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Cayenne

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Cayenne - Background and History

Nowadays, Cayenne pepper is one of the most popular spices, but despite this popularity, it is anomalous in that it is both well-loved and well-disdained by a nearly equal number of individuals the world over. Strictly a cultivar of the singular chili species, it is commonly referred to simply as "red chili" or any other variant of the name, making it nearly synonymous with all chilies in general despite the fact that the Capsicum family features a broad range of distinct species, each with their own characteristic flavor, spiciness, and culinary as well as medicinal properties (the Cayenne pepper itself being no more than a mere relative of all other chilies in the world). Cayenne peppers are usually thought of as among the spiciest of the lot, and are generally used very sparingly in most types of cuisine, with some centralized cultural exceptions that make for culinary oddities (that proves quite popular with a large body of gourmands, as it proves unpalatable for an equally large body of intolerants).



Initially thought of by some herbalist as native to India, it is now generally accepted that the small, hardy Cayenne pepper shrub is widespread throughout a vast area encompassing a large part of Europe, Asia, Eurasia, and equally large parts of the New World. Its culinary usage is predominant in a number of cultures, although it is most commonly associated with Hispanic, Indian, and North / Northeastern Chinese cuisine. Other ethnic dishes also integrate cayenne pepper liberally into their cuisine, with Korean cuisine, Eastern European cuisine and FilipinoHispanic cuisine featuring the spice avidly as a source of both flavor and the well-loved "kick" redolent of nearly all varieties of peppers.

The Cayenne pepper plant is a relatively small, hardy plant measuring no more than two to three feet tall at the most. While many varieties and cultivars are actively cultivated in plots or in individual pots, more often than not, the cayenne plant grows will in nearly any soil type, although it prefers semi-moist soils. In some countries such as the Philippines, China, India, as well as a vast area of the Americas, the cayenne typically thrives in wild settings or is otherwise found growing profusely in waste areas or abandoned or untended lots. It is usually characterized by the profusion of small, broad leaves that taper to a point at the end, and more so by the presence of its fruits, which range from a few centimeters to several inches in length, and start off as tiny, green-hued stubs that later mature and ripen into bright-red, orangey, or maroon-hued fruits. Some examples of yellow or ivory-hued fruits are also known, but its occurrence is rare. Despite this anomaly, the colour does not in any way affect the flavor, body, or spiciness of the pepper. The plant is also known for its tiny, scentless white flowers which grow from the dried stubs of the unpicked fruits. [1]

Despite their popularity, cayenne peppers (like all chili peppers) were not commonplace in the Old World, being a plant that thrived in, and was used predominantly in the New World. It's rare integration into decidedly Old World-style cuisine may have come about due to its localized presence (mainly thanks to international trade with Asia) is Arabic territories such as Morocco, Turkey, and Istanbul, which were significant areas of trade and commerce long before the discovery and subsequent colonizing of the New World. Some food historians suggest that milder variants of the cayenne pepper and all its other relations were a relatively modern introduction thanks to specialized crossbreeding of strains. Cayenne peppers are widely consumed as a food and vegetable (with edible fruit and leaves), or otherwise employed as a spice, condiment, or seasoning in its whole fresh, dried whole, or dried and processed forms.

Aside from its culinary uses, cayenne peppers (and many of its other relative species) have been employed medicinally for centuries. Due to its unpalatable nature, it is not very commonly taken orally, although it has been incorporated into foodstuffs for therapeutic purposes with varying levels of efficiency. It has been employed topically, however, as its spiciness is more tolerable, and is in fact highly beneficial, for problems of the topical sort. Ingesting cayenne pepper for supplementary purposes have also become somewhat commonplace nowadays, although it is usually through the medium of an extract of its primary active compounds (chiefly capsaicin), or via the traditional pulverized medium, readily encapsulated for easy and sure ingestion sans any discomfort.

Common / Popular Uses

The most common use of cayenne pepper was and still remains to be as a culinary spice. Commonly integrated into soups and stews, it is also a welcome addition to meat-based preparations, vegetable-based dishes, and even a limited number of desserts and confections, although its usage for the latter is a relatively (debatably) modern innovation that has yet to gain a strong and regular following. Cayenne pepper can be employed culinary in a variety of different mediums, and in a number of forms. The most common (as easily obtainable) form of the spice is in its dried and powdered form. This is often incorporated into rubs or otherwise used as a seasoning and a condiment. In its dried whole form, it is often infused into oils or vinegars, if not altogether incorporated into soup-based dishes or employed as a condiment for a select number of dishes. The fresh cayenne pepper is also employed in a similar manner, or it may be pickled (if it is sizeable enough) and used for seasoning, or consumed as a snack by the daring and the foolhardy.

