Saturday, April 26, 2014

Benefits of Coriander


Scientific name: Coriandrum sativum

Family: Umbelliferae (Parsley family)

Parts used: fruit/seed, root, leaf (cilantro)

Taste: pungent

Energetics: warming, drying, aromatic

Plant Properties: antispasmodic, carminative, antimicrobial, anti-fungal, diuretic, antioxidant

Plant Uses: culinary, gas, bloating, belching, hiccups, diarrhea, indigestion, anodyne, modulate blood sugar, UTIs, high blood pressure, optimize cholesterol levels

Plant Preparations: culinary, tea, pastilles, formulated with bitter herbs, curries, compress

Cilantro vs. Coriander
The Coriandrum sativum plant produces two distinct kinds of culinary and medicinal herbs. 

The leaves are commonly referred to as cilantro. They are aromatic and cooling in nature and have a decidedly different taste than the seeds. 

The fruit of the Coriandrum sativum plant are referred to as coriander seeds. They have a pungent taste that is warming and drying. Coriander seeds are a medicinal plant and a common culinary spice. 

This article focuses on coriander seeds. 

Coriander is reputably one of the oldest known medicinal spices and it has been used for at least 7,000 years. The spice was found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen (Mars) and the seeds were mentioned in the Bible. 

The seeds were a common ingredient in love potions in the middle ages and it was an official medicine in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 until 1980.

During WWII the seeds were covered in sugar and sold as candy. They have also been used in a similar manner for kids with tummy aches. 

Coriander has a long history of use for preserving meat and it was often combined with vinegar for these purposes. Corned beef is a popular example of coriander spiced meat. 

Coriander seeds are used in distilling spirits, notably the French Chartreuse. It is also a common ingredient in Belgian beers. 

People in the US eat more than 900,000 pounds of coriander a year, most of which is found in meats such as sausages and also pastries and sweets. (Aggarwal)

It’s almost impossible to use too much coriander. (In North American cuisine, some recipes call for it by the cupful!) In fact, coriander can fix a lot of errors in cooking. If you’ve gone too heavy on a particular spice in a dish, add the same amount of ground coriander, which should correct the flavor. This works particularly well when you’ve overdone a strong spice such as clove or cinnamon. 
Bharat Aggarwal
Healing Spices

Medicinal Use

Coriander is a fairly straightforward herb but it does have a few surprising uses. 

For digestion…
It is best known as a carminative herb. It has a pungent taste that is warming and drying, which makes it a perfect match for damp and cold digestive problems. 

Signs of damp and cold digestion include frequent bloating, belching, a heavy feeling in the abdomen, a cold feeling in the abdomen, loose stools with undigested food, a thick white tongue coating, scallops on the side of the tongue and fatigue. 

Coriander is an important corrigent herb. Corrigent herbs are added in small amounts to formulas to help balance them. Sometimes they are used to improve the flavor of a formula. Coriander is often added to bitter formulas to improve the taste. It is often added to laxative formulas to prevent the griping caused by herbs like senna and rhubarb. 

Regulate blood sugar… 
Coriander seeds have a mild effect on blood sugar levels and could be part of a larger protocol to help regulate blood sugar levels. 

For heart health…
Coriander seeds have numerous benefits for the heart. They have been shown to lower blood pressure, optimize cholesterol levels and they are strongly antioxidant, which can support heart health.

For infections…
Coriander is a mild antimicrobial herb. It’s been shown to be effective against fungal infections like candida. It’s also both diuretic and antimicrobial, making it a great herb for urinary tract infections.  

I’ve seen many references to coriander being used for cold and flu symptoms. Being a pungent spice we can surmise it would be beneficial for wind/cold fevers and mucus congestion. I have not found any contemporary references to herbalists regularly using coriander for colds and the flu. 

For cancer…
Coriander has been studied for its ability to prevent cancer. Promising results have been shown for preventing colon cancer. Another interesting study showed the roots as having strong antioxidant activity that could “prevent oxidative stress-related diseases”.

Botanically Speaking

Native to the Mediterranean, coriander is now found growing wild as well as cultivated all over the world. 

Depending on the climate it can grow as an annual or as a biannual. It grows from 2 to three feet high. 

