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Botanical Description & Habitat

Capsicum frutescens


Common Names

African pepperAmerican pepper
Bird pepperCapsicum
Chili pepperCockspur pepper
Goat's pepperPot's pepper
Red pepperSpanish pepper
Zanzibar pepper

America, Africa, Japan, and India; tropical regions.


Cayenne is usually a perennial plant, but it is an annual when cultivated outside tropical regions. The stem is branched and glabrous, growing from 2-6 feet in height. The leaves are egg-shaped, wide at the base and tapering to a point at the apex. White-to-yellow flowers bloom alone, or in groups of 2-3, from April to September. The fruit may vary in shape and size, but is often straight, oblong, and red or yellow in color.

Medicinal Parts
Fruit - ripe, dried

Historical Properties & Uses

Cayenne is one of the more popular herbs. It is used as a general stimulant, primarily affecting the gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems. In small amounts, it stimulates the appetite, increases the flow of saliva and other digestive juices, and increases the rate and efficiency of nutrient absorption. Cayenne reduces cholesterol levels and decreases the blood's tendency to form clots.

Cayenne can either prevent, cause, or exacerbate ulcers. Infrequent or non-users of cyenne are advised to gradually build their tolerance for it over a period of several months. Ingestion of too much too soon can irritate the stomach and intestines and worsen or create ulcerations. Frequent users, on the other hand, should enjoy increased resistance to ulcers and other gastrointestinal problems. People on high-protein, low-fat diets may display an increased tolerance for the herb.

Cayenne is both a hypotensive and a cardiac tonic. It has bacteriostatic and analgesic properties. While cayenne's toxicity is very low, that of capsaicin, one of its active components, is quite high if administered alone.

Paprika is approved by the German Commission E for muscle spasms.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Method of Action

Cayenne and cholesterol
In animals whose diets are high in cholesterol, cayenne exerts a significant hypocholesterolemic effect that does not occur in animals fed a high fat, low protein diet. The anticholesterolemic effect is probably due to a vanilly moiety, since this configuration is shared by two other herbs that have a similar effect on cholesterol: ginger and turmeric.

Cayenne is fibrinolytic
The ingestion of cayenne with a meal significantly increases fibrinolysis for a period of 30 minutes following the meal.

Researchers have noted several indigenous peoples, including the New Guineans, East Africans, South African Bantu, Nigerians, Melanesians, Koreans, Indians, Mexicans, and Thai enjoy a greater degree of fibrinolytic activity and a correspondingly lower incidence of thrombosis than do Caucasians, even if they live side by side. This effect has been traced to cayenne ingestion.

Cayenne and ulcers
It appears capsaicin contributes to the severity of experimentally induced ulcers and that capsicum does not cause ulcers nor interfere with the efficacy of normal ulcer treatment regimens. Experimental work has not shown cayenne contributes to the healing of ulcers.

Cayenne's cardiovascular actions
The dominant cardiovascular effect of cayenne is best described as tonic: it tends to increase cardiac output in most species, including humans, to increase capillary resistance, to strengthen the peripheral vasculature, to stimulate cardiac output, and generally to contribute to overall cardiovascular health.

Cayenne inhibits several strains of bacteria and fungi in a dose dependent manner. The active principle appears to be capsicidin, a saponin.

A subcutaneous injection of cayenne extract desensitized the area of the skin to all further painful chemical stimuli. Capsaicin is chemically very similar to eugenol, the active principle in clove oil, which is a good anesthetic in its own right. Capsoicin selectively stimulates and then blocks the transmission of pain sensations from the skin and mucous membranes. Capsaicin-sensitive nerves contain substance P. Capsaicin pretreatment abolishes airway edema induced by cigarette smoke and other irritants. It also depletes substance P from the alveolar nerve thereby anesthetizing dental pulp.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Possible Interactions
The antituberculosis activity of cayenne may potentiate the adverse effects of other antituberculosis drugs, especially ethionamide.