Furthermore, while it is not as well-known, the use of its leaves and (on occasion) its flowers as a vegetable is quite commonplace in several parts of Asia, and later on, some parts of Eurasia and Eastern Europe. While the flowers are tasteless, they do add an aesthetic flourish to soups, stews, roasts, and salads. The leaves, usually fresh (but sometimes dried) are integrated into soup-based dishes. In rare occasions, it is used as a garnish, a condiment (especially when dried), or as a base for mellow rub mixtures. It is characterized by a muted pungency which encourages salivation and adds a very subtle body to soups.



The consumption of cayenne peppers is in itself regarded as medicinal but oftentimes, its medicinal use is solely relegated to that of the supplemental. Traditional herbal applications however call for the use of the unprepared fruit, which, due to its spiciness, is unpalatable for most, hence the relegation of the use of fresh cayenne peppers to (mostly) topical applications. The fruits, when bruised and mixed with oil can be used as a foementation and applied to rheumy parts to provide relief. A mild decoction of the fresh fruit is drunk (by those who have the gall enough) as a stomachic, a digestive aid, mouthwash, and as a remedy for dyspepsia. Relatively stronger brews yield an excellent antihistaminic, antispasmodic and analgesic drink. [2] Strong decoctions of the fruit can be applied topically after the liquor has sufficiently cooled makes for a good (albeit slightly uncomfortable) remedy for scalp problems, ringworm infection, fungal infection, dandruff, oily scalp, and eczema. Strong decoctions of the fruit combined with the leaves have also been used as a remedy for coughs, sore throat, laryngitis, ulcerations of the mouth, and as a supplementary beverage for the management of diabetes mellitus. [3]

Infused in vinegar (by itself or combined with other medicinal plants) it makes for an excellent antiseptic for minor wounds and scratches, or as a great hair rinse that helps to improve and encourage hair-growth while keeping common scalp problems at bay. This infused vinegar may also be used for culinary purposes, or as a complimentary side-condiment to meals, especially of the piscine variety.

Left to steep in a base-oil of one's choosing, it is an excellent liniment or ointment for general aches and pains. Its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties make it extremely useful for the management of arthritis and rheumatism. When applied to the scalp, it is said to improve blood flow and encourage hair-growth. [4] Highly concentrated ointments (made stronger through the heated infusion process) may also be employed in much the same way as clove oil for the relief of tooth aches and mouth sores, but despite its efficiency, it can be very uncomfortable. When dried and allowed to steep in oil, it can also be employed for culinary purposes, typically as a cooking oil, a dip, or as a preparatory rub for meats and fish prior to cooking.

The fresh fruit of the cayenne plant may also be used by itself as an instant rubefacient when crushed and applied to the affected area. It may be applied directly to swollen joints to help alleviate pain and reduce swelling. The highly pungent and extremely spicy juice of the fresh fruit may be applied on aching teeth to relieve nagging pain. Crushed and brought near to the olfactory glands, it makes for an excellent smelling herb that helps to relieve nausea, drowsiness, and feelings of vertigo. Crushed and mixed with oil, it can be used as a poultice for general pain relief, although it works best as a liniment (especially if combined with ginger root and essential oil of peppermint).

The dried, pulverized fruit can be consumed as a supplement when encapsulated, or otherwise regularly incorporated into meals for supplementary purposes especially for the management of discomforts brought about by rheumatism, arthritis, gout, and gastric or digestive complaints. It may also be taken to hasten one's metabolic function and promote weight loss. When consumed in moderate doses regularly, it helps to improve the body's ability to assimilate and absorb nutrients, as well as to regulate one's appetite - a very useful benefit, especially for individuals who are combating obesity. Daily supplementation cayenne pepper may also help to improve cardiovascular health, reduce LDL cholesterol levels, and help improve the normal detoxification capacities of the body. [5]

Aside from the extremely useful fruit, the leaves also possess some medicinal properties. It can be employed as an antiseptic through the decoction process, or made into an excellent hemostatic agent when crushed and applied to open wounds. Very strong decoctions of the leaves also possess moderately strong anti-fungal properties, and is useful for topical applications with the added benefit of a lack of "spiciness" which can oftentimes cause discomfort for some individuals. The leaves may also be made into a tisane (with, or without the fruit) and drunk as a detoxifying beverage in the mornings to jumpstart the body's metabolic activity.

