Black pepper is that familiar spice that sits with his companion on the kitchen table and most other tables, salt (one of the notorious three white killers - salt, white sugar and white flour); But that unassuming little guy gets to wear a white hat and is by far designated 'KING' of the spices accounting for about one fourth of all the spice trade worldwide . Origninating along the Malabar Coast of India, black and long peppers have been a tasty delicacy since about 2000 BCE or earlier. It's desirability in the kitchen has caused wars, brave new exporations at sea to find new routes to the West Indies (Bartholomeu Diaz, 1488, first sailed the raging water around Africa's Cape of Good Hope to reach India, Vasco de Gama, 1498, who sailed around South Africa to reach the Far East and Christopher Columbus,1492, who sought the spices of the West Indies by sailing around the world are three who are known about), let it serve as money (traded ounce for ounce for gold); and as many other kitchen herbs used as medicine and/or magic. It comes from the fruit or drupes on a vine that grows wild but is now cultivaated not only in India but wherever conditions permit. In 2008 Vietnam had cornered about 34% of the world trade in black pepper. It is hard to tell in some of the historical references if they refer to black pepper or long pepper which also grew in the same area and was used along with the piper nigrum. Black pepper is a member of the Piperaceae family of about 1200 species.
Southern Root Doctors used pepper for Enemy Tricks and Protection in formulas like Goofer Dust, Crossing Powder and Hot Foot Powder all designed to get rid of enemies. Did such magic spells work? Don't know, but most everyone knows pepper makes you sneeze and who can dispute the effects of 'pepper spray' in geting rid of an enemy?
No real studies have been conducted to see why pepper makes you sneeze, it is believed it is from the active ingredient peperine that also makes it so spicy. So, what is pepper good for and why does it work? It has ben used to make hundreds of food products and recipes taste better including perhaps the most notorious 'Coca Cola'. I don't know about 'Dr. Pepper' but it does sound suspicious. There are many cures listed in the history of herbal medicine attributed to pepper, some may be authentic but most evidence is emperical. Let's face it, if a Western pharmacuitical company must spend fifty million dollars develping a new drug why would they tell you to pick up the pepper shaker? The pepper in the shaker cannot be patented. There have been some nice foreign studies and many of the uses verified. Pepper contains alkaloids. Alkaloids are often toxic to other organisms and often have pharmacologidcal effects and therefore commonly used as medications, as recreational drugs or in entheogenic rituals. Most plants that are chosen by the pharmcuetical companies to use in drugs are alkaloids because they cause the most action in the body. Pepper, in large quantities, is toxic. It would take much more than the amount usually eaten in food to poison you and it is not recommended for children, pregnant or lactating women. It is an irritant both to the skin and digestive tract and is not recommended for individuals needing a bland diet. Black Pepper is used in the three medicinal systems practiced in India: Ayurveda, Sidha and Unami, in China, in Aroma Theraphy, in Massage Theraphy and is one of the few medicines Monks are allowed to carry with them.
For a complete breakdown of the phytochemicals of black pepper and the 742 specific medicinal actions of the chemicals visit Dr.Jame Duke's site
http://sun.ars-grin.gov:8080/npgspub/xsql/duke/plantdisp.xsql?taxon=755 but bring your pharmacy degree with you. The primary constituent of pepper is piperine, which is identical in composition to morphia, volatile oil, a resin called Chavicin. Its medicinal activities depends mainly on its pungent resin and volatile oil which is colourles, turning yellow with age, with strong colour, and not so acrid a taste as the peppercorn; it also contains starch, cellulose and colouring. Parts used:fruit (dried as peppercorns), seeds (ground as white pepper), and root (cordial tonic and stimulant) Dosage: Black Pepper 5-15 grains in powder. Piperine, 1 to 8 grains. ( another source 50 mg/kg body wt).
There are many medicinal uses of black pepper and it deserves a search by you on the web. It is antioxidant, antifungal, antimicrobial, anti-infalmmatory, analgesic, antiipyretic, antiseptic, diuretic, insecticidal, tonic (alterative), improves the boiavailability of some nutrients, expectorant, anthelminitic, carminative, aphrodisiac, emmenagogue (stimulates normal mentral flow), stimulant, digestive, produces endorphins, and anti-diabetic. It has been used historically to treat constipation, earache, gangrene, heart disease, hernia, indigestion, diabetes insomnia, insict bites, hoarseness, coughs, colds, joint pain, liver problems, lung diseases, sunburn, mouth abscesses, skin eruptions, boils, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, obesity, underweight, plegm, worms, epilepsey, nasal congestion, pain, arthritis, muscle aches, asthema pain, exhaustion, fever, to imprive circulation, cancer, as an insecticide, flatulence (gas), increase lactation, stammering, food poisoning (not proven effective), food preservative ( unproven) and ...I'm sure I've left a few out. If you have a heath question please ask a professional, remember I am just a columnist. I have picked out two properties to look at more closely and tht is black pepper's antimicrobial properties and its ability to improve the biovailability of some nutrients in part two.