek, kapto, I bite—a biting plant. The best capsicum is obtained from Africa and South America, one province of the latter, Cayenne, giving its name to the article. It can be produced in good quality in the southern States, especially those that lie beyond the southern line of Tennessee. It grows abundantly, and of excellent quality, in the West Indies, where the negroes count it almost a certain remedy for nearly all their maladies. They have no fears of fatal effects from fevers, even the terrible and devastating yellow fever, if they can get a plenty of capsicum. They not only drink a tea of it, but they chew and swallow the pods one after another, as we would so many doughnuts; and never dream that it can do them any injury. Dr. Thomas, of London, who practiced a long time in the West Indies, found cayenne pepper an almost sovereign remedy for yellow fever, and almost every other form of human maladies. There is, perhaps, no other article which produces so powerful an impression on the animal frame, that is so destitute of all injurious qualities. It seems almost incapable of even abuse, for, however great the excitement induced by it, this stimulant prevents that excitement from subsiding so suddenly, as to induce any great derangement of the equilibrium of the circulation. It produces the most powerful impression on the surface, yet never draws a blister; on the stomach, yet never weakens its tone. It is so diffusive in its character, that it never produces any local lesion, or induces permanent inflammation ; yet its counter excitation is of the most salutary kind, and ample in degree. A plaster of cayenne is more efficient in relieving internal inflammation, than a fly blister ever was, yet I never knew it to produce the slightest vesication, though I have often bound it thick as a poultice, on the tenderest flesh, to relieve rheumatism, pleurisy, etc., which, by the aid of an emetic, an enema and sudorifics, it is sure to do. I have thus cured with it, in a single night, cases of rheumatism that had been for years most distressing. Though severe on the tissue to which it is applied, it is so diffusive that it does not long derange the circulation; but, on the contrary, equalizes it. Thus it is not only stimulant, but antispasmodic, sudorific, anti-febrile, anti-inflammatory, depurating and restorative. It is powerful to arrest hemorrhage from the mucous membranes. When the stomach is foul, a strong dose of the powder will excite vomiting, and an enema of it and lobelia and slippery-elm, will relieve the most obstinate constipation. Taken in powder in cold water, it is sure to move, not only the internal canal, but all the splanchnic viscera, as the liver, the kidneys, the spleen and the pancreas, the mesentery, etc.”  From: A Synopsis of Lectures on Medical Science., by Alva Curtis, MD. Cincinnati: Moore, Wilstach, Keys & Co., 1858.


And then the nay-sayers took charge.

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