|Pepper plant with immature peppercorns|
| Piper nigrum|
Black pepper is a plant that grows in the tropics, especially in India. The plant is a perennial vine that bears flowers. People cultivate the plant for its fruit, the peppercorn. The peppercorn can be used as a spice or condiment. Usually, it makes things hot.
There are several different plants called Pepper, all are in the Piper genus of Piperaceae.
Peppercorn as a condiment
Pepper is one of the most common spices used around the world. It is very common in European cuisine, and has been known and traded for a very long time. Very often, the peppercorns are ground, and the powder is used to make things taste hot.
Peppercorn as a medicine
Like all eastern spices, pepper was historically both a seasoning and a medicine. Long pepper, being stronger, was often the preferred medication, but both were used.
Black peppercorns are mentioned in Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani medicine in India. The 5th century Syriac Book of Medicines prescribes pepper (or perhaps long pepper) for illnesses such as constipation, diarrhea, earache, gangrene, heart disease, hernia, hoarseness, indigestion, insect bites, insomnia, joint pain, liver problems, lung disease, oral abscesses, sunburn, tooth decay, and toothaches. Various sources from the 5th century onward also say pepper is good to treat eye problems. Often special ointments made with pepper have to be applied directly to the eye. There is no current medical evidence that any of these treatments has any benefit; pepper applied directly to the eye would be quite uncomfortable and possibly damaging.
For a long time, people believed pepper is the cause for sneezing; this is still believed true today. Some sources say that piperine irritates the nostrils, which will cause the sneezing; some say that it is just the effect of the fine dust in ground pepper, and some say that pepper is not in fact a very effective sneeze-producer at all. Few if any controlled studies have been carried out to answer the question.
- Nutritional benefits of Black Pepper
- Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages
- Plant Cultures: History and botany of black pepper in South Asia
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