Black pepper – spice and medicine
The western world knows black pepper only as a condiment but in India it is also one of the foremost indigenous medicines. Known as Marich in Sanskrit and Piper nigrum scientifically, its popular name is kali mirach. Black pepper is a native of the Western Ghats. In the medieval era its fame as a spice attracted traders from all parts of the world. Nowadays, it is cultivated in other tropical countries also.
Right from the writings of Charaka and Sushruta to the works of other acharyas, black pepper has been amply described in almost every ayurvedic text. It is pungent in taste and light, sharp and hot in effect. It placates vata and kapha but aggravates pitta. The modern analysis of black pepper shows it as consisting of a volatile oil, a few alkaloids besides moisture, protein, minerals, fibre and carbohydrates. Rich in vitamin B-complex, it contains traces of calcium, iron and phosphorus.
Carminative, stimulant, aromatic, digestive, diuretic, tonic and anti-coagulating agent — this how the curative properties of black pepper have been described in Ayurveda. It excites the salivary and sweat glands besides killing intestinal worms and propelling a downward movement of abdominal wind.
Black pepper is also one of the few herbs which Ayurveda describes as pramathi (helping to open obstructions in different channels of the body).
Black pepper has been used for various health problems. Starting from common cough and cold, sinusitis and bronchitis to indigestion, distension of the abdomen, colic and conditions involving sluggishness of the liver, black pepper is used singularly and also in combination with other herbs. Though in almost every Indian home black pepper is present as an important culinary item, given below are some simple tips to gain its medicinal benefits.
To promote appetite and allay distension, a quarter teaspoonful of the powders of both black pepper and white jeera should be taken with butter milk an hour before lunch. Pepper is beneficial in the treatment of cold and fever. In the case of acute running nose accompanied by a headache and bodyache, taking for two or three days warm milk boiled with a pinch of the powders of pepper and turmeric is a tried home remedy. Pepper powder and common salt are an excellent dentifrice, which prevents dental caries, foul breath and painful gums.
Ayurvedic texts says that after mixing black pepper, dry ginger and piper longum (pippali or magh) in equal parts a distinctive combination is achieved which is known as trikatu. Having multiple uses like triphala, trikatu is the drug of choice for diseases like sinusitis, bronchitis, indigestion, urticaria, obesity and many other kapha and vata disorders. To be avoided in severe acidity, it can be taken mixed in honey in a dose of one to two grams twice a day.
There are numerous classic medicines showing the use of black pepper, including the famous Marichyadi Tailam, which is applied externally in various skin diseases. As a single drug dose of black pepper is half to one gram and to counter any troublesome effect, desi ghee is considered to be its anti-dote.