Piper nigrum L.1
Plant Family: Piperaceae
Dried fruits often referred to as ‘peppercorns’
Black pepper is one of the most commonly used spices in the world, adding warmth and zest to savory dishes. It has been popular in India for thousands of years and is now easy to find almost anywhere on the planet. It has been employed medicinally in both Ayurveda and TCM and more recently in herbal folk healing practices. In modern times, numerous studies have confirmed its healing properties. Several derivatives of black pepper, such as piperine, have shown promise in supporting the health of the digestive system and as an antioxidant. Further, it has demonstrated that it can enhance the absorption of other nutrients when taken simultaneously.3-10
A member of the Piperaceace family alongside long pepper (Piper longum), and kava kava (Piper methysticum), black pepper is native to southern India and Sri Lanka and widely cultivated in the tropics.1,11 The pepper plant is a tropical perennial vine requiring a trellis or some other support such as a tree to grow along.11,12 It has aromatic, green, ovate leaves that give off a strong fragrance and greenish yellow flower spikes.12 The generic name Piper is Latin in origin and is derived from the Sanskrit name for long pepper ‘pippali.’13
Cultivation And Harvesting
Black pepper is the most traded cultivated spice12 and is propagated by cuttings that are grown by the base of trees.14 They bear fruit three to four years after planting and cease around the fifteenth year. The black peppercorns and ground pepper of commerce are actually immature fruits that are collected as soon as they turn red and dried in the sun.14 The peppercorns turn black after three days of drying, and when ground, produce black pepper powder.11 When the fruits are left to ripen and the red outer covering is removed, then white pepper is obtained. Malabar produces the highest quality commercial pepper and Sumatra and Java supply much of the U.S. demand.11 Some of the main pepper producing countries include: Brazil, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, and Malaysia.15
History And Folklore
Black pepper has been grown in Southern India for over two thousand years.13 Next to salt, pepper is the most popular spice being used continually for thousands of years, and in fact, used in Indian cooking since at least 2,000 BCE.11 Alexander the Great fought his way through central Asia making way for new trade routes which led to the eventual availability of black pepper in the West. It became increasingly popular and was highly traded by the Arabic spice merchants.13 Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE), the Roman naturalist, wrote in his book Natural History:
It is quite surprising that the use of pepper has come so much into fashion, seeing that in other substances which we use, it is sometimes their sweetness, and sometimes their appearance that has attracted our notice; whereas, pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a recommendation to either fruit or berry, its only desirable quality being a certain pungency; and yet it is for this that we import it all the way from India!16
And, as the story goes, during the 5th century CE, Attila the Hun demanded 3,000 pounds of pepper as a ransom for the city of Rome.14 Although pepper was very expensive, it was still utilized often in cooking by the ancient Romans, and by the Middle Ages, became a symbol of fine cuisine.13 Due to the high prices of pepper, Europeans often used pepper substitutes such as chaste tree (Vitex sp.), grains of paradise (Aframomum melegueta), and myrtle berries (Myrtus communis) amongst others.13 However, by the 15th century Europeans ventured out to regions where spices where grown so that they could trade directly with growers, therefore cutting out the middlemen who had driven up the prices. This venture was led by the Portuguese, British, Spanish, and Dutch.13
Black pepper was believed to be imbued with magical qualities, to be ruled by the planet Mars, and represented by the fire element. It was thought to protect against the ‘evil eye.’ Further, it was said that wearing a peppercorn would free one of envious thoughts.17 In Asia, black pepper is considered a powerful medicinal plant useful in supporting healthy aging, liver detoxification, circulation, and digestion and is thus a prominent healing herb in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and Ayurveda (traditional healing system from India).2 In both TCM and Ayurveda pepper is considered to be a pungent tasting and energetically heating spice (khalsa/TCM wiki). In Ayurveda, it is often found in the formula called ‘Trikatu’ which is a combination of black pepper (Piper nigrum) and also its relative long pepper (Piper longum) and ginger (Zingiber officinale), and is used to support digestion.2,5 It effects the stomach and large intestine meridians in TCM and is thus employed in digestive complaints and in cases where qi (energy) needs to be directed downward.18
Flavor Notes And Energetics
Pungent tasting and energetically heating2,18
Alterative, expectorant, energizer, carminative
Essential oil containing the monoterpenes sabinene, pinene, limonene, terpinene, pinene, myrcene, carene and mono¬terpene derivatives (borneol, carvone, carvacrol, 1,8-cineol, linalool), sesqui¬terpenes such as caryophyllene, humulene, bisabolone and caryophyllene oxide and ketone,13 alkaloids such as piperine, chavicina, piperic acid, piperidine, various vitamins and minerals.12
The alkaloid derived from black pepper, piperazine, is used as an anthelmintic drug called Entacyl. The derivative piperine has been shown to be useful in increasing bioavailability and the absorption of nutrients.3,4,5 Piperine has also demonstrated monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitory activity. Certain derivatives from black pepper have proven to be useful insecticides against various mosquito species as well.7
Consumption of the fruit should not exceed small amounts for use as a spice.
