Black pepper is said to have changed the course of history. For thousands of years, Old World traders traveled to India, China and Southeast Asia for it; creating great fortunes for the countries who controlled the trade routes; wars were fought over these passage ways. Peppercorns were even found in the nostrils of the mummified body of Ramesses II, placed there as part of the ritual after his death in 1213 BCE. In the Middle Ages, only the very rich could afford to buy it. Pepper was such a valuable commodity that it was used for money and as collateral. There is an expression in the Dutch language, “pepper expensive”, used when referring to something that costs a great deal of money. The discovery of the Americas was due to the search for a safer and a shorter westward way to India by sea instead of the costly and dangerous way east.
Black pepper comes from a slow growing smooth woody climbing vine. The vine can grow up to 30 feet on supporting trees or trellises, but is usually trimmed to about 12 feet. The plant produces small white clustered flowers after 3 or 4 years of growth. The berries are known as drupes and contains one seed. Pepper plants thrive in hot, humid tropical climates and grows best in moist, well-drained, organically-rich soil.
The color of black, red, green and white peppercorns depends upon when it is harvested. Green peppercorns are from drupes that are unripe. Black peppercorns are made by picking the berries just about the time they are starting to turn red, cooked briefly in hot water and then dried; turning the appearance of the peppercorn dark and shriveled. White pepper comes from very ripe seeds that have been soaked in heavily salted water to remove the outer shell. For maximum flavor and potency, black peppercorns should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container, in a dark, cool and dry place; peppercorns can be kept almost indefinitely in this manner; ground pepper will stay fresh for only about 3 months. Peppercorns will lose their flavor when exposed to light. Once the peppercorn is crushed it will lose its aromatic properties, so it should by ground fresh for each use. Organic pepper should be used because commercial black pepper may be irradiated.
The use of black pepper is not just to flavor food but it’s used as a medicine, as well. It’s been used in dentistry as an antiseptic for tooth-decay and swollen gums. Black pepper improves digestion by stimulating salivation and increases hydrochloric acid in the stomach; both are needed for proper digestion. An insufficient digestive process may cause food to sit in the stomach and cause heartburn or pass to the intestines, causing gas. It also helps inhibit bacteria that are responsible for the formation of gas, at the same time, it may cure infections in the digestive and the excretory system. Black pepper may help to prevent ear-aches and in the treatment of hoarseness and bronchitis; because of its expectorant properties. Ground black pepper can be used to repel ants. White pepper maybe helpful against malaria and cholera.
Black pepper is also recognized for its antioxidant properties. Black pepper has been used to promote sweating and urination. The outside of the peppercorn stimulates the breakdown of fat cells. It is also an excellent source of vitamin K, manganese, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc, iron, vitamin C and A, chromium and calcium. The beneficial oil of black pepper increases the absorption of B-complex vitamins and beta-carotene. Black pepper oil may help decrease cravings for cigarettes when inhaled. It may also help in stimulating mental energy and improve emotional states of wellbeing. When the oil is used in a messaging application, it is effective in the relief of cramps, hernia and muscle spasms. Its warmth gives relief from rheumatism and arthritis and promotes the elimination of toxins in the blood such as uric acid. Be aware large amounts of black pepper oil taken internally may cause uneasiness, vomiting and irritation of the intestines. Keep the oil away from eyes and nose to avoid irritation and sneezing.
This article is for information purposes only and not to be taken as medical advice. As with any herbal remedy, you should consult with your health care professional. You should never stop taking prescribed medications without instructions from your physician.