Black pepper also popularly called Kali Mirch, Miriyalu and Milagu in India is one of the oldest and most commonly used spice with amazing health benefits and medicinal uses. It is rightly called the “King of Spices” as it is used almost in all dishes and also extensively in remedies. Black pepper can be used for promoting hair growth, aiding weight loss and when combined with honey, it can be used for treating cough and cold.
It aids digestion, reduces blood pressure and piperine extracted from black pepper is used for treating wide variety of diseases from preventing cancer and treating ulcers to improving heart health. Black pepper oil extracted from black pepper also has wide medicinal uses and is especially good for treating skin problems like acne. Black pepper tea made with peppercorns is a popular remedy for many common ailments and we make it often at home.
Where Does Black Pepper Come From?
Black pepper is actually a fruit of a climber. The pepper plant is an ever green climber with smooth surface. The leaves are broad and almost resemble betel leaves. Pepper is native to South Asia particularly the Western Ghats in India. It has been used in India from ancient times both as a spice in cooking and also as a medicine.
Whenever we visit Kerala, I am always amazed to find that we can find black pepper plant growing so commonly almost everywhere. The plant grows best in soil that is moist, well drained and fertile. The plant is tied to trees with rough bark as it climbs rough barks readily. The flowers are slender and the fruits are borne in clusters.
A single stem can bear almost 20 to 30 fruit spikes. When the fruits are tender, they are green in color and when they ripen they turn red or almost purple depending on the ripeness. The fruit pericarp is very thin and contains only a single seed. The plant start bearing fruit after 4 years and then continue to produce fruit for 6 to 7 years after that. The fruits are usually harvested before they fully mature to preserve the pungency.
Types Of Pepper:
We get different types of peppers in the markets but they are the same fruit but collected and prepared differently to achieve different taste and aroma.
Black pepper is actually the unripe green fruits. The fruits are collected before they turn ripe and then they are boiled and then sun dried till there is no moisture left. When fully dry, the thin outer skin of pepper wrinkles and darkens resulting in black pepper. Black pepper is the most pungent of the pepper varieties and pepper essential oil is mostly distilled only from it.
White pepper is actually the seed of pepper fruit. When the fruits turn red which indicates that they are fully ripe, the ripe berries are soaked in water till the soft outer skin decomposes. Then the seeds are washed to get rid of any remaining outer skin, completely dried to get rid of moisture and sold in the markets. White pepper is more milder than black pepper.
The term green pepper refers to the unripe fruits. Usually green pepper are either freshly plucked and used right away or freeze dried. To retain the beautiful green color they are freeze dried immediately when plucked and then packed. Green peppers are mainly used for pickling and in certain places, it is also added to certain curries. Fresh green pepper spoil easily.
Red pepper refers to the fully ripe fruits and they are also dried and sold in the markets. They are crushed and used in certain dishes. Once I had an open lettuce wrap in which ripe red pepper flakes where crushed and sprinkled over the filling and it was really delicious. Red pepper is also pickled just like green pepper.
Black Pepper Botanical & Common Names:
The botanical name of pepper plant is Piper Nigrum and it belongs to the family Piperaceae and genus Piper. Black pepper is called Kali Mirch in Hindi and Punjabi, Milagu or Kurumilagu in Tamil, Miriyalu in Telugu, Kurumulaku in Malayalam, Kari Menasu in Kannada, Gol Mirch in Marathi, Kala Mari in Gujarati and Kala Mirch in Bengali. Outside India, it is called Poivre in French, Pfeffer in German and Peper in Portugal.
Black Pepper Nutrient Value:
a. Vitamins Found In Black Pepper:
Black pepper is rich in vitamins like folic acid, niacin, choline, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin C and vitamin A.
b. Minerals Found in Black Pepper:
Some of the important minerals found in black pepper are calcium, copper, iron, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium and manganese.
c. Black Pepper Calories:
100 grams of black pepper contains around 250 calories, 3.3 grams of fat, 10 grams of protein and 64 grams of carbohydrate.
Black Pepper Chemical Constituents:
Black pepper contains lignans, alkaloids, aromatic compounds and amides. Piperine is the major alkaloid found in pepper that is responsible for it’s many medicinal uses. Pepper contains almost 4 to 9 % of it’s mass in piperine. Alpha-terpineol, hexonal, nerol, acetophenone, citral, alpha-pinene, piperonal, dihydrocarveol are some of the compounds responsible for the unique aroma and pungency of black pepper.
Black Pepper Essential Oil:
Black pepper also has essential oil which constitutes to about 3.5 % of it’s mass. Black pepper essential oil contains compounds like sabinene, pinene, linalool, limonene, phellandrene and piperine.
