Cayenne: What You Didn’t Know

Article by Jennifer Maez

Cayenne Pepper, commonly known as the flavoring for many kinds of hot sauces, can be traced back 7,000 years in Central and South America. It is a member of the Capsicum family of vegetables, and is famous for adding spicy heat as well as flavor to many Mexican and South American dishes. The name Capsicum is derived from the Greek word meaning “to bite”. This name shows the reverence for which this herb should be used in cooking, as it doesn’t take much to have a big effect. It is also a member of the nightshade family, along with eggplant and white potatoes. This can make some people adhering to a macrobiotic diet, or those with nightshade allergies, shy away from this commonly used spice.

Chili Cayenne

Image by blumenbiene

Although most adults are familiar with the flavoring uses of Cayenne, not as many are familiar with its medicinal uses.  Capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers, inhibits Substance P, a neuropeptide that has been associated with inflammatory processes such as inflammatory arthritis.  On the page for Cayenne, it states that topical Cayenne can be an effective remedy for the pain of cluster headaches and osteoarthritis. In Dian Buchman’s book, Herbal Medicine: The Natural Way to Get Well and Stay Well, she claims that American folk medicine uses Cayenne to stop bleeding, both internally and externally.  Due to the sharp sting of Cayenne, this use is not medically recommended.  In the case of severe internal or external bleeding, it is always wise to consult a physician.

The use of Cayenne to reduce pain seems to make sense.  In the body, heat receptors and pain receptors are the same.  It would seem that a substance that causes a feeling of heat would also have an effect on the level of pain perception.

Have you ever eaten a really hot, spicy dish, and gotten a runny nose? Capsaicin helps stimulate secretions in the mucus membranes, helping to clear congestion in the nose and lungs.  It makes a great addition to tea for the treatment of colds and flu, and as an added bonus helps to promote a feeling of warmth in the body.

Capsaicin is also good for the heart: when taken internally, it has been shown to reduce platelet aggregation, which reduces the formation of blood clots.  It has also been shown to reduce blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, promoting better cardiovascular health.

Chili Cayenne

Image by blumenbiene

So go ahead and add a little flavor to your food.  Your body (and taste buds) will thank you for it.  Who knew the spice had all these amazing qualities?  Make sure to keep it on hand in the kitchen, and maybe the medicine cabinet, too.

References The World’s Healthiest Foods website, reference page for Cayenne, 2014 NYU Langone Medical Center reference for “Cayenne”, 2014

Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986. 1986. PMID:15210.

Buchman D.D., Herbal Medicine: The Natural Way to Get Well and Stay Well. New York: Grammercy Press; 1979. Pg. 19-25.

Jennifer Maez is a freelance writer who, after living in 12 different states, currently resides in Colorado. She has a B.A. in Psychology. Jennifer enjoys hiking, plant identification, and meditation, and is a self-taught student of natural and holistic medicine.  She enjoys cooking paleo dishes for her family, and is currently working on a paleo sauces cookbook.

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