Many commercial hot chillies may have originated from Capsicum frutescens which some believe was introduced from India to the West in 1548. Back then it was known as Ginnie pepper and was recommended by Gerard for scrofula, a prevalent lymphatic throat and skin infection that was called King's Evil. Others believe that the plant originated in the equatorial Americas where its seeds have been found in Mexican caves that date back to 7000BC. Whatever its origins the plant has become a popular culinary and medicinal herb in many parts of the world including the Mediterranean, China, southeast Asia, India, United Kingdom, Australia, and the USA. Because of its warming properties cayenne was used by nineteenth century physiomedicalists to treat such conditions as depression, chills and rheumatism.
Hot chillies stimulate the salivary glands and have a cleansing action on the digestive tract, helping to rid it of intestinal parasites. Cayenne's character is drying, pungent, and very hot. Its properties give it the actions of circulatory stimulant, carminative, antibacterial, stimulating nerve tonic, antiseptic, gastric stimulant, and it also promotes sweating. Applied topically it's a counter-irritant because it helps to increase blood flow to the area of application so it's helpful for treating conditions such as arthritic joints and rheumatism. When I treat a patient who is suffering from a spur on the heel I make a cayenne ointment and get them to apply it to the spur (using gloves of course) and have them cover the area with a sock. By doing this the increased blood flow helps to break up the spur over time.
To treat chills, colds, shock, cold feet and hands, make an infusion by pouring a cup of boiling water over half a teaspoon of fresh herb. Let it steep for at least ten minutes then dilute 20 ml of the infusion with a cup of hot water and sip as needed. Sluggish digestion can be stimulated by taking several drops of the undiluted infusion before meals. The infusion can also be used to treat tonsillitis and to ease the severe pain of migraines and shingles. To treat bruising, sprains, and rheumatic pains make a compress by soaking a pad in the infusion. Apply to the affected area.
Don't consume the seeds as they can be toxic.
Too much cayenne can lead to liver damage and enteritis so always take the recommended dosage.
Always use gloves when handling fresh chillies to avoid irritating the eyes or cuts.
If using the herb in a compress don't ever leave it on the skin for a long time, especially if it's sensitive, as it can cause blistering.
Medicinal doses must be avoided during pregnancy or when breastfeeding.
The dreadful distress caused by excess doses of cayenne can be fatal to humans.
Proprietor, author, and tutor of The Home Herbalist Online Course.