What is it?
In herbal medicine, as in food, we use the ripe red fruits of the Cayenne plant that, so long as it gets plenty of moisture and a warm climate, can grow to a meter tall in as little as three months and then produce an abundance of spicy, potent peppers.
How has it been used?
Cayenne is a powerful stimulant to the circulation. People who are suffering from ‘cold’ conditions such as reduced vitality, impaired blood flow, sluggish digestion, or even simply feeling too cold can all potentially benefit from Cayenne.
Cayenne is used in all kinds of folk-remedies for colds and flus', aching muscles, weakened heart health etc. A favourite old-time folk remedy for colder climates has been to sprinkle some Cayenne pepper into the socks during winter to prevent chilblains and painfully cold feet.
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Science on Cayenne
~ Human studies with Cayenne have shown that it markedly decreased the nasal congestion of patients with chronic rhinitis when given in a one month trial.
~ Cayenne has been shown to interact with a prostaglandin involved in pain transmission called substance 'P'. Two double-blind studies have shown that Cayenne decreases pain in patients suffering from nerve pain associated with diabetes when used as a cream.
~ Capsaicin (the active 'hot' ingredient in Cayenne) has been found to first stimulate and then to desensitise the warmth detectors in the hypothalamus gland, so that a drop in body temperature is evident. This phenomenon and the plentiful consumption of peppers enables people in such hot countries as Africa and Central America to actually tolerate the heat better by keeping themselves cooler.
~ European studies have shown that adding Cayenne pepper to meals has a stimulating effect on brown fat thermogenesis enabling the body to burn off more fat for metabolic energy rather than storage.
~ The New England Journal of Medicine reports that residents of Thailand have virtually no blood clot problems because of their high consumption of Cayenne.
~ Dr Bruno Fusco, Professor of internal medicine at the University of Rome tested the effects of a Cayenne based cream on 45 patients with chronic cluster headaches. The patients had to put some of the cream inside the nostril on the same side as the headache and then the nose had to be gently massaged for 15 seconds to make sure the cream was evenly distributed. Headaches vanished in 34 of the 45, 5 others got a 50% improvement and only 6 had no response. The expected side effect of mild burning in the nose was well tolerated and it was noticed that subsequent applications produced less discomfort.
Safety of Cayenne
Cayenne is a remarkably safe herb even though this seems surprising given how painful it can be when applied to delicate tissues. The burning sensation that Cayenne produces is caused by nerve stimulation not by any physical harm to the tissues themselves. The ultimate proof of the truth of this statement is shown by what happens when Pepper spray is used as a weapon against a person. Even though it must feel like their eyes are being utterly burned and blinded there is clearly no actual damage or lasting harm done to these most delicate of tissues.
Too much of anything can be a bad thing however and excess use of Cayenne may cause an overstimulation of the digestive tract. This said we again see the great paradox of Cayenne in that it has been used to treat stomach ulcers (the herb causes a reflex coating over the gut due to the increased secretions which can help the ulcer to heal). It is a very safe herb so long as it used wisely.
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I have used a lot of Cayenne in external applications to people with chronic pain, especially in their lower back or their knee or hip joints. Rubbing in some tincture of Cayenne causes a tremendously deep and penetrating heat that can help to shift a condition that may have been stuck for months if not years. I also use Cayenne plasters that stay on the affected area for up to 2 days for the same purpose.
Cayenne can improve a weakened circulation and for many people its help has been the turning point for their health. The Chinese understand the vital ‘chi’ or life force, to follow the blood and only when the blood flows evenly and abundantly can there truly be good health.
When I want to get a strong effect from this great herb then I use a lot of Cayenne in capsule form. Typically, this is for people for whom I want to warm their constitution, help their blood flow more freely or reduce their pain. To be honest the only way to know for sure whether Cayenne can really help is by taking a 'try and see' approach so if this is something you do want to try then you have to be crystal clear on the vital matter of the dose.
As is so often the case in medicine, the dose either makes the poison or the cure! I cannot advise you on a product without seeing you in person but as a general guide for the Cayenne capsules that we use in our clinic I usually start a person on 1 or 2 capsules, twice a day and then advise them to see how their body feels with it and to be prepared to add a capsule every few days to see if they get an improved effect or whether their body tells them it has had enough. The maximum dose I get to is 4 capsules twice a day.
The gradual build-up of the dose is both to check for tolerance, if you are taking too much you then you will get some excess feelings of 'heat' in your body. This may be a literal feeling of being too hot or it may feel like a kind of agitation, like you are being too stimulated. If this happens it does not necessarily mean it is the wrong herb for you, just that you are having a bit too much of it. Go back to a smaller dose but be prepared to try using a larger dose again after at least a few days. Cayenne is a herb that people can get used to but you should not rush it and you have to simply listen to your body.
I also sometimes use a tiny bit of Cayenne in a liquid formula but you must be terribly careful not to overdo this or the whole mixture becomes too hard to use. About 2 or 3 mls in a 200ml bottle is about the maximum.
Cayenne combines exceptionally well with Hawthorn for people with poor circulation or a weak heart and it can work perfectly with Juniper berry and/or Garlic for sluggish energy and sticky blood.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Cayenne is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Cayenne can particularly offer its benefits when an activation is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Sore Throat Gargle
Cayenne may be used in an incredibly potent throat gargle but be warned, this is not for the faint-hearted! This is a recipe from Dr Jane Guiltinan, chief medical officer at the John Bastyr University Natural Health Clinic in Seattle. Jane says 'this will literally knock the socks off the worst sore throat pain imaginable'.
Take half a glass of warm water, add half a squeezed lemon, a tablespoon of salt and half a teaspoon of Cayenne pepper. Gargle small amounts for as long as you are able, spit out and do not swallow. Honey, vanilla extract or maple syrup may certainly be added to improve the horrible taste. The pain relief should last for about four hours before you may need to repeat the treatment.
Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
Capsicum is a pure, energetic, permanent stimulant.
Capsicum meets the debility of young and old, but is particularly useful in old people when the body-heat is low, vitality depressed, and reaction sluggish.
Tired, painful muscles, stiffened joints, and relaxation of any part are common conditions in the elderly that are, in a measure, rectified by capsicum.
Capsicum may be used wherever a pure stimulant is indicated, in all cases of diminished vital action, and may be combined beneficially with other remedies.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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