The aromatic leaves (called cilantro) are compound and made up of leaflets. They grow in an alternative pattern. 

The flowers grow in an umbel and have five petals and five stamens. 

The fruits are round and a dull yellow or tan color. They measure about 2-6 mm. Coriander fruits are commonly referred to as the seeds. 

Plant Preparations

The most common way to use coriander is as a culinary spice. It is frequently used in curry mixes and North African cuisines. For best results buy the whole seeds and then grind them up fresh. The whole seeds are often roasted before grinding them. If you want to buy ground coriander buy them from a reputable source and only buy in small quantities. Ground coriander loses a lot of its flavor fairly quickly. 

Besides culinary use there are a number of other medicinal preparations for coriander seeds. 

They can be used externally as a poultice or a compress for menstrual cramps, arthritic joints, and headaches. 

Seeds can be ground into a paste and used on mouth and skin ulcers. (Khalsa, Tierra)

It is frequently added to other formulas to help improve the taste or to prevent intestinal spasms (common with laxative formulas). 

The seeds can be made into a tea. A cold infusion is recommended or a hot infusion that is covered immediately. 

The recommended dosage of coriander is  2.5 - 5 grams (Khalsa)

Coriander roots are also edible and are used in Asian cuisine. 

Special Considerations

Coriander seeds are considered safe for most people; however, a small number of people are severely allergic to coriander. 

People who are on blood-regulating medication or using insulin should have their blood sugar levels monitored if they are regularly taking coriander as it could lower their blood sugar levels. 


Coriander is a common culinary spice that has been used by humans for thousands of years. Its main use is for stagnant and cold digestion and has long played an important role in balancing formulas. Besides being used to support healthy digestion, coriander also has many benefits for the heart and for regulating blood sugar levels. 

Cited Resources

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lemon Balm Iced Tea Recipe Card

Do you have kids in your life? 

Herb Fairies is an amazing resource for inspiring children to explore herbalism. 

This book club was creating by my friends and affiliate partners John and Kimberly from LearningHerbs. It's a complete book club with stories, activities, journals and other inspiring ways for your kids to learn about plants and their remedies. 

When I first read the HerbFairies stories I was inspired to create an herbal cookbook to to along with the stories. For the next week only you can download an ebook with 13 recipes that are perfect for making with kids.  

You can download a free herbal cookbook I wrote for a limited time by clicking this link. 

I also have a special recipe card for you to download today. Here's a sneak peak at some of the fun recipes and activities included in the HerbFairies book club. 

Click on the image below to download your recipe card. 

Learn more about HerbFairies and download your free cookbook by clicking the image below. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Create the best day ever!

The Herb Fairies are here! 

Do you have kids in your life? 

Would you like to share your love of herbs with them? 

Herb Fairies is a magical tale about plants and their remedies that inspires kids to learn about herbs.

These stories were written by my friend Kimberly Gallagher, and are a fun and beautiful way to inspire the kids in your life to be interested in herbs. 

I know how much kids love these because I've seen it with my own eyes. 

While I don't have kids of my own I am an honorary auntie to Pearl who is six and a mentor to Tova who is almost 13. I've been reading these stories to Pearl and Tova for years and they both adore them. 

Last year I was spending some time with Pearl and she was coming down with a bit of a cold. She requested that we make elderberry syrup (happy to oblige!) and then we read Herb Fairies together. 

When her mom returned home that day Pearl exclaimed, "I had the best day ever! We got to make elderberry syrup and read Herb Fairies." 

I am so glad that is what makes for a "best day ever". I was also so proud Pearl knows about elderberry syrup and how much it can help her when she is sick. That is pretty cool! 

I first started reading the HerbFairies series while Kimberly was in the first stages of writing them. I was so impressed with the books that I was personally inspired to write recipes to go along with each of the stories. 

You can now download your own copy of the HerbFairies Cookbook which includes 13 of these recipes here...  


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Violet Herb - A guest post by jim mcdonald

I am very honored to be hosting this guest post from Michigan Herbalist jim mcdonald.

jim is one of my favorite herbalists to learn from. He has a rare gift of sharing his unique herbal insights through wonderful analogies and his eclectic wit. Spending time with jim means a lot of laughing as well as gaining insights into the plant world you don't hear anywhere else. 

jim offers a Four Season Herbal Intensive that gives students a core foundation in herbal energetics in western herbalism with a strong focus on bioregional herbs. 

