Native to the southern portion of India, black pepper has a long history that includes its importance during the spice trade occurring between Europe and Asia. For a period of time, black pepper was so valuable that it was used in lieu of currency. Black pepper has always been valued for its ability to disguise the taste of food that is past its prime. It delivers an invigorating flavor that awakens the taste buds. Its value was so high during ancient times for this reason that it was used to pay for many things including the exchange of goods and rent. It was even used to make good on dowries for daughters when they wed.
In ancient Greece, black pepper was used ceremonially during sacred rituals to appease the gods. Since black pepper was scarce in its early days, it was as valuable a commodity as gold. In fact, black peppercorns were highly prized due to their longevity, keeping almost indefinitely without losing their pungent capabilities. Ground black pepper is not as long lasting, nor does it keep its flavor over lengthy periods of time.
The black pepper plant thrives in tropical areas, such as India from which it originates and southeastern portions of Asia where it migrated to with the help of traders. Black pepper, Piper nigrum, is from the Piperaceae Family. Its vines can grow as long as 11 to 15 feet, and the plant is categorized as an herb. The foliage of Piper nigrum is smooth, deep green in color, and heart shaped, while the tiny berry-producing blossoms are white, and the berries are green, white, or red in color, depending on their level of maturity. This woody vine thrives in humid climates.
Typically, harvesting of the berries from this perennial plant does not occur until after it reaches an age of three years. Small flowers growing on the pepper plant produce berries, which are picked before they ripen. The berries are set aside to dry out, at which point they change color to black or a deep shade of brown. The dried berries are referred to as peppercorns.
Throughout history, black pepper has been used to promote good digestion and intestinal health.
Throughout history, black pepper has been used to promote good digestion and intestinal health. Its strong flavor stimulates the taste buds, which in turn, stimulates secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, thus improving digestion. In particular certain foods (those containing proteins) are easier to digest when hydrochloric acid is present. Due to its invigorating capabilities, black pepper has been used for medicinal purposes and/or alternative herbal treatments, including the easing of aching joints and sore muscles. Many massage blends contained the essential oil of black pepper for this reason.
Black pepper contains piperine, a substance known to offer antimicrobial and anticonvulsant properties. Piperine acts as a central nervous system depressant, and is thought to aid in both circulatory and digestive capabilities. Black pepper has been credited with lowering fever and improving digestion. In Chinese medicine, black pepper has been used to aid in the relief of dysentery, cholera, vomiting, stomach chills, and food poisoning. In Ayurvedic medicine, black pepper is mixed with other ingredients to treat sinusitis, nasal congestion, and skin issues.
Due to the antioxidant and antibacterial properties of black pepper, it is often included in skin care products.
The essential oil of black pepper is used for a wide variety of purposes due to its many healing properties. It is credited with offering the following positive capabilities: analgesic (painkiller), antiseptic (antimicrobial agent), anti-spasmodic (offering relief from involuntary spasms), cardiac (circulatory benefits), carminitive (helping to prevent intestinal gas), digestive (breaking down of food in the stomach), diuretic (helping to promote urination), laxative (relief from constipation), stimulant (delivering new energy), and tonic (acting as a refreshing agent). The outer layer of the peppercorn is also credited with the ability to encourage the breakdown of fat cells, enabling you to look slimmer, while also increasing your level of energy.
Due to the antioxidant and antibacterial properties of black pepper, it is often included in skin care products. Its pungent odor is invigorating, stimulating both the mind and body. The skin is awakened with the energy created from the warmth of the compound piperine. Black pepper is commonly used in aromatherapy products not only for its stimulating qualities, but also for its inherent ability to infuse healing capabilities to the body.