by Aisling Badger
The following blog was originally published on Urban Moonshine
Capsicum annuum is the plant that produces the spicy fruit commonly known as Cayenne Pepper or Chili. It has been used by native cultures as food and medicine for thousands of years, and its use continues to grow in modern culture today. Early evidence suggests its cultivation may have begun in Mexico, but has been used throughout many communities around the world. While it is often used as a culinary spice, most cultures have a history of using cayenne pepper therapeutically as well.
A small fruit, cayenne is often dried and powdered, and it brings a powerful kick that is noticed in even the smallest amounts. Cayenne pepper has gained popularity for cleansing and is used in detoxifying drinks such as the master cleanse, which uses the spice to support the circulatory and digestive systems.
Cayenne’s most profound action is bringing warmth to any formula, dish or beverage. It provides initial spice that lingers on the lips but then spreads heat quickly throughout our body. A healthy dose of cayenne can be felt deep in the stomach, warming and supporting our immune system and digestive tract.
The most well-known active ingredient in cayenne is a components of its pungent oleoresin: capsaicin. The degree of pungency, calculated in heat units of dried Capsicum or the extract, determines its value of potency. Many traditional herbalists believe that cayenne is one of our most useful herbs in the medicine cabinet, not only for the circulatory and immune system but for its ability to bring to life and to wake up a formula. It acts as a catalyst and is thought to increase the effectiveness of other herbs when used with them. A catalyst like cayenne can truly wake up the vital power of a formula. This is one of the very aspects of herbal medicine that sets it apart from the conventional approach of pharmaceuticals. The intention that is put into a formula is carefully crafted with each ingredient serving a unique purpose.
With a long cold winter ahead of us, we need our cold-season allies. In traditional Chinese medicine, cayenne is considered to have a great affinity for people who always tend to be cold, and are weak in constitution. The Chinese believe the vital chi, or life force that determines our overall health, flows from our blood. We need the circulatory system to be alive and well to provide warmth and nourishment to the rest of our body. Cayenne is certainly vibrant in its action and is often one of the hidden ingredients warming us up.
Some favorite traditional blends of catalyst herbs are ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne. They complement each other equally in a way that brightens and sweetens a formula. These allies come in handy not only for weaker constitutions but during times that we feel chilled to the bone and need supportive plants that drive out the cold. Some of the oldest Eclectic formulas (crafted by 19th century herbalist-physicians) contain cayenne, even in small amounts, which goes to show that its job of adding spark to a formula has been widely recognized and respected.
Cayenne has also been used as an ointment externally to rub onto muscles as the capsicum itself creates so much heat. A favorite old-time folk remedy was to sprinkle some Cayenne pepper into a person’s socks or a hot foot bath during winter to drive out a chill and soothe the chilblains of painfully cold feet.
We chose to feature Cayenne in our Immune Zoom formula because of its catalyst effect. We wanted to increase the effectiveness of all those powerful immune supporting herbs. It shows itself with the initial flavor of spice upon taking a dose of Immune Zoom. We also chose to use it to help keep our immune system on the right track and warm us from the inside out.
To increase your use of cayenne daily throughout the winter, try blending it with cinnamon and ginger and adding it to hot chocolate or coffee, or adding it to soup stocks, or using it in fire cider for cooking. While cayenne is extremely safe, it is advised to start off with a little and increase to what feels most comfortable to you. Often a dash here or there is just what you need to spice up a tincture formula or an herbal salve.
Here’s to creating warmth within us on even the coldest winter days!