Participants will learn how to become herbalists who make their own herbal preparations to address the health and wellness of themselves and their friends and family from the plants that grow around them 

If you are interested in expanding your herbal knowledge I highly recommend studying with jim. He has a limited amount of spaces left in his herbal intensive, contact him ASAP if you are interested.

Scientific name: any of numerous Viola species 
Family: Violaceae
Energetics: cooling, moistening
Foundational actions: primarily demulcent; astringent, bitter as indicated by taste.  Some species have aromatic flowers.

Here at my home in southeast Michigan these early March days have gotten warmer, hinting of the coming Spring, but there’s still a few feet of snow covering everything, making the promise of tender green leaves feel farther away than perhaps it is.  Recently, I’ve taken to standing at the top of my ice covered driveway and looking under the 5 feet of plowed up snow, beneath which a multitude of violets are sleeping.  I’m seriously feening those violets.  

There are many species of violet, and as a genus they are prolific… the USDA website indicates Viola species grow in every state and province in North America, though it’s important to note that 33 species are threatened or endangered in at least part of their range.  Fortunately, most species tend to grow in abundant stands, covering the ground with their (often) heart shaped leaves and welcoming spring with their delicate blossoms.  Despite the common name "violet", they flowers range from the palest of blues to white and yellow in addition to the light purple “violet” we imagine.  The heartsease pansy, Viola tricolor, offers three colors in one, but I’ve not yet seen it growing in the wild in the part of Michigan in which I live.  Interestingly, the springtime blossom of the violet isn't a reproductive flower - these appear in late summer and are an inconspicuous green.  The violet's spring blossoms have therefore been seen as a celebration of life and the rebirth of Spring, and are believed to banish despair and "comfort and strengthen the heart."

I collect leaves and flowers each spring, and have found that if you keep picking them, new leaves (though not flowers) keep growing; therefore, the plant is available for year round consumption.  Lise Wolff, of Minneapolis, prefers to collect older leaves in the summer.  I find violet sensitive to degradation, so be sure to store it in glass away from heat or light.  The demulcent and nutritive qualities are more stable, its lymphatic actions seem less so.  Violet seeds and roots contain a constituent that acts as an emetic, and are not regularly used.  As mentioned above, there are threatened and endangered viola species.  Know the status of what you collecting in your area.  “There’s a lot of them” doesn’t cut it; you can find local abundance amidst regional scarcity.

Medicinally, “violets” (on the whole, members of the genus seem broadly interchangeable) are exemplary in demonstrating that immense benefit needn’t be associated with the dramatic strength and medicinal intensity… something we should all try to keep in mind.  On a foundational level, violets nourish.  First and foremost: eat them.  They’re delicious; when the leaves are young and tender they’re sweet and green tasting; as they get older, some species develop more bitterness, perhaps some astringency.  Add them liberally to salads, and pluck some out of the ground whenever you walk by.  Oddly, for all the popularity of nourishing infusions in the herbal community, violets are still, in my opinion, too rarely prepared as such.  Violet is rich in minerals, and especially abundant in vitamins A & C. They’re a perfect alternative or addition to those who try nettles, and find its diuretic effect too drying for their constitution.  Whereas many will suggest adding marshmallow or licorice (licorice has never sounded even remotely tasty to me), I find violet a much better compliment.  Indeed, it might be the case that those with drier constitutions should think in terms of adding some nettle to their violet infusions.  To most effectively extract the nutrition from violets, add an ounce of dried leaves & flowers to a quart of water just off the boil and steep overnight.  A wondrous sippin’ tea can be made by steeping any arbitrary amount of fresh or dried leaves/flowers in hot water till cool enough to sip.  Although nutrients are probably less efficiently extracted from the fresh plant, the tea just tastes wholesome and healthful.  Mince up the fresh leaves fine to optimize extraction.   