Adrenocortical responsiveness to cayenne may be impaired by the use of amphotericin B. Conversely, the fibrinolytic action of cayenne may be potentiated by anticoagulant drugs.

The psycho and physiostimulant properties of cayenne may be assumed to interact in presently unknown ways with other psychoactive central nervous system and peripheral nervous system stimulants and depressants.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

No toxicity was evident from feeding Tabasco sauce to rats for 90 days.

The best-known adverse effect comes from contact with mucous membranes e.g. eyes, so pepper is a common component of many self-defense sprays. Blindness and irritation may last 30 minutes without permanent damage.

Animals and humans fed low protein, high fat diets have developed ulcers or experienced other forms of cell damage when cayenne is added to the diet in large amounts for extended periods. Signs of adaptation begin to occur after several weeks.

Many toxicological studies on cayenne utilize the main constituent, capsaicin. This practice has confused the toxicity issue immensely, since it appears the effects of capsaicin may often, but not always, differ substantially from those of the whole herb. For example, feeding cayenne to rats at levels of 0.5, 1.0, 2.0 and 5.0%, in a synthetic diet, caused no adverse effect on growth, but caused a significant increase in food intake, weight gain and food efficiency ration; equivalent amounts of capsaicin lowered significantly the food intake, weight gain and food efficiency ratio.

The toxicity of cayenne is a complicated issue. In its simplest terms, caution should be used if ingesting large amounts. On the other hand, the toxicity of this herb has been grossly overstated. First, there is a built in natural pungency that discourages overdosing. Second, tolerance builds up with use, so larger amounts can be taken without untoward effects. The use of capsules has to some degree circumvented the natural safeguards. To avoid toxic symptoms when using capsules, the following suggestions, grounded in basic research, are offered:

1. A new or infrequent user should start small, 1-2 capsules maximum per day, preferably sprinkled on food.

2. A high protein, low fat diet will counteract any toxic effects to the gastrointestinal tract.

3. Gradually increase dose over a period of months.

4. Try to find and use "Cool Cayenne," a product that delivers the cayenne in a manner that is non-irritating to the gastro-intestinal tract.

5. A new or infrequent use should avoid using cayenne in the presence of ulcers, except in very small amounts.

6. A moderate or heavy user should not develop ulcers, but if he does, he should back off on the amount of cayenne used by at least half.

To reduce any undesirable GI burning, remove the seeds from the pepper pods before ingestion (Prevost, 1982) and/or consume bananas along with the peppers. (Roberts, 1982)

In individuals without ulcers, cayenne use, if undertaken in the manner prescribed above, should help protect the mucosa against ulcers.

Paprika has approval status by the German Commission E.

The German Commission E recommends a limited duration for the topical use of paprika of not more than 2 consecutive days and a 14 day interval for application in the same location.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

The Lawrence Review of Natural Products. Jul, 1993.

Prevost, RJ: Preventing capsicum colon. Lancet, 1982, 8277(1):917.

Roberts, RM: Trouble with chillies. Lancet, 1982, 8270(1):519.

Preparation & Administration

Three times a day

Dried fruit
30-120 mg

1:20 in 60% alcohol, 0.3-1 ml.

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E.

Recommended daily dosages in Germany are as follows:

0.02 - 0.05% capsaicinoids (semi-liquid)
0.005 - 0.01% capsaicinoids (liquid)
10 - 40 g capsaicinoids per square centimeter in poultices

The German Commission E recommends a limited duration for the topical use of paprika of not more than 2 consecutive days and a 14 day interval for application in the same location.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


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Collier, H.O.J., W.J. McDonald-Gibson & S.A. Saeed. Stimulation of prostaglandin biosynthesis by capsaicin, ethanol, and tyramine. The Lancet, March 22, 1975, P. 702.

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Easantapruck, S., S. Poolsuppasit & O. Piboonnukarintr. New England Journal of Medicine, 290, 1259-1260, 1974.

