Capsicum annuum, C. frutescens

Cayenne originates in the tropical Americas and is grown worldwide. Cayenne is the pungent dried fruit of a highly variable species in the nightshade family that also gives us paprika, bell peppers, and jalapenos.

Other names: Capsicum, Grains of Paradise, African Pepper, Bird Pepper, Chili Pepper, Sweet Pepper, Hungarian Pepper, Red Pepper, Goat’s Pod, Zanzibar Pepper, Paprika, Tabasco Pepper, chilies, Chili

The fresh or dried fruits of different Capsicum species are used medicinally.

Both over-the-counter and prescription ointments and creams containing capsaicin are prescribed by physicians. Topical products are applied externally to increase blood flow to problem areas.

Cayenne as an Herb for Medicinal Uses

cayenne pepperHerbal use as a stimulant began with Samuel Thomson (1769-1843), who used it to “produce a strong heat in the body” and “restore digestive powers”. In the 1970s John Christopher promoted cayenne as a circulatory stimulant, claiming 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.

For stroke, the feet have been placed in a hot bath with mustard and 1/2 teaspoon Cayenne.

One-quarter teaspoon, 3 times a day, has been used as a treatment for heart and circulation problems and as a preventative for strokes, colds, flu, headaches, indigestion and arthritis.

West Indian natives have long soaked the cayenne pods in hot water, then added sugar plus the juice of sour oranges and drank this mixture when feverish. A digestive remedy from the same region, called Mandram, blends cayenne, thinly sliced cucumbers, shallots, chives or onions, lemon or lime juice and a madiera wine.

The Maya used Cayenne for earache and a condition called yellow urine.

Chest and lung congestion, and chronic fatigue have been treated with a poultice made out of cayenne, bran and water (4 tablespoons cayenne, 2 cups bran and enough hot water to make a spreadable paste, placed between 2 layers of cheese cloth). For treatment of chronic fatigue, the poultice was laid over the kidneys and lower back and kept covered with a warm towel. This can also be done to simply warm the body after exposure to cold and damp weather.

As a flu preventative, a combination of 2 teaspoons cayenne mixed with 1-1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup of boiling water mixed together, then cooled. Once cool, a cup of apple cider vinegar is added.

Cayenne extract, or infused oil has been used to wet a plug of cotton for a tooth cavity, also relieving the pain caused by the toothache. The powder has also been rubbed in for toothache as well as swellings and inflammation. To make infused oil, take 1 ounce powdered cayenne and add to 8 ounces olive oil or other vegetable oil in the top of a double boiler. Heat for two hours.

You can also make your own “cayenne pill” by rolling 1 to 5 grains of Cayenne into bread or cheese to form a pill shape.

Cayenne is also used in pepper sprays for self defense (pepper spray).

cayenneCapsaicin, the source of cayenne’s bite, is used in minute amounts in topical pharmaceutical products to treat pain at the site of an apparently healed infection, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, diabetic nerve damage, psoriasis, post-op pain and shingles. (The whole herb itself is not used in this way.)

Cayenne contains carotenoids and vitamins C and E; these antioxidants protect against free radicals. Consumption of carotenoids is associated with a reduced risk of cancer and enhances the activity of various immune system cells.

Experiments at Oxford Polytechnic Institute in England added 1 teaspoon of red pepper sauce and 1 teaspoon of mustard to meals and reported an increase of as much as 25 percent in metabolism.

Get the vermin out!

Once used to discourage vermin, cayenne was used by placing a heaping tablespoon of cayenne pepper powder in a shallow pan over a low fire and allowing the fumes to fill the air of a room (inhabitants must vacate the building during the process and not enter until completely aired out).

Feel The Burn?

The burning sensation of hot peppers is a reaction of the central nervous system to capsaicin; unlike horseradish, wasabi, garlic, ginger, and mustard, capsaicin only causes the sensation of damage, not real damage to tissues. Eating foods seasoned with cayenne or chile may even protect the stomach against damage by aspirin, ibuprofen, or other NSAID pain relief medications. Capsaicin creams can also reduce itching in psoriasis.

Note: Eating hot peppers can also deplete pain chemicals in the stomach. Peppers do not actually cause heartburn or ulcers.

Supports Weight Loss: Scientists at the Laval University in Quebec found that participants who took cayenne pepper for breakfast were found to have less appetite, leading to less caloric intake throughout the day. Cayenne is also a great metabolic-booster, aiding the body in burning excess amounts of fats.

Soothes Sore Throat. You don’t have to be from Cajun country to enjoy the healthy remedy of cayenne pepper. Simply mix with water and drink to cure a sore throat. Repeat as necessary.

Culinary Uses of Cayenne

A staple of South American cuisine as far back as 5,000 BC, cayenne spread to Europe, then Africa and India (introduced by the Portugese circa 1611), finally to England (1548 AD). Its use was widespread throughout Europe by 1650 AD. Chili pepper seeds have been discovered at excavations in Mexico at Tamaulipas and Tehuacen. The name is derived from the Greek meaning ‘to bite’.

When a clear head and energy are necessary, an energy drink can be made by combining 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne to 1 quart of fruit juice.

Travelers have been known to carry pepper sauce made from cayenne and vinegar to prevent stomach upset from unsanitary food preparation.

Cayenne is mainly used as a condiment whenever a hot pepper is desired. The dried and ground pod is combined with yeast and flour and baked into a hard cake which is ground into the finished spice; used in curries and as part of chili powder.

Cayenne pepper tea: The famed herbalist and naturopathic doctor, Dr. John R. Christopher, says he could stop many a heart attack victim if he could simply get a teaspon of cayenne pepper tea in them.

The unripe fruits are eaten raw, pickled, or cooked and as an ingredient in Chutney. The ripe fruits are eaten fresh, pickled, or dried for use as a condiment.

Russian Nastoika is made by adding one or two red pepper pods to a bottle of vodka.

Culinary Cautions: Do not add to recipes intended for freezing; wait and add when ready to serve. Wear gloves when handling peppers or else wash hands in vinegar to remove any traces of capsaicin.

Cayenne Hot Sauce Recipe

Cayenne Hot Sauce Recipe is revised from a 19th century recipe book called The Cook’s Oracle by Dr. William Kitchiner.

Rinse and drain 1/4 pound of fresh hot cayenne peppers (use caution when handling peppers; DO NOT touch eyes, nose, mouth, etc). Remove stems and seeds. Chop in food processor or blender, then gradually add 1/2 cup sherry and 1/2 cup brandy until all is pureed, then add 1/2 cup fresh, strained lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder or, if a milder version is preferred, use paprika instead. Put into jars and cover with 2 layers of cheesecloth held in place with rubber bands. Allow to sit in a warm place for 2 weeks, then pour into a blender and puree until smooth. Store in refrigerator indefinitely. If it separates, simply give it a shake.


Cayenne’s pungent principle, capsaicin, is a highly toxic irritant in its pure form. Capsaicin is not water soluble, so it is difficult to wash it off one’s hands after handling hot peppers. Scientists working with capsaicin protect themselves with space suit-like garb. Handling hot peppers can cause burning skin irritation, a condition called “Hunan hand” from the spicy cuisine of Hunan, China.

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