Oh, wait… how do you know if you have a dry constitution?  That’s a good question.  Is your mouth frequently dry?  Your throat?  If you get a head or chest cold, do your mucous membranes tend to feel dry and tight, as opposed to stuffy and congested?  Is your skin dry?  Do you tend to have darker, stronger smelling urine?  Those are good indicators.  Of course, hydration is important, and getting enough good quality fats and oils in the diet.  But violet will help in addition to that, especially for dryness of the mucous membranes.

Violets contain a mucilage that accounts for a substantial portion of its medicinal merit, and this quality can easily be experienced by simply munching on the plant's delicious leaves and flowers, which will release the slippery mucilage... the more mucilaginous, the more potent the medicinal virtues associated with that.  Mucilage coats, soothes and lubricates tissues, which will ease the pain of inflammation and promote the healing of those tissues.  The fresh leaves can be chewed for a sore throat (try keeping a wad in your cheek, the way some people chew tobacco), or a tincture or tea of the plant used.  The mucilage also helps to loosen and expel mucous from the lungs when it’s too dry for coughing to expel.  A mild tea of fresh or dried violet leaves can be made into a nasal rinse by added ¼ teaspoon salt per 8 ounce cup of well strained tea, and it is wonderfully soothing when dryness accompanies inflammation of the sinuses.  This same preparation can be used as an eyewash and is really quite impressive; use it when the eyes are dry and blinking feels like someone’s scratching sandpaper over your cornea.  For both eye and nasal rinses, it combines well with a slew of other herbs, from plantain to strawberry leaves to purple loosestrife (I almost always use plantain).  Violets have a reputation for acting as a laxative; this results from the mucilage helping to lubricate the intestines, helping to ease the passage of stool if it is inhibited by dryness.  Along the way, it will help soothe corollary inflammation.  To really manifest violet’s full potential here, infusions are preferable to tinctures, as they provide a volume of liquid to bathe and coat the tissues of the digestive tract.  Topically, violet oil or salve helps ease the discomfort of hemorrhoids: apply liberally.  Sits in violet infused sitz baths are likewise helpful.  Chewed violet leaves, perhaps with a bit of honey, can be applied to corns and can sometimes soften calluses and tough skin.  They would also make an appropriate poultice for any hot, inflamed swelling, be it bite or boil.  

Violets also seem to act notably upon the lymphatics, and are quite useful in acute congested states.  If you’re just getting sick, your glands are swollen, tender and hot to the touch, violet internally and topically can be immensely helpful.  I have a tendency to use a tincture of the fresh plant for internal use, though I may add this to a tea of the dried leaves and flowers, especially if the tonsils are swollen and inflamed.  The topical applications usually feel immediately soothing.  Violet can address older, chronic, “stuck” lymphatics as well, as it “softens” hardnesses to resolve blockage.  So, those swollen, tender and hot-to-the-touch glands?  They’re not tender and hot to the touch anymore, but they are still swollen, and they feel hard when you press on them.  In such cases, I feel violet combines well with a small amount of poke; like violet, internally as tincture (1-3 drops of poke mixed into squirt of violet) and topically infused violet oil with no more than ¼  part fresh poke root oil.  Poke on its own is irritating and instigating and not infrequently causes inflammation; violet balances and buffers that effect while assisting in the resolution of the congested lymph gland.  

Violet is especially well noted for its ability to resolve swellings and hardnesses in the breasts.  Being abundant in lymphatic tissue, this makes sense, and I’ve used violet oil topically for fibrosyctic breast conditions, plugged milk ducts and mastitis.  Occasionally, if it needs something more active, I’ll add poke root oil, as above, but not as a rule… I often find violet is fine on its own and doesn’t need to be pushed to immediate action with stronger herbs.  I feel it’s important to massage the oil in, and not just rub it on, as the massage itself will assist in clearing congested lymphatics. 

