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Black Pepper

Piper nigrum

Herbs gallery - Black Pepper



Common names

  • Black Pepper

The common herbal product known as the black pepper is a well known spice around the world and is used in almost every home, this herb is native to southern India, though it is now cultivated widely in many tropical countries of the world. The plant itself is a perennial woody climbing vine which can reach a height of about 15 ft or 5 meters climbing on trees and along man made wooden trellises. The herb bears characteristic and large oval shaped leaves, it also has spikes of many small and white colored flowers, the commercial pepper itself is made from the many clusters of small round fruits borne on the plant, these small fruits are the pepper of common use, and these fruits ripen from a green to red coloration as they mature on the vine.

The black pepper vine is not only economically interesting, it is also of historical relevance as it can be said that no plant since the metaphorical apple Adam ate in the garden of Eden has made so much and so telling an influence on the course of human history. The product of the pepper vine was a rarity and exotic seasoning in much of the ancient world, and from the time of Alexander's invasion of India in 327 B.C., and his subsequent discovery of the many pleasures of well-seasoned food, the western world became involved with spices from the east, from then on many wars have been fought and even kingdoms have been overthrown, and many previously uncharted oceans have been crossed, leading even to the discovery of whole unknown continents for the sake of the spices from the east, which includes the shriveled and beadlike fruits that is the peppercorn spice or simply black pepper. The value of the black pepper as a spice in ancient Europe was such that when the invader Attila the Hun, held up the city of Rome in a siege, he made a demand that they paid him 3,000 pounds in pepper as ransom to lift the siege. The rarity and the value of pepper in Europe during all of the medieval are was such that, trading of the pepper was commonly carried out, at par, ounce for ounce, for pure gold and successful spice traders were some of the richest merchants around the cities. Venice and Florence were prominent cities with respect to the trade of spices and grew rich by controlling spice trade with the Arabian lands through which spices arrived from India and other parts of Asia. It was in a search for the a sea route to the spice lands of India, that the first adventurous journeys to India, the fabled land of spices were begun, and by the year 1488, the Portuguese sailor, Bartholomew Dias was the first to sail across the then unknown and raging waters off Africa's Cape, he named it cape of storms, later called the cape of Good Hope by his successor - Vasco da Gama who would finally succeed in sailing to India in 1498 following Dias' route. The frenzy for spices from India and gold from the east would drive the Spaniard Christopher Columbus, four years later, towards a supposedly easier route to the India of spices via the west, this route would land Columbus in the New and undiscovered world that is now called the American continent. The control over the spice markets of the world and the related search for gold and minerals over the following centuries, would involve all the European nations in extremely vicious wars and competition with each other - this would set the scene for the eventual colonization of tropical lands and result in the dominance of Europe and push humanity into the modern age - thus spice and the humble black pepper have played a major role in shaping historical events in the world.

Pepper fruit which has influenced so many events in the world is borne on a woody and broad-leaved evergreen vine native to the Indian sub-continent. Extensively cultivated in many tropical areas of the world today, large scale farming is carried out these days in India, in the former spice islands of Indonesia, and in many other places in Asia, such as Malaysia, it is also cultivated in tropical South America and in the West Indies on a large scale. Pepper vine is a woody and rather stiff or stout vine, the vine is normally allowed to climb up poles or nearby small trees as well as artificial wooden trellises during cultivation, and these allow the full and unrestricted growth of the herb. The pepper vine is characterized by the presence of many slender and densely packed floral spikes full of small flowers. These floral spikes also bear the pepper fruits, harvesting of the pepper fruits is normally done when it is still green and unripe, normally, harvesting time is signaled by the appearance of a red tinge or slight reddening in the lowest fruits on any given spike on the herb. Once the harvesting of the peppers is completed, the green fruits are normally kept in a place to dry them out until the flesh surrounding the single hard seed of the fruit becomes wrinkled and turns grayish black into the familiar sight of the black pepper. Once this stage is reached, the pepper is sold packed as ungrounded peppercorns or it is grinded into the black pepper powder. A related product called the white pepper is also made from the same peppercorns; this product is much milder in taste. The white pepper is manufactured in a different way and in this case, harvested pepper fruits are first allowed to ripen slowly, following which all of the fruity outer flesh is removed leaving the naked seeds - these are grinded down to white pepper powder.

As an aromatic spice, the black pepper is characterized by a slight and perceptible musty aroma; this smell is because of the presence of many volatile oils mainly in the flesh and skin of the fruit. The very noticeable and pungent “bite” of the black pepper is due to the presence of two primary alkaloids in the pepper, these are the compounds pipperine and the compound piperidine, the tangy bite also comes partly because of the many specific plant resins which are found in the seeds of the herb. Aside from its normal and common use as a spice, these pepper oils are also extracted to be used in the manufacture of many types of perfumes and commercial food seasoning materials around the world. Pepper based irritants and searing chemicals are utilized in a variety of processes. Some of these chemicals are used in a variety of liniments and mouth gargles. The pepper based compounds have also seen commercial use as chemical carminatives; they have also been used for their ability to reduce excess gas in the intestines and the stomach. Aside from these, these compounds have also been used to stimulate the activity in the human heart and kidneys in medicine. The specific compound in pepper known as pipperine is commercially utilized to prepare different insecticides to be used against houseflies and other insect pests, for example, many gardeners use commercially made pepper sprays to fight several kinds of agricultural pests on useful plants.

