Cayenne is a Powerful Food and Medicine

by | Feb 26, 2019 | Nature's Therapies E-Journal

I have observed Cayenne for its potentially life-saving properties over the many years of my practice. Read this article to learn about the benefits and uses of Cayenne in herbal medicine and folklore as well as my recipes for cayenne drink.

Cayenne, a member of the Solanaceae (or Nightshade) family, has been used for its nutritional and medicinal properties for millenniums by the native peoples of the tropics to which it is indigenous. However, it was not widely known in the western world until Columbus’ voyage of discovery. The expedition’s physician Dr. Alvarez Chanca was the first to provide Europeans with a description of cayenne which the natives he encountered on his voyage called aji (it is still called aji in Peru). At first, Europeans utilized dried cayenne pods only as ornamental objects but ultimately herbalists came to recognize their formidable medicinal potential.

The name Capsicum derives from the Greek word kapto, meaning “to bite” referring to the pungent, biting quality of the fruit of various Capsicum plants. There are several species of capsicum used medicinally which vary in level of pungency. Some pharmacopoeias recognize Capsicum fastigiatum as the official medicinal species while others recognize Capsicum annuum or Capsicum frutescens.

Traditional herbalists have long preferred C. fastigiatum, or African bird pepper, for medicinal use. The various species differ morphologically, some being shrubs while others are herbaceous annuals. When the great taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus first named the Capsicum genus in the 18th century, he identified only two species. By the early 20th century, botanists had expanded the Capsicum genus to a set of over one hundred species. However, the genus has since been completely reevaluated and all capsicums are now recognized as being variations of either C. annuum or C. frutescens.

Although cayenne is native to the tropics, it can be cultivated in sub-tropical and temperate regions as well. Cayenne loves sunlight and warmth and thrives best in a light, warm soil. The pungently aromatic pods are gathered when uniformly bright red and strung on a line to dry in partial sunlight.

Capsaicin, the most important active constituent of cayenne is a bitter substance which was first isolated and identified in the early 19th century. Capsaicin exerts the following effects: circulation-stimulating; antimicrobial; detoxification; gastroprotective (protects the stomach); anticancer; thrombolytic (breaks down blood clots).

When administered internally or applied externally, capsaicin acts as a powerful stimulant. It is the capsaicin which causes the mouth to burn and the eyes to water when using too much Tabasco sauce (cayenne is a main ingredient) as a condiment. The red color of cayenne is due to the pigments capsanthin and carotene.

Cayenne oil is not an essential oil, but rather, a dark red, viscous oleoresin (an aromatic liquid containing essential oils and plant resins). Oleoresins are produced using solvent (such as ether) extraction followed by vacuum distillation. Also, homemade cayenne oil can also be prepared by infusing ½ cup of dried ground cayenne pepper in 1 cup of jojoba oil or a light olive oil for 10- to 14-days. The oil is warmed daily under a very low heat by placing the jar in a paper bag and putting it outside in the sun or near a sunny window (do not expose the jar directly to sunlight). The infused oil is generally used externally as a liniment.

While the oleoresin is preferable, the infused oil, if very aromatic, can be used in Spiritual PhytoEssencing practice if a good quality oleoresin is unavailable. One must make certain when purchasing oleoresins that the cayenne oil was not extracted using toxic solvents, residues of which will contaminate the oil. In this reference, it is preferable to use cayenne oil that has been produced domestically by a reliable source.


Not unexpectedly, many people assume that, due to its hot nature, cayenne exacerbates inflammation when in fact it is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Also, some health writers warn that individuals with active gastrointestinal ulcers or kidney disorders should avoid it even though cayenne has on countless occasions demonstrated to herbalists its value in helping to heal these disorders.

Jethro Kloss when discussing cayenne in his masterwork Back to Eden relates: “There is perhaps no other article which produces so powerful an impression on the animal frame that is so destitute of all injurious properties. It is almost incapable of abuse, for however great the excitement caused by it, this stimulant prevents that excitement subsiding so suddenly as to induce any derangement of the equilibrium of the circulation. It produces the most powerful impression on the surface, yet never draws a blister; on the stomach yet never weakens its tone. It is so diffusive in character that it never produces any local lesion, or induces permanent inflammation.” In reference, to the use of cayenne by West Indians to treat a wide array of maladies, Kloss writes: “They not only drink the tea of it, but they chew and swallow the pods one after another, as we should so many doughnuts, and never dream of it doing them any injury.”

On the other hand, cayenne in extremely large doses may be neurotoxic and cause life-threatening hypothermia, chronic gastritis, kidney damage, liver damage, dermatitis and blistering. The older herbal practitioners apparently viewed cayenne as being virtually incapable of causing harm regardless of the dosage administered. While it is true that cayenne, given the intensity of its action and the sensations it evokes, is a remarkably safe herb, it is also true that the body does not have a limitless tolerance for any substance.