There are numerous references in herbal medicine to the use of violets to treat cancer.  Hildegard von Bingen stated that it "dissolves hardnesses" within the body, possibly referring to tumors, but also possibly to fibrocystic breast conditions.  Hildegard made an ointment of violets with olive oil and billy goat tallow... this would no doubt be an excellent preparation (animal fats are as good as and sometimes better than plant fats and oils in extracting and delivering an herbs virtues), but as billy goat tallow is somewhat hard to come by nowadays, beeswax can also be used, though lard or tallow from other sources is an excellent option (look for ethical sources on Local Harvest.  Tobyn, Denham and Whitelegg state in “The Western Herbal Tradition” that the earliest reference to explicitly refer to cancer is from 1902.  Maude Grieve’s “A Modern Herbal”, in 1931, makes reference to the use of violets in treating cancer of the throat and tongue through consistent use of the strong infusion, and a salve or poultice applied externally to tumors.  From there, references abound, but frequently without any specifics or citation.  I think it need to be understood that cancer is a complex systemic disease, and we would be naive to assume that violets, or any other treatment, would be a "cure" for any or everybody’s particular case.  The “______ cures cancer” mindset is a perilous one to fall into.  Cancer isn’t one thing; there’s a huge difference between a lymphoma and breast cancer, both in the nature of the illness and in how it’s treated.  Also, we need to remember that if we’re practicing holistically, we should be focusing on individual people, not the names of illnesses.  This doesn’t mean violet might not be appropriate.  It doesn’t suggest you shouldn’t try it, if a situation indicates the use of violet.  In fact, the toll of cancer (and its treatment) often presents a state that does indicate the use of violet.  Let’s just remember to beware of the perils of name-association herbalism, and of simplifying complex conditions which necessitate nuanced and personalized care.

Violets, like meadowsweet, wintergreen and birch, contain methyl salicylate, from which aspirin is derived, though this it seems to exist in lower levels than these other herbs.  Nicholas Culpeper declared that violets "easeth pains in the head caused through want of sleep."  Johann Christopher Sauer, a colonial herbalist, suggested applying an infused oil of violet and rose for a “feverish headache”.  Freshly crushed leaves were applied similarly, as was the use of teas and syrups of the flowers, to various body parts to relieve all manners of pain and discomfort.   But to simplify this down to “Oh, you can use violet a headache instead of taking an aspirin/acetaminophen/ibuprofen” is too reductionist… you simply can’t reduce the action of a plant down to the actions of an individual constituent.  Violet does contain methyl salicylate, yes, and so will possess some pain relieving and anti-inflammatory action on account of it.  But violets use as a food staple suggests that this is not a predominant action; also pure methyl salicylate smells strongly or wintergreen: is that a predominant scent in your violets?  I’ve noted that it’s more likely to be present in older leaves, but even then it’s subtle.   If we consider traditional accounts of pain relief using violet, they are always connected to heat, and while its salicylic acid content likely plays a role in this, it’s not the beginning and end of it.  If addressing a headache, perhaps tinctures of wood betony (for tension in the head/mind) or passion flower (for relentless brain chatter) in violet tea would be a better course of action than in thinking of violet as “nature’s aspirin”.

Violet also exemplifies a quality that we simply don’t have a good term for.  Here are a few phrases you’ll find in old herbals “soothes/lifts the spirit”; “strengthens/gladdens the heart”… it’s tempting to try an insert the term nervine.  But violets aren’t really nervine.  Not quite.  Or (and I’ll preface this with an “edag!”) antidepressant.  But that’s not right either, and on the whole that’s not a helpful “action” to apply in herbalism.  What violets do for the “spirit” or “heart” is what they do for the rest of the body; they nourish, strengthen and soothe.  And, I find the physical indications for violet play out here as well.  Hot, dry temperaments (like the humoural choleric temperament) that tend to get frustrated and angry (we say “hot headed”) are particularly soothed by it.  Kids who respond to stress with screaming and yelling till they’re red in the face.  That.  Oh, and it’s not only kids who do that.  Here, violet isn’t the best acute remedy (though it does compliment skullcap well), but is better suited to a brew when you can see an outburst looming, or have noticed such events increasing in frequency… maybe as a deadline nears?  Violet is also good for people who react to stress (or perhaps life in general) with rigidity.  Violet softens.  It inspires flexibility.  Some “give”.  If the person needing it is cool by constitution (cold and dry as opposed to hot), simply add something warming (spicy or aromatic) to offset its cooling nature.