Parts used

Fruit, essential oil.

Uses

The stimulating effect of the black pepper on the human digestive tract and circulatory system can be inferred from its familiar sharp taste, it can be used as a stimulant. Used by itself or as a part of some herbal remedies in combination with other well known herbs and spices, the black pepper is often used to warm the body, and to help in improving the performance of the digestive system, by stimulating its functioning, it is also used in the treatment of other disorders such as nausea, to treat all kinds of stomachache, to treat abdominal flatulence and abdominal bloating, it is also used in the treatment of constipation, and to treat people with a lack of appetite. As an herbal remedy, the essential oil from the black pepper is used to reduce the symptoms associated with rheumatic pain and to treat the painful sensations associated with toothaches and other dental problems. The black pepper based herbal remedies are also known to have antiseptic and antibacterial actions, and they are used in bringing about a reduction in the temperature of fever affected individuals.

Plants that are related to the black pepper vine such as the cubeb berries, which produces pepper like fruits closely akin in shape to the cubeb pepper, or the P. cubeba, also possess many beneficial chemical compounds which have seen commercial utilization as natural antiseptics, as herbal carminatives, and as diuretics for the treatment of different disorders and conditions. In the tropical countries where they grow, these peppers are also smoked as additives to cigarettes, after they have been ground down into powder form, the smoke is said to bring relief from throat inflammations affecting patients. In addition to this use, several throat relieving lozenges also contain the essential oil of the cubeb as an important constituent.

Habitat and cultivation

Many tropical regions of the world are now under cultivation with the black pepper, the plant itself is indigenous to the southwestern corner of the Indian subcontinent - where it has been used for centuries as a common spice. Harvesting of the pepper fruit is normally carried out only from plants that are more than three old as such plants give the best peppers. Different processes are used to make a variety of products, for example, the green and raw peppercorns are sometimes picked and pickled, while to make the black peppercorns, the pepper is still picked before ripening and then it is dried and processes as mentioned before, the red colored and ripened peppercorns are picked fully ripe and then dried to make pepper, while for the manufacture of white pepper, the peppercorns are picked when they are ripe and the peppers are then soaked in some water for a period of eight days before they are put to dry and eventually processed as mentioned previously.

Constituents

Black pepper contains a volatile oil (including beta-bisabolene, camphene, beta-caryophyllene, and many other terpenes and sesquiterpenes), up to 9% alkaloids (especially pipperine, largely responsible for the herb's acrid taste), about 11 % proteins, and small amounts of minerals. White pepper contains very little volatile oil.

Pipperine

The main compound found in the black pepper is the chemical substance called pipperine, this extract is processed out of the pepper and used in a variety of products, the value of the pepper as a spice in fact lies largely because of the content of pipperine - this compound gives the black pepper its distinctive flavor and aroma. For this reason, the black pepper was one of the most highly prized spices throughout the ancient world. The pepperine compound is the agent that gives the pepper its distinctive "hot" flavor and taste, one remarkable property of this naturally occurring compound in the pepper is its ability to titillate the sense buds, and essentially turn what is very bland food into a flavorful repast - this is the power of spices.

Pipperine is useful in many ways aside from its main role as the active flavoring agent in the pepper. Thus, scientists believe that this compound could influence metabolism in the human body, it may have some beneficial abilities on the whole metabolic process. In the human body, at any given time, the absorption of different nutrients differs depending to a large extent on the efficiency with which the body breaks down and utilizes the food and ingested supplements in the diet of the person. For example, on an average, older individuals tend to have a greater difficulty in absorbing the nutrients and the supplements in the diet; this is due to the age related reduction in the production of stomach acids and the varied digestive enzymes so important to metabolism. The absorption rate of various essential minerals and vital vitamins is also at times, retarded or blocked by the different compounds present in the most common kinds o foods, such as the mineral zinc, the presence of phytic acid in cereal, and the compound caffeine in coffee - these substances can inhibit the absorption rate of other compound important to the body. This problem can be complicated further in individuals who are on a long term low fat diet plan; as such people at times cannot absorb the fat-soluble vitamins including the important vitamins A, E, and D from the diet due to the total absence of fatty compounds in the meal. The absorption rate of nutrients in the body can be markedly improved by the use of pepperine as has been demonstrated in various studies. It has shown the presence of this compound can insure that a greater part of the essential nutrients required by various tissues will reach those target tissues. A group of healthy volunteers took part in a study, in which each of them was given 5 mg of a pepperine dose every day of the trial, along with this dose, selected nutrients and supplements, such as the compound beta-carotene, the mineral selenium, and the vitamin B6 were given daily. In all the controlled test subjects, it was found that the total blood levels of the compound beta-carotene had increased by at least 60 percent in two weeks of such treatment; this was compared to almost no increase in the levels of beta-carotene in test subjects who were not given pepperine. The relevance of the study can be understood from the fact that within a few hours following the dose of the pipperine, in the test subjects, the blood levels of the mineral selenium and the vitamin B6 were seen to be much higher in test subjects than in the placebo group. Side effects were not reported in any of participants who took pipperine - attesting to the safety of the compound.

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