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Tasty, spicy chile peppers also pack a pain-relieving punch.
October 25, 2005 11:24 AM
hile peppers have a pretty fiery reputation, but you won’t get burned health-wise if you indulge regularly.
That’s because chilies contain capsaicin, a substance that acts as a potent inflammation inhibitor. Researches are studying capsaicin as an effective pain remedy for arthritis, psoriasis and diabetic neuropathy when taken internally (topical capsaicin is being used to treat osteoarthritis pain).
You can thank capsaicin for the characteristic spiciness of chiles, so the hotter the pepper the more capsaicin (and pain-relieving power) it contains. Among the hundreds of varieties of peppers, habanero ranks the highest on the thermometer, followed by jalpenos; milder types include pimentos and cherry peppers.
Capsaicin has also been reported to help clear congestion, reduce blood cholesterol, prevent stomach ulcers, boost immunity and help you lose weight. Need more of a reason to eat chiles? According to Coyote Joe, author of On the Chile Trail: 100 Great Recipes from Across America, they cause the brain to produce endorphins, those happy little feel-good chemicals. That’s why you reach for another chip with burning-hot salsa when your mouth feels like it’s on fire.
Chiles were first “discovered” by Christopher Columbus when he landed in the new world about 500 years ago, bringing them back to Europe as a treasure for the queen of Spain; native peoples of Central and South America had been eating and cultivating chiles for thousands of years.
Here in the US, chiles are a staple of popular cuisines like CAJUN and Tex-Mex, but they can liven up pretty much anything- from squash to salad to salmon. If variety is the spice of life, chiles can also spice up any variety of food you choose.
June 23, 2005 10:49 AM
How many of us give the red hot chile pepper the respect it d e s e rves? Mo re often than not, most of us re g a rd red pepper or Capsicum as nothing more than the spice added to give CAJUN and Mexican cuisine its piquant kick. Technically speaking, caye n n e pepper is the strongest red pepper variety of the Capsicum family, with paprika being the mildest.
Throughout this discussion, the terms capsicum and cayenne pepper will be used interchangeably. For our purposes, it’s important to know that herbalists have designated both of these terms for the same botanical agent. Health practitioners have known for centuries that Capsicum is much more than a culinary spice. Because they considered it a “ h o t” plant, Chinese physicians utilized it for physiologic conditions that needed stimulation. Capsicum or Cayenne Pepper is one of the few herbs that can be measured by its BTU or thermal units. In other words, it is a hot and stimulating pepper plant that can generate heat.
Recently, new and very valuable medicinal uses for Capsicum h a ve emerged through scientific inquiry. The red chile pepper is experiencing a rediscovery among health care practitioners, who have only just begun to uncover its marvelous therapeutic actions. It has been referred to as the purest and most effective natural stimulating botanical in the herbal medicine chest. The most recent clinical findings re g a rding Capsicum will be explored in our discussion with special emphasis on Capsicum’s ability to heal ulcers, protect stomach mucosa and alleviate peripheral pain. Unquestionably, Capsicum exe rts potent physiological and pharmacological effects without the side-effects commonly associated with powerful medicinal drugs. Ironically, in the past, Capsicum’s classification as a hot and spicy substance has done it a disservice. Because Capsicum is fiery and pungent, it is frequently regarded as dangerous and unpalatable. To the contrary, if it is used properly, Capsicum can be perfectly safe and impressively effective against a wide variety of physical disorders ranging from indigestion to ulcers to migraines. It s ability to lower blood cholesterol, boost circulation and even step up metabolism are worth serious consideration. In addition, its value for mental afflictions like depression must also be assessed. In a time when the notion of treating disease after the fact is more the rule than the exception, Capsicum offers protection from infectious invaders by boosting the effectiveness of the immune system. Today, amidst the over prescription of antibiotic drugs, Capsicum emerges as a potent immune fortifier, antioxidant and infection fighter.
A powerful compound called capsaicin is what gives Capsicum its bite and is also responsible for most of its beneficial effects on human physiology.1 The hotter the pepper, the higher its content of capsaicin.2 The re m a rkable pro p e rties of capsaicin will be discussed and documented clinical evidence supporting the use of capsaicin will be delineated. It is important to realize in evaluating this herb that while it can be used alone, Capsicum is frequently added to herbal combinations to potentiate their overall action. This fact alone attests to the powerful but safe stimulant action of Capsicum. Stimulation is thought to be one of the keys to swift and complete healing. Capsicum is ascending in prestige and is regarded as a modernday botanical which is accruing new and impressive credentials. The fruit of this particular pepper plant is a valuable herbal treasure. It is vital to our health that we inform ourselves about its many medicinal uses.
CAPSICUM (CAPSICUM ANNUUM)
Common Names: Cayenne Pepper, Red Pepper, African Bird Pepper, Bird Pepper, Spanish Pepper, American Red Pepper Plant Parts: Fruit Active Compounds: alkaloids (capsaicin), fatty acids, flavonoids, volatile oil, carotene pigment Nutritional Components: Capsicum is rich in Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and Zinc, two nutrients which are vital for a strong and healthy immune system. It is also high in vitamins, A, C, rutin (a bioflavonoid), beta carotene, iron, calcium and potassium. Capsicum also contains magnesium, phosphorus, sulphur, B-complex vitamins, sodium and selenium. The nutritional breakdown of Capsicum is as follows:
Pharmacology : Capsaicin (active component) contains over 100 distinct volatile compounds.3 It also contains capsacutin, capsaicin, capsantine, and capsico. Character: analgesic, antibacterial, antioxidant, antipyretic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aromatic, astringent, blood thinner, cardiovascular tonic, carminative, circulatory stimulant, diaphoretic, hemostatic, herbal accentuator, nerve stimulant, stomachic and tonic (general) Body Systems Targeted : cardiovascular, circulatory, gastrointestinal, nervous, integumentary, skeletal, metabolic Herbal Forms: loose dried powder, capsulized, tincture, infused oil, ointment or cream Usage : Capsicum can be used liberally in a variety of forms. Capsulized dried Capsicum is probably the easiest and most practical way to take the herb. Commercial ointments can be purchased which contain from 0.025 to 0.075 percent capsaicin for the treatment of pain and psoriasis. Dried Capsicum can be mixed in hot water or can be used in tincture form, which can be added to water or juice. Safety: Capsicum is generally recognized as safe in the United Sates and has been approved as an over-the-counter drug. A four week feeding study of Capsicum concluded, “It appears that red chile is relatively non-toxic at the doses tested in male mice.”4 The seeds of the fresh Capsicum plant should not be ingested. Doses of Capsicum should be followed precisely as prescribed to avoid gast rointestinal upset. Pregnant women or breast feeding mothers should avoid using Capsicum. Initial use of topical Capsicum can result in some skin irritation or burning; howe ve r, clinical tests have found that this diminishes with continued application. Avoid direct contact with eyes or other mucous membranes in general.