Reviewing the virtues of violet, the degree to which it is undervalued seems apparent.  William Cook, the Physio-Medicalist didn’t mention violet in his Physio-Medical Dispensatory.  Nor did the eclectic Finely Ellingwood in his American Materia Medica.  Felter and Lloyd, in King’s American Dispensatory, do address it, but offer very little information, and seem to apply the emetic properties of the seeds and roots to the plant as a whole.  So perhaps these omission played a role.  It’s not like there’s a lack of conditions characterized by heat and dryness.  It’s not like violets are obscure or difficult to find.  It’s not like tradition didn’t laud their virtues.  It’s not like there aren’t a whole lot of frustrated angry cholerics that could use some softening and gladdening.  Maybe the humble viola are just too gentle, maybe they don’t act quickly or forcefully enough?  It’s a question not only to ponder when thinking about the population at large, but also for the herbal community, where we rely on our nutritive staples but also seem increasing fascinated by the strong medicine drop dosage plants.  Paul Bergner shares that "In medieval Baghdad, the “license” to practice medicine was given as permission to practice in the marketplace… One of the rules was that an individual would be disqualified from the practice of medicine if they were observed to 'use a strong herb when a mild herb would suffice, used an herb when a food would suffice, or use a food when simple advice about lifestyle would suffice.”

I put forth violet as a mild herb and food that will more than suffice.

an assortment of admirable preparations…
Poultice: crush fresh violets and apply topically; dried violet can be blanched in hot water to reconstitute 
Fresh violet tea: mince an arbitrary quantity of fresh violet leaves and/or flowers in hot water and steep till drinkable.  Yum.
Dried violet tea: do the same as above, but with crushed dried violet
Cold infusion (to extract mucilage most efficiently): steep 1 ounce of dried violet in 1 quart cool water for 3+ hours.  Strain and drink..
Nourishing violet infusion: pour a quart of boiling water over 1 ounce of dried violet.  Steep 4-8 hours, strain, and drink (you’ll get mucilage from this preparation as well, as it will be extracted after the water cools).
Nasal/eyewash: infuse violet in water (cool water will extract more mucilage), and strain through a coffee filter to ensure no floaties (which are fine for drinking but not so fine for pouring onto your eyeball).  To each 8 fluid ounce cup, add roughly ¼ teaspoon salt.  Stir till the salt is dissolved.  Use as an eyewash, in an eye cup, in a nasal spray bottle or neti pot.
Violet flower syrup: “To 1 lb. of Sweet Violet flowers freshly picked, add 2 1/2 pints of boiling water, infuse these for twenty-four hours in a glazed china vessel, then pour off the liquid and strain it gently through muslin; afterwards add double its weight of the finest loaf sugar and make it into a syrup, but without letting it boil” (from Grieve).  You can also use honey; Tobyn, Denham and Whitelegg state “Honey of violets is more cleansing and less cooling; sugar of violets works the other way around.”
Violet oil: wilt fresh violet leaves/flowers, and infused in your choice of oil or fat for a few hours to a dayish over low heat.  Violets frequently spoil when infused in mason jars in the sun because of their high water content, and even stovetop extractions can go off if any residual water isn’t removed before bottling.  Check out Henriette Kress’s “Troubleshooting Herbal Oils tips here for tricks and tips to avoid this potential bummer.  Many tradition sources laud a combination of violet and rose flower infused oils… try it.
Tincture: make a simpler’s tincture by mincing fresh violet leaves and/or flowers and covering with 100 proof vodka in a mason jar.  Macerate at least two weeks.  Or, if you prefer, add 2 ounces of grain alcohol to every one ounce of minced fresh violet in a mason jar.  Macerate as before.  I probably wouldn’t tincture dried violets, though I imagine very recently dried violet might be fine.


Interested in learning more herbal insights from jim mcdonald? 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Black Pepper: A Powerful Medicinal Spice

Scientific namePiper nigrum

Family: Piperaceae

Parts used: berries

Energetics: heating, acrid

Plant Properties: stimulant, diaphoretic, expectorant, carminative, antispasmodic, antioxidant, antimicrobial

Plant Uses: food seasoning, fevers, mucus congestion, slow or stagnant circulation, increase bioavailability of other herbs, hemorrhoids, gentle laxative, arthritis

Plant Preparations: food spice, tea, tincture, electuary

I am black on the outside, clad in a wrinkled cover,Yet within I bear a burning marrow.I season delicacies, the banquets of kings, and the luxuries of the table,Both the sauces and the tenderized meats of the kitchen.But you will find in me no quality of any worth,Unless your bowels have been rattled by my gleaming marrow.