Black Pepper Traditional Uses:
Black pepper is traditionally used for treating wide range of common illness. Black pepper mixed with honey is an effective home remedy for dry cough. Black pepper mixed with dry ginger and long pepper is used for treating all respiratory and digestive problems and the combination of these three ingredients are famously called Trikatu in Ayurvedha.
Traditionally, black pepper mixed along with betel leaf is given as a first aid for insect bites and it acts as a wonderful antidote to poison. Black pepper and turmeric added to milk is called turmeric milk in English and haldi doodh in Hindi. It is used for treating all respiratory problems and for treating indigestion and internal wounds. It also increases immunity and we regularly make it at home.
Black Pepper Medicinal Uses:
1. Insecticidal properties:
Black pepper has insecticidal properties and both black pepper and piperine isolated from black pepper have been proven to be effective against malaria causing Anopheles Larvae. Both piperine and black pepper was used for the study, though both proved to be effective, black pepper showed significantly more positive results.
2. Anti Diabetic Properties:
Piperine isolated from black pepper has amazing anti diabetic properties. Metformin is the standard drug used for reducing blood sugar levels. But when metformin is given along with piperine, the effect was more significant. Since piperine helped reduce the metformin dosage, it also helped reduce the side effects associated with it.
3. Reduces Smoking Withdrawal Symptoms:
Any form of addiction is hard to let go as we tend to get back to it when we are feeling low in the first place. It applies to all addiction from caffeine addiction to smoking. We need all the help we can get to quit our addictions and black pepper essential oil greatly helps reduce the craving for cigarettes when the vapors of black pepper essential oil are inhaled. You can read the study that proves it here.
4. Antibacterial Properties:
Both black pepper and black pepper essential oil have amazing antibacterial properties. Black pepper is effective against E.coli and S. aureus. Black pepper essential oil has been proven to be effective against meat borne Escherichia Coli and so it is always a good idea to add pepper to meat dishes as it greatly helps reduce bacterial infections.
5. Reduces Cholesterol Levels:
Pepper reduces cholesterol levels and is very good for heart health. We can use either black pepper or piperine isolated from black pepper for reducing cholesterol as it is piperine that is responsible for reducing cholesterol levels and you can read the study that proves this claim here.
6. Black Pepper For Weight Loss:
Piperine isolated from black pepper has anti obesity properties and lipid lowering properties. Piperine reduced serum triglyceride, total cholesterol, LDL and VLDL levels along with increasing HDL levels. If you are on a weight loss diet consider adding pepper in some form or the other daily in your diet, it will greatly help.
7. Anti Cancer Properties:
Piperine isolated from pepper has powerful anti cancer properties. Cancer is growing at an alarming rate and researchers estimate that almost 20 million people will suffer from cancer by the year 2030! This is due to the drastic life style changes which includes leading highly stressful lives, lack of exercise, eating processed food and environmental pollution. Including natural foods like black pepper which have powerful anti cancer properties is one of the best ways to prevent cancer.
8. Increases Bio Availability:
Another important medicinal use of black pepper is it increases bio availability of the ingredient it is added along with. For instance, when we add black pepper to turmeric milk, it greatly helps increase the bio availability of turmeric. So turmeric milk is always made with both turmeric and pepper. Pepper can also increase the effectiveness of drugs if consumed on a slighter higher dosage.
9. Improves Memory:
An amazing effect of Chavarine, an isomer of piperine isolated from black pepper is it enhances memory. Stress does bad things to us and one of it is increasing oxidative stress. Most of us live in a constant state of stress and it affects our memory in a negative way. Consuming black pepper reduces oxidative stress which in turn improves memory, you can read the study here.
10. Antioxidant Properties:
Pepper has powerful antioxidant properties and greatly helps fight off the free radical damage that is the main reason for premature ageing of our body. Since pepper and it’s extracts reduce oxidative stress, it has a positive effect on our nervous system and it not only helps with increased memory but also helps prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s.
11. Analgesic & Anti Inflammatory Properties:
Pepper has powerful analgesic and anti inflammatory properties and that is why when we drink pepper tea (we make it along with curry leaves, cumin and black pepper), it helps reduce both the inflammation and pain. We serve the tea during cold winter months and it both helps improve immunity and also treats existing ailments very effectively.
12. Cough Suppressant:
Pepper powder mixed with honey is one of the best home remedies for cough and this traditional remedy has been backed by research. At home, if we suffer from cough, we grind up fresh pepper powder and mix it with raw unprocessed honey and consume. It is very very effective in treating cough.
