Spice It Up With Capsicum

Reader Contribution by Lori Osterloh-Hagaman
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Every single day there is an article proclaiming the virtues of some exotic herb. One gets vivid mental images of an Indiana Jones type of character, venturing through uncharted jungle to uncover these latest and greatest magical plants to cure all of the world’s ills. Maybe such a plant exists somewhere, but until it is found, I’m going to stick with some tried and true remedies. One of these is Capsicum.

Capsicum (Capsicum annuum) is a plant that is originally native to the warmer climates of North and Central America. It is now cultivated in many regions around the world during the hot, summer growing months. It is used to add heat to many dishes, like chili, salsa, and General Tso’s Chicken, just to name a few.

A warming herb, capsicum is rich in vitamin C, alpha-tocopherols (vitamin E), beta-carotene, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9 (folic acid), cobalt and zinc. This being said, it has been said to be of great benefit to the circulatory system. Linus Pauling, a researcher that heavily researched vitamin C, suggested large doses of vitamin C to aid in the avoidance of coronary heart disease. His research is carried on today by the research institute that bears his name at Oregon State University, the Linus Pauling Institute. Their research efforts have shown that consumption of vitamin C (700 mg/day) decreased a person’s chances of ending up with coronary heart disease by 25%. They also have presented information form studies that show vitamin C consumption warding off the thickening of artery walls. This is pretty exciting stuff. Capsicum is one way to increase that vitamin C intake.

Naturopathic Herb

Capsicum is an herb that was highly acclaimed by traditional naturopaths, like the famed Dr. Christopher. It is said that he recommended its use if someone suspected a heart attack. Many people advocate taking the red pepper powder and then heading directly to the hospital. He claimed it dilated the blood vessels to deliver much needed circulation to the heart tissues that could be compromised. I know when my own father seemed to be expressing concerns that sounded like a heart attack; I had him follow this protocol. He took about 10 of the capsules, four baby aspirin and then headed directly to the emergency room of the local hospital. He did say the combination reduced the pain, albeit short term relief, and he swears to this day it bought him the time needed to get to the proper medical attention.

The ability to staunch bleeding is another characteristic of capsicum. Despite the burning pain one will experience at the outset of application, capsicum has been said to stop the bleeding of minor injuries. Obviously large, gaping cuts require the services of a trained medical professional for stitches. However just think of the minor cuts that can be sprinkled with some capsicum powder and then rinsed with peroxide (to get rid of the infection potential) that otherwise are just bothersome.

Digestive complaints are pretty common in this day and age. Capsicum has been traditionally used to soothe upset stomachs and reduce gastric inflammation. It is been mentioned, historically, for the relief from ulcers. There is some debate on this point, though. Gastroenterologists, in general, do not recommend the consumption of red pepper (capsicum) if a person has been diagnosed with acid reflux. Unfortunately, ulcers and acid reflux often go together. I go by this rule of thumb: if you consume capsicum in either food or supplement form, discontinue use if it causes painful heart burn or reflux.

In blended herbal formulas, capsicum is often added to act as a catalyst. A catalyst adds some extra zing to the blend. This often results in a quicker acting formula. This, I believe, is due to this amazing herb’s potential to open the blood vessels.

Topically the herb is found in many pain relieving preparations. Capsaicin, the active “hot” component of the herb, has been found in crèmes for muscle and skin pain relief for a long time. Studies have shown that topical use reduces joint swelling and pain associated with that type of swelling. There has even been research showing the topical application can reduce pain associated with shingles and mastectomy. It is even said that the powder can be sprinkled inside one’s gloves and socks to keep the hands and feet warm during freezing temperatures. However, this herb can burn the skin when used in excess, so remember to use it in very small quantities. More is not better when it comes to this classic herb. It is, after all, a main ingredient in pepper spray for self defense.

There are some side effects of which to be aware. Discontinue use if you experience upset stomach, diarrhea, an extreme burning sensation around the mouth or skin in contact with the capsicum, or if you are experiencing symptoms of an allergic reaction. Capsicum is a pepper and a member of the nightshade family of plants. Avoid using it near your eyes and/or if you are allergic to these plants.

So while I eagerly await a swashbuckling ethnobotanist to uncover the miracle cure-all we’ve all been waiting for, I’ll be happy having capsicum as an addition to my natural arsenal.

Picture from Wikipedia