Home Herbal Monograph Chilli, Red Pepper
History

Prehistoric Capsicum species have been found in burial sites in Peru, indicating that the original home of chillies may have been tropical South America. There seems to have been diffusion from there to Mexico or an independent origin in the latter center where a great diversity of the genus is found. The Portuguese introduced the chilli to India. Chilli was used as a condiment in large quantities in India, Africa, and tropical America, where the fruit develops greater pungency than in the cold regions. It has since, however, become a popular condiment the world over. In European medicine, capsicum was used to treat rheumatic and neuralgic affections. Indians considered capsicum to be stomachic, stimulant and as a promoter of the regular action of the bowels. It was externally usedas a rubefacient.

Habitat

It is cultivated throughout India from sea level to 2,000 ft. height. It is not normally found in the wild. It is sometimes found as an escape (growing through self propagation) near cultivated fields.

Morphology Description (Habit)

It is a short-lived perennial herb but is cultivated as an annual herb. The leaves are oblong and glabrous. The flowers are solitary, rarely in pairs, pure white to bluish white, very rarely violet in colour. The berries are green, maturing into yellow, orange to red grading into brown or purple, pendent, rarely erect, very variable in size (up to 20 cm long and 10 cm in dia.), shape and pungency and sometimes lobed. The seeds are white or cream to yellow, thin, almost circular, having long placental connections.

Principal Constituents

The pungent principle Capsaicin was identified from the fruits1.

Capsicoside A is also identified from the fruits2.

Pharmacology

Capsaicin (50mg/Kg, s.c.) treatment of 2-day old female rats resulted 3 months later in 81.0% decrease in mean pain response to tail-vein injection of HCl and 63.0 and 72.0 % increase in noiceptive threshold in rats with normal and inflamed paws respectively 3. Capsaicin (50mg/Kg, s.c.) treatment of 2-day old female rats resulted 3 months later in 81.0% decrease in mean pain response to tail-vein injection of HCl and 63.0 and 72.0 % increase in noiceptive threshold in rats with normal and inflamed paws respectively3.

Toxicology

It is irritant to skin but administration of capsaicin in sub-cutaneous or intraperitoneal administration into guinea pigs and rats makes them tolerant to various irritants including capsaicin4.

Indications

In the form of ointment of plasters, it is used externally for the treatment of rheumatism, lumbago and neuralgia. Capsicum wool, prepared by dissolving the oleoresin in ether and pouring it on absorbent cotton wool, is useful in rheumatoid affections. Chilli, in small doses, is a powerful stimulant and carminative.

References
  1. Chem. Abst., 1973, 79, 123698.
  2. Harborne, J.B., 1999, Phytochemical Dictionary, Taylor and Francis Ltd., London.
  3. J.Pharm.Pharmacol. 1980, 32, 656.
  4. Mathew et. al., Flavour Ind, 1971, 2, 691 & Monsereenusorn, Quart J Crude Drug Res, 1980, 18, 1.