Black peppercorns feature as remedies in Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani medicine in South Asia. In Ayurveda the fruits are valued for a range of properties including its hot, light and anti-flatulent effects. It is most frequently used to treat problems associated with the digestive system, particularly to eradicate parasitic worms and as an appetizer. Some of its traditional uses are supported by scientific evidence.
Black pepper remedies
In Ayurvedic medicine black pepper has been used to aid digestion, improve the appetite, treat coughs, colds, breathing and heart problems, colic, diabetes, anaemia and piles. Stomach ailments such as dyspepsia, flatulence, constipation and diarrhoea are all treated with black pepper, which may be mixed with other substances such as castor oil, cow’s urine or ghee.
Black pepper has been prepared in the form of pills as a remedy for cholera and syphilis, sometimes combined with other substances. It has also been used in tooth powder for toothache and an infusion of black pepper has been described as a remedy for sore throat and hoarseness. Alternatively black pepper could be chewed to reduce throat inflammation.
Externally it has been applied in paste form to boils and to treat hair loss and some skin diseases. Oil of pepper is reputed to alleviate itching. A mixture of sesame oil and powdered black pepper is described as an application for areas affected by paralysis. A mixture of black pepper and honey is regarded as a remedy for night blindness. In comatose patients black pepper has been given by inhalation. It is also believed to be useful in hepatitis, urinary and reproductive disorders. In Ayurveda and Siddha medicine, a paste is made using white pepper is applied to treat some eye diseases.
In Unani medicine, black pepper has been described as an aphrodisiac and as a remedy to alleviate colic. A preparation called ‘jawa rishai thurush’ is composed of pepper, ginger, salt, lemon juice and the plants vidanga (Embelia ribes) and mint (Menthaspecies). It has been prescribed to alleviate indigestion and stomach acidity.
Black pepper is not as widely used in conventional medicine as it is in traditional. It is sometimes added to tonics and in preparations to deliberately cause a reddening of the skin, known as rubefacients. Scientific investigations have found that black pepper may have a number of properties that could be potentially beneficial to the health.
Black peppercorns contain compounds called alkaloids. One of these is piperine. It is reported to act as a central nervous system depressant and to have anti-fever, pain relieving, anti-inflammatory and insecticidal effects. Some experiments suggest black pepper and its constituent piperine may have some potential in the treatment of vitiligo as it helps increase pigmentation in the skin.
Black pepper is also reported to have anti-fungal and anti-oxidant properties.