Pepper in traditional medicine and health care

Pepper is one of the most important and unavoidable drugs in Ayurveda, Unani and Sidha, the Indian systems of Medicine. It is used as single drug or in combination with long pepper (Piper longum) and dry ginger (Zingiber officinale) the combination is popularly known as “Trikatu” — the three acrids which cures the three disordered humours-Vata, Pitta and Kapha and helps to maintain normal health.

Maricham, the Sanskrit word for pepper literally means that which facilitates numbness of the tongue (“Mriyate Jihwa Anena Iti Maricham” i.e. the pungent property of the drug obstructs the sensory nerve endings of the taste buds). It also has the property of dispelling poison (“Mriyate Visham Anena”). The various Sanskrit synonyms of the drug given in ayurvedic texts of India describe its characters and different uses. According to these classics, pepper is pungent and acrid, hot, rubefacient, carminative, dry corrosive, alternative, antihelminthic and germicidal. It promotes salivation, increases the digestive power, gives relish for the food and cures cough, dyspnoea, cardiac diseases, colic, worms, diabetes, piles, epilepsy and almost all diseases caused by the disorders of vata and pitta. Pepper is prescribed in cholera, flatulence, diarrhoea and various gastric ailments. It is employed as antiperiodic in obstinate fevers, particularly malarial fever, as an alternative in paraplegia and arthritic diseases, as an aromatic stimulant in cholera, weakness following fevers, vertigo, coma and as a stomachic in dyspepsia and flatulence. An infusion of pepper forms a useful stimulant gargle in relaxed sore throat, hoarseness, toothache and inflammation. Pepper is useful in diseases of the spleen, pain in the liver and muscles, leucoderma, lumbago and paralysis. In obstinate intermittent fever and flatulent dyspepsia, 7 gms of pepper is boiled in 1.5 kg of water until it is reduced to its quarter, allowed to cool during the night and taken in the morning. Externally it is valued for its rubefacient properties and as a local application for relaxed sorethroat, piles, alopacia and some skin diseases. Pepper is esteemed as a digestive tonic and is believed to be diuretic, emmenagogue and a good stimulant in cases of bites of venomous reptiles.

While explaining the properties and mode of preparations of different food articles to be used regularly to maintain normal health in the Anna Swaroopa Vijnana, Vagabhata advises to use pepper as a dietary adjuvant. It is used as an aromatic appetising agent in the preparation of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. It helps proper digestion without upsetting stomach. Ayurveda prescribes pickles made of tender fruits of pepper with lime juice and salt.

There are many other popular therapeutic preparations using pepper. According to Charaka, powder of pepper mixed with honey and ghee kept on the tongue and dissolved slowly in the mouth relieves all kinds of cough. Water boiled with pepper powder is a remedy for chronic dysentery. According to Vagabhata, it is effective against night blindness; a paste made with black pepper and buttermilk is recommended for external application. Administering pepper powder with butter removes oedema in children. Undernourished children gain strength by taking this paste regularly.

A combination of pepper, milk and oil called Marichadi tailam applied externally is effective in curing rhinitis or coryza. An ayurvedic combination called Sheetajwari Kashayam with the same recipe is prescribed for internal use in different types of intermittent fevers. Pepper is a major ingredient in many other preparations like Jeerakadi Kashayam, Vilangadi Kashayam, Nayanamrithavarthy etc. which are administered in fevers, eye diseases etc. respectively. Externally it is applied to boils in the form of paste, relaxed sore-throat, piles, alopacia and other skin diseases. Rubbing the scalp with a mixture of pepper, onion and salt will make the hair grow again upon the bald patches caused by ringworm. Traditionally it is claimed to have excellent value in conditions simulating malaria and also considered to be a prophylactic for malaria. Five fruits of pepper along with ten Tulsi leaves chewed occasionally is advised for malaria. Indigenous practitioners use it in appendicitis, cholera and elephantiasis: 2–5 gm powder or 10–15 ml decoction along with 20 ml. honey is advised to be taken twice daily in such cases. Pepper powder mixed thoroughly with honey, ghee, sugar/ jaggery and lime juice is an effective treatment for intermittent fever. A decoction made by boiling pepper, Tulsi leaves (Ocimum tenuiflorum) and dry ginger is a very popular remedy for common cold, cough and influenza. A paste of pepper with milk is applied externally against itching and skin diseases. Fumes of pepper are made to be inhaled by epileptic patients during convulsions. Pepper powder mixed with fresh ghee and taken internally cures itching due to skin diseases on fingers, knees, hips etc.