Furthermore, the question of correct dosage varies among individuals. The older herbalists’ practice consisted of a much hardier breed of patient. The patient of their era was far less sedentary, was not subjected to the abominable modern diet, childhood vaccinations or a pattern of drug-suppression of benign acute symptoms, all of which in concert have degraded modern constitutional vitality. Hence, individuals in this era are far more sensitive and have a lower threshold of reaction than did their forebears. Therefore, the rule with cayenne is the same as with any other medicinal substance: The correct quantity to administer is just enough and not more. Nevertheless, one will find that despite its intensity, the individual threshold of tolerance regarding cayenne is often quite high. In cases of kidney disease, gastrointestinal ulceration or other serious disorder, it would be best to check with a natural medicine professional before using cayenne medicinally.

Cayenne is also a highly nutritive herb containing relatively large amounts of vitamin C (369 milligrams per 3.5 oz.) and pro-vitamin A (21,600 I.U. per 3.5 oz.). It also contains significant amounts of potassium, iron and niacin.As a medicine,cayenne acts as a pure stimulant both locally and generally. In herbal medicine, a stimulant is defined as an agent which excites and increases nerve action and thus stimulates functional activity of the body’s various organs and systems.

Stimulants increase the force of blood circulation and tend to restore balanced circulation of blood to all parts of the body. Dr. John Christopher refers to cayenne as “the purest and most certain stimulant.” In very large doses, cayenne causes vomiting, purging, gastrointestinal inflammation and a type of intoxication accompanied by dizziness and weakness. When applied locally, it is a powerful rubefacient (an herb that stimulates capillary dilation and activity and causes skin redness) that draws the blood from deeper tissues to the surface; this not only serves to bring healing nutrients and oxygen to a surface lesion but helps relieve internal circulatory congestion. When taken internally, cayenne affects circulatory change via influence of the nerve centers. Cayenne initiates a general increase in nerve and circulatory tone, and in so doing, imparts a sensation of warmth to the entire system. As a pure stimulant, cayenne activates and accentuates the actions of other herbs when taken in combination with them. The same holds true when cayenne oil is a component of a Spiritual PhytoEssencing custom blend.

Cayenne is one of the most important circulatory system medicines. Its major influence is upon the capillaries and other elements of the vascular system. According to Dr. Christopher, â€śâ€¦the herb is a great food for the circulatory system in that it feeds the necessary elements into the cell structure of the arteries, veins and capillaries so that these regain the elasticity of youth again, and the blood pressure adjusts itself to normal [cayenne helps normalize both high and low blood pressure]…Cayenne regulates the flow of blood from the head to the feet so that it is equalized; it influences the heart immediately, then gradually extends its effects to the arteries, capillaries and nerves.”

Except in large doses, cayenne does not increase heart rate. However, it does increase the force of the pulse. It is also a medicine to consider in the treatment of hemorrhoids and hemorrhoidal bleeding. Hemorrhoids are varicosities of the veins of the hemorrhoidal plexus of the anus and lower rectum. Cayenne affects the venous system indirectly through relief of circulatory congestion in the capillaries. Also, as cayenne moves through the intestine it stimulates peristalsis (constipation is a major contributory cause of hemorrhoidal swelling) and exerts a hemostatic action that helps arrest hemorrhoidal bleeding. In the terminology of Chinese medicine, cayenne supports the Yang (the kinetic force which sustains physiological activity), and in doing so, moves the blood, generates warmth and dispels cold.

An important use for cayenne is as an emergency medicine for angina pectoris and incipient heart attacks. In this reference, Dr. Christopher writes: â€śâ€¦prop the patient up and pour hot cayenne tea [1 tsp. dissolved in 6 oz. warm water] down, and the attack will stop immediately…in acute stages [of heart palpitation], repeated dosages of one to two teaspoonsful [of cayenne should be administered] every half hour.”

Of course, angina pectoris, heart attacks and acute heart palpitations are very serious disorders which require immediate professional medical attention. However, until said attention arrives or becomes available, cayenne may prove to be of invaluable service. I have frequently observed the powerful remedial action of cayenne regarding the cardiovascular system and have long recommended that individuals with serious heart issues take cayenne with them wherever they travel for possible use in case of an emergency.

Cayenne is one of the great hemostatic and styptic herbs. It is particularly valuable in this reference for intestinal and hemorrhoidal bleeding, bleeding of the lungs and for uterine hemorrhages. I once observed a direct application of cayenne immediately arrest the bleeding of an ulcerated breast tumor when no other hemostatic herb was even able to slow the flow of blood from the ulceration. In fact, cayenne is one of the most important of the acute medicines of herbal medicine. In addition to hemorrhage, it is also a sovereign remedy for shock, apoplexy (sudden neurological impairment due to cerebrovascular disorders, most commonly intracranial hemorrhage), heart attack, colds, flu, fever, cholera, asthmatic asphyxia and other acute conditions.

Given the strong enhancing effect cayenne exerts upon blood circulation, it is also a valuable herb in the treatment of fever. Enhancement of blood circulation is a prerequisite for stimulating the perspiration that can break a fever. In the West Indies, cayenne was once a leading medicine in the treatment of yellow fever and other tropical febrile illnesses, including typhoid fever and malaria. Regarding malaria, cayenne was once extensively used in conjunction with quinine with the former greatly intensifying the influence of the latter. The West Indians combined the fresh pods of cayenne with the juice of sour oranges and raw sugar and drank it freely during fever. Cayenne is particularly indicated for prostrating fevers, especially in persons whose powers of reaction are deficient and difficult to arouse.