A riddle authored by Saint Aldhelm, a 7th-century Bishop of Sherborne

Pepper has been in common use for thousands of years in the old world and is the most popular spice of our modern day. It accounts for 1/5 of the total spice trade in the world. 

The history of pepper begins in prehistoric India and south east asia where the pepper vine grows naturally. It then spreads to the ancient Egyptians and Romans and later takes a spotlight during the height of the early European spice trade routes. 

A little history of “Black Gold”

Black pepper is native to India and southeast Asia. It appears to have been in use in India for at least the past 4,000 years, but presumably much longer. 

Our scant knowledge of peppercorns in ancient Egypt is limited to one of the greatest pharaohs of ancient Egypt, Ramesses II, who was found to have black peppercorns stuffed in his nostrils as part of the mummification process following his death in 1213 BCE. 

Flash forward a few hundred years later and we have a Roman cookbook from the 3rd century that contains peppercorn in many of its recipes although it was probably a very expensive spice at the time. 

When Rome was attacked by Attila the Hun and King Alaric I in the 5th century they demanded, amongst other things, 3,000 pounds of peppercorns each. Although Rome quickly complied with their demands they attacked the city anyway, which is thought of as the fall of Rome. 

During the middle ages peppercorns were considered an important trade good. They were referred to as “black gold” and were even used like money to pay taxes and dowries. 

What’s in a pepper? Long Pepper vs. Black Pepper vs. White Pepper vs. Green Pepper

Historically, long pepper (Piper longum) was used interchangeably with black peppercorns (Piper nigrum). Although they are in the same genus, they look dramatically different and, if you do a taste test, you’ll find that long pepper is dramatically hotter than the black peppercorns. The monograph is specifically about Piper nigrum

When buying whole peppercorns you might notice that there are red, white and green peppercorns in addition to the black peppercorns. 

All of these come from the same plant but are prepared differently to achieve the different look and slightly different taste. 

Black peppercorns are harvested when unripe, boiled briefly and then dried in the sun. 

White peppercorns are harvested when fully ripe and then have the outer flesh removed so that only the seed remains. 

Green peppercorns are harvested when unripe and then treated in a way to preserve the green coloring either through freeze drying, pickling or other means. 

Red peppercorns are harvested when fully ripe and then treated in a way to preserve the red coloring. 

You can buy rainbow pepper at Mountain Rose Herbs. By using this affiliate link you help support this blog. Thanks!

Galen, in treating of the pepper in his work on Simples, merely says of its medicinal powers, that it is strongly calefacient [warming] and desiccative [drying].

Peppercorns as Medicine

Besides adding a pleasant taste to our food there’s another reason that black pepper is found on practically every table in US restaurants. Black pepper is a warming stimulant that is especially used for supporting digestion. 

Black Pepper is a remedy I value very highly. As a gastric stimulant it certainly has no superior, and for this purpose we use it in congestive chills, in cholera morbus, and other cases of a similar character.

John Scudder 1870

As a gastric stimulant it is a useful addition to difficultly-digestible foods, as fatty and mucilaginous matters, especially in persons subject to stomach complaints from a torpid or atonic condition of this viscus.

Jonathan Pereira 
The Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, Vol. II, 3th American ed., 1853

Most of our pepper today is used as a food condiment, and often people think of it as a simple food seasoning, but historically it has a broader range of use. 

Its hot and stimulating characteristics make it useful for a variety of cold and flu symptoms such as for fevers with chills (stimulating diaphoretic) and for mucus congestion (stimulating expectorant).

A remedy from New England that also appears in Chinese folk medicine is pepper (Piper nigrum). The irritating properties of pepper stimulate circulation and the flow of mucous. It is most appropriate for a cough with thick mucous, but inappropriate for a dry, irritable cough with little expectoration. Directions: Place a teaspoon of black pepper and a tablespoon of honey in the bottom of a cup, and fill it with boiling water. Let it steep for 10-15 minutes. Take small sips as needed.

