Black pepper…not merely a condiment

October 10, 2008

These tiny pebbles with contours on them are really significant in various aspects like in medicine, culinary and even cosmetics. Known as Marich in Sanskrit and Piper nigrum scientifically, its popular name is kali mirach. Black pepper is a native of the Western Ghats of India.

White pepper consists of the dried ripe berries, and black pepper the dried unripe berries, white pepper being less aromatic and hence less found to have lower medicinal value.

Black Pepper’s aromatic, slightly musty odor. Comes from the volatile oil found largely in the flesh and skin and its pungent bite comes from the alkaloids and resins found mostly in seeds. The oil goes into perfumes and flavoring. It placates vata and kapha but aggravates pitta. The modern analysis of black pepper shows it as consisting of a volatile oil, a few alkaloids besides moisture, protein, minerals, fiber and carbohydrates. Rich in vitamin B-complex, it contains traces of calcium, iron and phosphorus.

The western world knows black pepper only as a condiment but in India it is also one of the foremost indigenous medicines. Carminative, stimulant, aromatic, digestive, diuretic, tonic and anti-coagulating agent — this is how the curative properties of black pepper have been described in Ayurveda. It excites the salivary and sweat glands besides killing intestinal worms and propelling a downward movement of abdominal wind. Black pepper is also one of the few herbs which Ayurveda describes as pramathi (helping to open obstructions in different channels of the body). In addition it is also known to treat anemia and piles.

A common myth in the West is that pepper cannot be digested and remains in the digestive tract for 7 to 8 years. This is just a myth and contrary to the working of the digestive system, as the digestive tract has no way of treating pepper differently from any other food substance consumed. Pepper is absorbed and eliminated by the body in exactly the same way as any other food.
Some of the specific applications of black pepper in medicine are described below:

• Stomach ailments such as dyspepsia, flatulence, constipation and diarrhea are all treated with black pepper, which may be mixed with other substances such as Castor oil, cow’s urine or ghee.

• In Unani medicine, black pepper has been described as an aphrodisiac and as a remedy to alleviate colic. A preparation called ‘jawa rishai thurush’ is composed of pepper, ginger, salt, lemon juice and the plants vidanga (Embelia ribes) and mint (Menthaspecies). It has been prescribed to alleviate indigestion and stomach acidity.

• Black pepper is occasionally employed as anti periodic in obstinate fever either alone or with other drugs preferably quinine.

• With Calumba and bismuth it is used in dyspepsia and with asafoetida in flatulency.

• It is largely used in Cholera Pills. Black Pepper, asafoetida and opium, each 20 grams are used to prepare them.

• For piles in aged and debilitated persons a confection made of black pepper powder of one ounce; caraway powder 1½ ounces and honey 7 ½ ounces, is useful in doses from one to two drachmas twice or thrice daily.

• An infusion of black pepper (one in 80) forms a useful stimulant gargle in relaxed sore throat and hoarseness dependent there on and in toothache also.

• Black pepper essential oil is used for pain relief, increasing circulation, muscular aches, exhaustion and fevers. Since it helps to increase circulation, it can be successfully used in any problem where poor circulation plays a part, and for this reason, it is included in a variety of products.

• Pepper powder and common salt are an excellent dentifrice, which prevents dental caries, foul breath and painful gums.

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