The indications for cayenne include marked nervous debility, lack of nerve and circulatory tone, deficiency of functional force, lethargy, digestive weakness and a tendency toward weak circulation and capillary stasis. Also, the individual’s fluid organization is somewhat depleted and she may complain of dryness of the mouth. Cayenne is also a first rate gargle ingredient for sore throat, tonsillitis, laryngitis and diphtheria or any throat disorder caused by an enfeebled and relaxed condition of the pharynx and post-nasal mucosa.

Despite its hot quality, cayenne exerts a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. While some herbalists and herbal writers warn that cayenne is contraindicated when a gastrointestinal ulceration is present, many of the most eminent herbalists such as Jethro Kloss, Dr. John Christopher and R. Swinburne Clymer, M.D. insist that it is a specific for both gastric and intestinal ulcers. Christopher writes: â€śIt [cayenne] can be used by itself as it would be in healing stomach ulcers; it can be used alone to stop hemorrhaging; it can be used alone as a daily food. And if you are brave enough, you can use it as an enema for obstinate constipation.”

Cayenne has wide application in the gastrointestinal tract being useful for deficient, enfeebled states of the stomach characterized by hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid secretion; a very common problem among older adults) and general underactivity of the gastric glands and mucosa. It is a useful agent for atonic dyspepsia (indigestion due to lack of stomach tone), feeling of coldness in the stomach, nausea, flatulent colic, liver and pancreatic insufficiency. Cayenne also stimulates appetite (it has been used to treat anorexia nervosa) and the flow of saliva (saliva contains salivary amylase, the enzyme which initiates starch digestion). As previously noted, while it is useful in constipation, it may also serve well in alleviating prostrating diarrhea associated with intestinal infection, laxity of the intestinal mucosa and nerve weakness.

Cayenne may also act beneficially upon the genito-urinary tract. When taken internally, it is excreted by the kidneys which it stimulates to increased action. It is prescribed by some herbalists in chronic nephritis (inflammation of the kidney), pyelitis (inflammation of the renal pelvis), spermatorrhea (involuntary escape of semen without orgasm) and impotence. Regarding impotence, cayenne is thought to exert a type of aphrodisiac effect. Clearly, this aphrodisiac effect is exerted primarily via enhancement of blood-flow to the genital organs.

Cayenne is also an important herb in the treatment of alcoholism. It is generally combined with tonic herbs to help restore normal nerve function in alcoholics and it exerts a sedative effect when administered to alcoholics experiencing delirium tremens. The herb is often recommended as a remedy for hangovers. R. Swinburne Clymer, M.D. writes: “None know better its virtue than the habitual drinker who considers it his best friend and never fails to use plenty of it in his hot soups when sobering up and soothing his cold and sore stomach after a prolonged spree.” In the medicine of India, a combination of cayenne, cinnamon and sugar is used to reduce the craving for alcohol. Cayenne may also prove of good service in the treatment of, and withdrawal from, addiction to opiates or cocaine.

Externally, cayenne’s circulating-enhancing property makes it a useful agent (in poultice form) for painful joints, bursitis, muscle tension and pain, muscle spasms, rheumatism, backache, bruises, chilled skin, inflamed skin and hair loss. The herb may prove useful (both administered internally and applied externally) when there is paralysis related to nerve deficiency (local or general of central origin). It has also long been used to palliate toothache pain. In this case, the cavity is first cleaned out (dilute oil of oregano would serve well for this purpose), then a cotton plug saturated with cayenne oil is inserted. Doubtless, the toothache-sufferer will initially experience an intense burning sensation but this is eventually succeeded by long-lasting pain relief.

Other conditions for which cayenne may prove of value include: arthritis; asthma; bronchitis; cough; fatigue; gangrene; gout; pleurisy; scarlet fever; stroke.

Clearly, cayenne is an invaluable medicinal food. The most basic way to use it is as a seasoning in salad dressings, steamed vegetables, lentil stews, egg (brown eggs from free-range chickens) salad, etc.

Many people begin their mornings with a mixture of fresh lemon juice and water (proportions for this will vary from one person to the next; a general starting place is the juice of one lemon : 32 oz. of room temperature water). 1/8 to ÂĽ tsp. of cayenne can prove to be a valuable addition to this lemon juice/water drink, enhancing its cleansing actions upon the gastrointestinal tract, liver and kidneys.

Another daily cayenne drink to consider consists of: 8 oz. warm water, 1 Tbsp. organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar, 1/8 tsp. of turmeric powder and 1/8 to ÂĽ tsp. of cayenne powder. This drink exerts stimulant, anti-inflammatory and deobstruent (clearing or opening action upon the natural ducts of the fluids and secretions of the body) actions upon the gastrointestinal tract and circulatory system.

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