Paul Bergner
Folk Remedies Database

Black pepper quickens the circulation by increasing blood vessel size and was used for signs of stagnant circulation (such as cold hands and feet) and for arthritic pain. 

Eclectic herbalist Harvey Felter recommended it as a corrigent (companion) for herbs that cause griping or cramping (such as cold laxatives). 

Pepper promotes digestion and is said to have a gentle laxative effect especially for those with signs of cold or stagnant digestion. 

However, if someone has diarrhea, especially with symptoms of coldness or due to an infection, black pepper has been shown to be effective. 

Peppercorns Increase Bioavailability

For me, the most amazing ability of black pepper is its ability to increase the bioavailability of our herbs and foods. 

Adding a bit of black pepper to herbal formulas or to our dinner plate means that we have potentiated the qualities and nutrients. This can be crudely translated as getting the biggest bang for your buck.

This potentiating factor is most famously known for turmeric. When adding black pepper to turmeric preparations the turmeric’s bioavailability dramatically increases. This is also seen to be helpful with goldenseal and juniper berries (Buhner). 

Many of the studies done on increased bioavailability have focused on Piperine, an isolated constituent of black pepper. Besides increasing the bioavailability of herbs, it has been shown that piperine can dramatically increase absorption of selenium, vitamin B, beta-carotene and other nutrients.

Pungent herbs have been shown to generally enhance the absorption of drugs in humans andanimals due to increased blood perfusion of the gastrointestinal mucosa with increased local circulation and enhanced digestive secretions. For example, the pungent alkaloid piperine found in the two peppers of the trikatu combination (black pepper (Piper nigrum) fruit, long pepper (Piper longum) fruit, and ginger (Zingiber officinale) root) increases absorption of curcumin, phenytoin, propranolol, theophylline.

Francis Brinker
2010 AHG Proceedings 

Long Pepper (Piper nigrum)

Trikatu - A Famous Ayurveda Formula

Black pepper originally comes from India, where it has been in use for at least four thousand years.

Trikatu is a popular formula in Ayurveda that is comprised of equal parts of black pepper (Piper nigrum), long pepper (Piper longum), and Ginger (Zingiber officinale). 

Trikatu is used to increase warmth, increase circulation and break up congested mucus.  It is also commonly added in small amounts to other formulas. Not only does this help to increase bioavailability of the herbal formula, it also acts as an activator or diffusive herb similar to Samuel Thompson’s use of cayenne. 

What we’re just beginning to figure out about black pepper’s ability to increase the bioavailability of nutrients has long been known and practiced in Ayurveda.

Botanically Speaking

Black pepper is a perennial woody vine that grows in the tropics. It reaches up to 13 feet in height and grows on supports such as trees, poles or trellises. 

The leaves are alternate and heart shaped. 

The flowers are small and grow on spikes. 

The fruits develop after a plant reaches 3-4 years in maturity. The fruits grow in what is botanically referred to as a drupe (same as raspberries). They are most often harvested when unripe (green). 

Plant Preparations

Since black pepper dramatically increases the bioavailability of many nutrients, I like to have it freshly ground onto every meal I eat. As a result pepper is probably my most used herb. 

To get the most out of your pepper only buy whole peppercorns and then grind them as needed. Once they are ground the aromatics evaporate quickly, making old ground pepper of little benefit. 

I buy my pepper from Mountain Rose Herbs. If you use this affiliate link to buy your own black pepper you'll be helping to support this blog. Thank you! 

Looking for a quality pepper grinder?  Here's the pepper grinder we use. It even works for grinding the really hard long pepper. 

The dosage of pepper is anywhere from 1-15 grams. 

Peppercorns can be extracted well in alcohol. Michael Moore recommends the tincture at 1:5 with 65% alcohol. The recommended dosage is 5-15 drops. 

Special Considerations

Large doses could cause nausea and digestive upset. 

Piperine, the extract of black pepper, has been studied extensively and is readily available for purchase. This preparation has far more special considerations than the whole herb. The use and considerations of this extract are beyond the scope of this monograph. 

Further Resources
Herbal Antibiotics by Steven Buhner


CRC Handbook of Medicinal Spices by James Duke

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