- United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville Area Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Accessed at http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?40944#syn on August 19, 2014.
- Khalsa Singh KP, Tierra M. The way of Ayurvedic herbs. Twin Lakes: Lotus Press; 2008.
- Pattanaik, S., Hota, D., Prabhakar, S., Kharbanda, P., & Pandhi, P. (2006). Effect of piperine on the steady‐state pharmacokinetics of phenytoin in patients with epilepsy. Phytotherapy Research, 20(8), 683-686.
- Shoba, G., Joy, D., Joseph, T., Majeed, M., Rajendran, R., & Srinivas, P. S. S. R. (1998). Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta medica, 64(04), 353-356.
- Johri, R. K., & Zutshi, U. (1992). An Ayurvedic formulation ‘Trikatu’and its constituents. Journal of ethnopharmacology, 37(2), 85-91.
- Al-Baghdadi, O. B., Prater, N. I., Van der Schyf, C. J., & Geldenhuys, W. J. (2012). Inhibition of monoamine oxidase by derivatives of piperine, an alkaloid from the pepper plant Piper nigrum, for possible use in Parkinson’s disease. Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry letters, 22(23), 7183-7188.
- Park, I. K. (2012). Insecticidal activity of isobutylamides derived from Piper nigrum against adult of two mosquito species, Culex pipiens pallens and Aedes aegypti. Natural product research, 26(22), 2129-2131.
- Agbor, G. A., Vinson, J. A., Sortino, J., & Johnson, R. (2012). Antioxidant and anti-atherogenic activities of three Piper species on atherogenic diet fed hamsters. Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology, 64(4), 387-391.
- Atal, S., Agrawal, R. P., Vyas, S., Phadnis, P., & Rai, N. I. K. E. T. (2012). Evaluation of the effect of piperine per se on blood glucose level in alloxan-induced diabetic mice. Acta Pol Pharm, 69, 965-969.
- Venkat Reddy, S., Srinivas, P. V., Praveen, B., Hara Kishore, K., China Raju, B., Suryanarayana Murthy, U., & Madhusudana Rao, J. (2004). Antibacterial constituents from the berries of Piper nigrum. Phytomedicine, 11(7), 697-700.
- Missouri Botanical Garden. Piper nigrum. Accessed at: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=d276 on Sept 5th, 2014.
- The World of Plants. Botanical.com. Piper nigrum L. Accessed at: http://www.botanical-online.com/english/pepper.htm on September 7, 2014.
- Gernot K. Katzer’s Spice Pages. Cloves (Syzygium aromaticum [L.] Merr. et Perry) Accessed at: http://gernot-katzers-spice-pages.com/engl/Pipe_nig.html on September 8th 2014.
- Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. Accessed at http://botanical.com/botanical on August 19, 2014.
- Department of Agriculture. Resource Centre, Directorate Communication, Private Bag Pretoria, South Africa. 2001 Accessed at: http://www.nda.agric.za/docs/Infopaks/pepper.htm on September 8th, 2014.
- Ancient History Encyclopedia. Pepper. Accessed at: http://www.ancient.eu/Pepper/ on Sept 7th, 2014.
- Cunningham, S. Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Woodbury: Llewellyn Publications; 2000.
- TCM Wiki is a wiki site of Traditional Chinese Medicine. 2012 by WWW.TCMWIKI.COM Accessed at: http://www.tcmwiki.com/wiki/hu-jiao on September 8, 2014.
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