Black pepper is considered to be the 'king of spice'. It has held his popularity for thousands of years and to these days is still one of the major ingredients in the modern kitchen and in perfumery.
ORIGIN OF THE NAME
The name ‘pepper’ is derived from the Latin ‘piper’, which in turn originates from the ancient Sanskrit pippali.
Other members of the Piper genus are Cubeb (Piper cubeba) from Indonesia and Matico (Piper angustifolium) from South America.
Black pepper is completely unrelated to cayenne pepper (paprika) which is part of the capsicum species.
Ancient Chinese and Sanskrit texts have used white and black peppercorns for culinary and medicinal uses. Pepper was traded along the Spice Route, contributing to the fortunes of both Venice and Genoa. Pepper was so highly prized, it was more costly than gold and sometimes tributes and taxes were paid to the Roman Emperor in peppercorns.
The Roman soldiers carried small bags of pepper on their long marches to increase mental and physical stamina.
The Buddhist monks would swallow 7-9 grains of pepper each day for endurance on their long voyages by foot in the Himalayas.
It has been used for over 4000 years in India for urinary and liver disorders.
Black pepper originates in southwest India but is cultivated throughout the world in tropical zones such as Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Madagascar. Most of the essential oils are distilled in Europe or the USA from imported berries.
Black pepper has grown as a wild plant in the tropical forest of the Malabar, a region on the western coast of Southern India. The Malabar region was the centre of the pepper trade. It was successfully cultivated in other parts of India, Sri Lanka and was imported to Malaysia, China and Madagascar. Vietnam is now the largest producer of pepper corns.
Pepper is a climbing or trailing perennial vine-like shrub with thick, dark green, heart shaped leaves and small white flowers bearing the peppercorns on small spikes called trings. A wild vine might clamber to heights of 6 metres or more, however cultivated crops are limited to 3-4 metres for ease of picking. The fruit of the pepper plant is called a peppercorn when dried and each fruit contains a single white round seed.
Black, white, green, red and pink. Which peppercorn is which?
- Green peppercorns are unripe berries that have been pickled, freeze-dried, preserved with sulphur dioxide, brine or vinegar in order to retain their colour. Fresh, unpreserved green pepper is often used in Thai cuisine for its distinctive fresh taste and aroma. If left on the vine to fully ripen, the green berries will turn orange then a dark red. They can also be pickled or preserved to retain their orange/red colour.
- Black peppercorns result when unripe green berries are picked, washed then dried in the sun or by a drying machine. The outer fruit of the berry around the single seed shrinks, darkens and wrinkles during the drying process resulting in black peppercorns.
- White pepper is produced from the inner white seed of the pepper. Through a traditional process called retting, whole peppercorns are soaked in water for a week during which time the outer layer decomposes before being rubbed off by mechanical or chemical methods. The resulting white seed is then dried before being sold whole or crushed to a fine powder commonly used in kitchens.
- Pink peppercorns are from a different plant entirely, either the Peruvian pepper tree, Schinus molle, or its relative the Brazilian pepper tree, Schinus terebinthifolius.
The dried and crushed black peppercorns are distilled to produce a clear coloured essential oil with a yield between 1-4%.
Black pepper is a popular ingredient in perfumery with its warm, fresh, dry-spicy and slightly woody odour profile and an equal proportion of top and middle notes.
Energetically, pepper is classified as hot and dry, a real Yang tonic.
The main chemical constituents are monoterpenes including alpha pinene (5-19%) and beta pinene (9-35%), sabinene and myrcene (trace – 42%), limonene (18-39%) and alpha phellandrene; sesquiterpenes including beta caryophyllene (10-33%);
monoterpenols including terpinen-4-ol (trace-1%) and alpha terpineol (-0.1%); ketones including piperitone (trace-1%) ; numerous trace elements.
Anticatarrhal, digestive stimulant, antirheumatic, expectorant, carminative, rubefacient, general tonic, analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, stomachic.
Energetically, the oil is classified as hot and dry and associated with the planet Mars, providing a stimulating effect on the mind and an energising effect on the body.
According to Ancient Chinese Medicine, pepper is used as a general yang tonic, for lethargy and chilliness. It is a yang tonic for the Lungs, clearing Phlegm-Cold and expelling Wind Cold – so useful with white or clear catarrh, coughs and colds.
Pepper is a Heart-yang tonic, circulating the Blood and restoring the nerve when one has poor concentration, nervous debility.
Use pepper to tonify the Kidneys and promote urination, clears Damp-Cold from the genitor-urinary system, so when there are frequent scanty urination, fluid retention, cystitis and urethritis.
Pepper will clear Damp- Cold and circulate QI and Blood, alleviating Bi (Painful Obstruction) benefitIng the sinews when one has muscular sprains, aching, fatigue, joint pain, osteoarthritis, neuralgia
Black pepper possesses an invigorating and empowering effect. Its hot, spicy warrior energy is ideal for person who cannot finish a task due to over analysis or fear of failure. Black pepper will energise and empower you to maintain a steady course of action, despite obstacles and fears so that you will be able to reap the fruit of your labour. Black pepper will restore a sense of determination and unwavering single mindedness in a warrior fashion to persist in action despite worry and apprehension.
Patricia David suggests using black pepper to help us ‘get a move on’ at times when our lives feel stuck.
Julia Lawless recommends using black pepper for its warming and comforting qualities when one is feeling extremely cold, be it physically or emotionally.
Pepper blends well with the citrus and floral oils including orange, grapefruit, lemon and bergamot, lavender, geranium, ylang ylang, Palmarosa. It blends well also with base notes such as patchouli, nutmeg, vetiver and vanilla. Try with pungy aromas such as frankincense, eucalyptus, tea tree and cajeput.
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
Black pepper can be used in a warming massage blend when one is feeling chilled, for instance those respiratory infections that leave one feeling fatigued, headachy and chilled. Use at the onset of the symptoms along with other warming oils such as ginger, rosemary and eucalyptus in a carrier oil. Massage into the back, shoulders, chest and soles of the feet.
Black pepper is useful when there are aches, pains and stiffness from gardening in a cold damp climate, or easing arthritic pains in the winter. It has also been used successfully in blends for bruises for its analgesic properties. It can be used to expel wind, encourage peristalsis, increase the flow of saliva and where there are bowel problems and one needs a tonic to restore tone to colon muscles.
Here are a few recipe ideas to try at home:
- Hot toddy for colds and flu
Freshly grated black pepper
Stick of cinnamon
Juice of half a lemon
1 cup hot water
Honey (Local or Manuka)
Infuse the pepper, ginger and cinnamon in a pan of simmering water for 3 minutes. Strain the liquid into a mug and add fresh lemon and honey to taste. Drink as hot as possible and rest.
- Warming After Sports blend – or when you have been out walking the dog in the rain and need warming!
20 ml Sunflower or Calendula Oil
10 ml St Johns Wort Oil
1 drops Black Pepper essential oil
2 drops Rosemary 1-8 cineole essential oil
2 drops Ginger essential oil
3 drops lemon essential oil
If you haven’t yet tried it, perhaps now is the time for black pepper to bring its warmth and energy into your life.
Black pepper is strong and easily overwhelming. Use in moderation in low concentration
Suggestions for use
The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy by Salvatore Battaglia
ITHMA Course Notes
Aromatherapy and the Mind by Julia Lawless
Subtle Aromatherapy by Patricia Davis