Cayenne - Safety Notes

While cayenne pepper is relatively safe to use, there are dangers associated with excessive consumption of cayenne peppers which can result in mild diarrhea, vomiting, and elevated body temperatures. It can also cause mild tremors and cardiovascular discomforts, shortness of breath, and blurred vision, but only if consumed in the utmost excess. It is also traditionally thought to cause hemorrhoids, and is known to aggravate stomach ulcers and hyperacidity when consumed excessively. Cayenne peppers (along with all of its relatives) should be avoided by individuals who regularly experience heartburn, and who have a history of angina pectoris. This is contradicted however by the fact that it is a useful supplement for individuals who suffer from high-blood pressure.

Used topically, cayenne peppers may incur mild rashes, itching, and general discomforts, so doing a patch test prior to topical application is a must. While cayenne is not a known abortifacient, supplementing with encapsulated cayenne pepper powder must be ceased during pregnancy. It can, however, be resumed after delivery as it helps to facilitate in the faster healing of the womb. Under no circumstances should any product containing cayenne pepper in any form of preparation be applied directly to the eyes or sinuses as it can cause severe discomfort (and, in the case of the eyes, temporary to permanent blindness).

Cayenne - Magickal / Esoteric Uses

Despite being highly useful medicinally, there is a limited amount of information with regards to the magickal uses of cayenne peppers. While it does feature strongly in some branches of voodoo and hoodoo, as well as in shamanism, its use in the realm of Western magick is rare. It is typically attributed strengthening and enervating properties, and is usually associated with the planet Mars and the element of fire. In some voodoo practices, it is employed as a protection herb and as a charm to increase the possessor's vigour and charisma, and may feature in mojo bags or medicine pouches. In modern Western magickal theory, it is said to increase the "size" of a person's aura (perhaps meant in the light of its possible use to multiply or enhance the vigour of aural energy), and is typically carried around or consumed for such purposes.

In India, cayenne is commonly offered (along with other variants of the chili family) as an offering to gods, especially those of a particularly malevolent, violent, or fierce nature. In Philippine shamanism, it is employed as a protection herb and is hung above doorposts or next to windows to ward off malignant spirits, usually accompanied by the more commonplace garlic garlands (it was traditionally hung on the four corners of a house, or stashed beneath its foundations). While the fruit may be burnt as incense, it is usually not attempted as the whole dried fruit emits a foul odour with an unpleasantly stinging, acrid smoke, and has the tendency to explode with a loud pop. Powdered cayenne pepper may be used to remedy this problem, or its leaves and flowers may be substituted for its fruits. It makes for an excellent incense casting circles, as it is a protective herb. It is also a great enchanting and charging herb (used in its decocted or incense form), as it helps to increase the power of the spellwork. Cayenne may be employed (albeit rarely) for love spells that incur passion and unbridled lust, although it is geared more towards the masculine, more than the feminine forms of desire. [6]

Cayenne, Other Names - Past and Present

Chinese: la jiao
Indian: lal mirchi / mirchi
Sanskrit: katuvira
Swahili: pili-pili
French: piment de Cayenne / piment engrage / piment-oiseau / poivre rouge
Spanish: pimento / chili picante / chili / aji
Filipino: siling-labuyo / kasira / pimiento (adopted from Spanish) / silit-diablo (lit. "Devil"s chili)
Hungarian: paprika
English: Cayenne pepper / bird pepper / capsicum (adopted from Latin) / Spanish pepper / red pepper / chili / Guinea spice / cow"s horn pepper
Latin (esoteric): capsicum / ici fructus
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Capsicum frutescens / Capsicum fastigiatum / Capsicum annuum (general taxonomy)

References:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cayenne_pepper

[2] http://www.stuartxchange.com/SilingLabuyo.html

[3] http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/natural-medicine/herbal-remedies/cayenne-pepper-herbal-remedies.htm

4] http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/benefits-of-cayenne-pepper/

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cayenne_pepper

[6] http://www.gardensablaze.com/HerbCayenneMag.htm

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, Scientific Studies report by Dan Ablir. © herbs-info.com 2013

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