Editorial: Hot peppers and substance. Lancet, 1983, B335:1,198.

Fukuda, N. & M. Fujiwara. Effect of capsaicin on the guinea-pig isolated atrium. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 21, 622-623, 1969.

Gal, I. Neuere angaben ueber capsicidin. Experientia 21(7), 383, 1965.

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Goodpasture, H. et.al. 1972. Clinical correlations during amphotericin B therapy (abst). Annals of Internal Medicine, 76. p. 872.

Guillermina, Y. Anestesia local producida por el chile (capsicum annuum var. acuminatum). Rev. Inst. Salubridad y Enferm. Trop., 17(1), 49-55, 1957.

Hansten, P.D. 1979. Drug Interactions, 4th ed. Lea & Febiger, Phila.

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Jordanoff, M. Untersuchungen ueber die bactericide wirkung des scharfen paprika. Jahresbericht Univ. Sofia, Vet Med Fakultat, 8, 55-74, 1927.

Kastrup, E. ed. 1981. Drug Facts and Comparisons, 1982 edition. Facts and Comparisions Division, J.P. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia (St. Louis).

Kumar, N., et.al. Do chillies influence healing of duodenal ulcers.? British Medical Journal, 288, 1803-1804, 16 June, 1984.

The Lawrence Review of Natural Products. Jul, 1993.

List, P. & L. Hoerhammer. 1969-1976. Hagers Hanbuch der Pharmazeutischen Praxis, vols. 2-5. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Makara, G.B. Effect of capsaicin on experimental ulcer in the rat. Acta Med Acad Sci Hung, 21(2), 213-216, 1965.

Martin, E. Drug Interactions Index, 1978/79. J.B. Lippincott Co., Phila.

Meyer-Bahlburg, H.F.L. 1972. Pilot studies on stimulant effects of capsicum spices. Nutr. Metabol. 14. pp. 245-254.

Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.

Nopanitaya, W. Long term effects of capsaicin on fat absorption and growth of the rat. Growth, 37, 269-279, 1973.

Nopanitaya, W. Effects of capsaicin in combination with diets of varying protein content on the duodenal absorptive cells of the rat. Digestive Diseases, 19(5), 439-448, 1974.

Porszasz, J. & N. Jancso. Studies on the action potentials of sensory nerves in animals desensitized with capsaicine. Acta Physiol. Acad. Sci. Hungaricae, 16(4), 299-306, 1959.

Prevost, RJ: Preventing capsicum colon. Lancet, 1982, 8277(1):917.

Roberts, RM: Trouble with chillies. Lancet, 1982, 8270(1):519.

Sambiah & Satyanarayana. Hypocholesterolemic effect of red pepper and capsaicin. Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, 18(8), 898-899, 1980.

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Skofitsch, B., J. Donnerer & F. Lembeck. Comparison of nonivamide and capsaicin with regard to their pharmacokinetics and effects on sensory nerves. Arzneimittel-Forschung, 34(I)(2), 154-156, 1984.

Srinivasan, M.R., et. al. Influence of red pepper and capsaicin on growth, blood constituents and nitrogen balance in rats. Nutrition Reports International, 21(3), 455-467, 1980.

Stevenel. 1956. Le piment rouge element therapeutique tre oublie, contre l'anorexia, la congestion du fole et les troubles vasculaires (hemorroides, varices). Bulletin Soc. Pathol. Exot., 49(5), 841-843,

Toda. et. al. Cardiovascular effects of capsaicin in dogs and rabbits. J of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, 181(3), 512-521, 1972.

Visudhiphan, S., et. al. The relationship between high fibrinolytic activity and daily capsicum ingestion in Thais. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 35(6), 1452-1458, 1982.

Wasantapruek, S., et.al. May 30, 1974. Enhanced fibrinolytic activity after capsicum ingestion. The New England Journal of Medicine. pp. 1259-1260.

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Capsicum frutescens

? Southwest School of Botanical Medicine


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