13. Anti Ulcer Properties:
Piperine extracted from black pepper has anti ulcer properties. Ulcers can be caused due to various reasons, it can range from chronic stress that many of us go through on a regular basis and consuming certain medications to certain illnesses. Piperine greatly inhibits the amount of gastric juice and gastric acidity thus greatly helping with healing the ulcer, you can read the study here.
14. For Hair Growth:
Traditionally we include whole pepper corns in the hair oil recipe that we use for oil bath. The oil usually consist of pepper corns, cumin seeds, dry ginger and garlic boiled along with sesame oil. Pepper reduces scalp infection and inflammation and also helps increase blood circulation to the scalp so it does help with hair growth too.
15. For Reducing Blood Pressure:
Piperine is also effective in reducing blood pressure, it exhibited vasodilator effect resulting in low pressure. When piperine was given to rats through intravenous administration, it reduced blood pressure significantly. The effect was dose dependent and you can read the study that supports this claim here.
Black Pepper Side Effects:
Black pepper in normal dosages will not cause any harm but if you are taking it in slightly large doses, it can interfere with certain drugs so please mention it to your physician if you are on any medication. Though very very rare, some people might have black pepper allergy.
Black Pepper Dosage:
Usually for treating digestive problems, we consume around 1/4 tsp of whole peppercorns after pounding it fresh in a mortar and pestle. For children from 5 to 10 years, use around 4 to 5 peppercorns and for children below 5 years, use 1 to 2 peppercorns. If you are on any medication, the dosage should be altered accordingly.
6 Top Ways To Use Black Pepper At Home:
1. Black Pepper And Turmeric Milk For Cough:
To make this turmeric milk, heat a cup of milk along with palm candy (according to taste) and 1/4 tsp of turmeric powder. We always use organic grass fed whole milk from our farm, so I used that. If you are vegan, you can use plant based milk too. Once the milk is warmed, remove and add freshly ground pepper powder. For children, reduce the quantity of pepper powder. This milk tastes really good, but don’t add too much of turmeric powder else the milk will have a strong raw flavor of turmeric.
2. Black Pepper Inhaler For Headache:
This homemade inhaler made with black peppercorns is very effective in treating headache. Black pepper inhalation also helps people who wants to quit their smoking habit. To use, first take the longest needle that you can find and insert the tip of the needle into a black pepper corn. Then light the peppercorn in direct flame and switch off immediately. It will start emitting smoke, your effective homemade inhaler is ready! However, people who are allergic to smoke should avoid this remedy.
3. Black Pepper & Honey For Cold
Black Pepper and honey is a magic combination and has wonderful medicinal uses and health benefits. It helps treat cough, cold, sore throat, asthma and it also reduces mucus and blood pressure! To use, take 1/4 tsp of the powder in a bowl. Add in enough raw unprocessed honey to form a paste and consume. For children below 10 years of age, use around 3 pinches of pepper powder, for children below 5 years, use around a pinch.
4. Antidote For Poison:
Betel leaf and pepper is a magic combination and can be used for treating variety of ailments. Betel leaf if had along with peppercorns acts as a natural antidote for minor insect bite poison and can be really useful as a first aid. To use, take a single betel leaf and and place 3 peppercorns in the middle, fold to make a parcel, chew and swallow. This remedy can be given to young children too. You can also boil the two ingredients along with a cup of water till it is reduced to half, strain and use it as a home remedy for treating indigestion.
5. Pepper Tea For Weight Loss :
This black pepper tea greatly helps in weight loss. To make black pepper tea, take 1/4 cup pesticide free curry leaves in a mortar and pestle and pound coarsely. Add 1/4 tsp each of cumin seeds and peppercorns to the mortar and pestle and pound them coarsely too. Heat 2 cups of water in a cup and add the pounded curry leaves, cumin and peppercorn mixture. Boil till the color of the water changes to green color. Switch off and strain. Include this tea regularly in your weight loss diet .
6. Black Pepper For Hair Growth:
The best way to use black pepper for hair growth is by including it in hot oil treatment. This hot oil treatment is a traditional practice that has been done in India from ancient times. The ingredients needed are 2 tbsp sesame oil, 1/4 tsp cumin seeds, a small piece dry ginger, 1/4 tsp black pepper and a small pod garlic. This hot oil treatment recipe is my grandma’s recipe and we all use only this recipe for oil bath. For the treatment, pound garlic and dry ginger. Heat sesame oil in an iron pan and add all the ingredients and fry till they turn golden brown. Switch off and strain. Use it to massage your hair and scalp.