White pepper is specially used in eye diseases. It is recommended as a tonic and used in toxic conditions more than the black variety. Pepper is also found useful in beauty and body care. It is a tightener and toner, helps curing acne and cares for hagged and sallow skins. It activates blood circulation and stimulate follicles.

There are a number of home remedies in India known to grandmas using pepper, which are highly effective and rather inexpensive.

a) Milk boiled with pepper powder and sugar-candy and taken at night after dinner will facilitate better assimilation of food and thereby formation of Rasadhatu, the first body tissue directly formed from the essence of food.

b) For cataract, itching in the eyes etc., pepper ground in the juice of tamarind leaves is applied in the eyes.

c) For severe headaches, pepper paste prepared in water is applied on the fore-head. Application of the same paste on eyelids eliminates inflammation.

d) Black pepper powder with honey and saliva of horse applied on eyes is a good remedy for hypersomnia.

e) Powder five to seven black pepper and mix with half a teaspoon of butter and one teaspoon of honey. Place the paste in the mouth and chew it while swallowing saliva. This is repeated daily on empty stomach for a period of two to three months. This treatment will clean the circulatory system and also coronary blood vessels.

f) After frying well three or four leaves of pepper plant in gingelly oil, kept it over the vertex in luke warm condition. After an hour the leaves are removed and oil is wiped off with dry cloth. By this application, congested cold and neuralgic pains are completely removed and nose is cleared enabling normal breathing.

g) Powder of black pepper boiled with gingelly oil and applied to the head before bath prevent the attack of coryza and neuralgic pain,

h) The fresh stem of the pepper plant heated over a hearth or steam and the juice extracted and mixed with a little salt and used as an ear drop in the luke warm state cures ear ache and heals oozing from the ear.

i) Two teaspoons of black pepper powder and one teaspoon of cumin powder are boiled in a litre of water. After the volume is reduced to half a litre, add juice of one or two lime and little salt for taste. Flavour them with a few curry leaves and mustard seeds. This drink, which is most relishing and carminative, removes all sorts of neuralgic pains and colds and is useful in all debilitated conditions even during and after fever,

j) A mixture of black pepper powder, curd and jaggery is given orally against sinusitis and rhinitis at the initial stage,

k) Grind 3 gms. of black pepper with the juice of Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) leaves. Take it repeatedly to eliminate cough and sputum. A very small dose of this may be given to children for the same effect.

l) Take the paste of black pepper powder, honey or sugar candy and butter daily to eliminate chronic cough,

m) Toast one spoon of black pepper and grind with Tulsi leaves., boil the paste with one cup of water and allow to cool. After sweetening, drink the liquid thrice a day for stimulating digestion,

n) Take equal parts of black pepper and ginger and boil with eight glasses of water. Reduce the volume and take 1 or 2 spoons of this extract with honey 2 or 3 times a day to control several types of fever,

o) Grind a few black pepper corns with one teaspoon of saltless butter. Take this preparation in small repeated doses against food poisoning, vomiting and diarrhoea.

p) Pepper in combination with Cissampelos pareira has been claimed to be useful in birth control when given immediately after delivery.

The above are a few of the varied uses of pepper. As the world of medicine is now accepting the natural product to be safe in treating diseases, there is every possibility that pepper will see further heights as a valuable remedy for many illnesses.


Selections from the book: “Black Pepper. Piper nigrum”. Edited by P.N.Ravindran. Series: “Medicinal and Aromatic Plants — Industrial Profiles”. 2000.