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Capsicum spp

Capsicum spp.

Taxonomy: Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida, Order: Solanales Family: Solanaceae, Genus: Capsicum, Species: spp., Varities: All

Common Names: Cayenne, African Pepper, Bird Pepper, Chili Pepper (1)






History           Ecological Characteristics           Propagation

Medicinal Uses

Non-medicinal Uses        Toxicology             Bibliography


By: Yvonne Tso, Bridgette Love, Rocio Cisneros Ibañez, and Jamie Ross



     The word cayenne may be derived from the name the Tipi Indians of northeastern South America used for this pepper, kian (4). Capsicum, the family name, is believed to come from the Greek word kapto, which means, “I bite” (9). The Caribe Indians first introduced it to the western world when Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Hispañola in search of spices (8). This plant was mistakenly called pepper, because of the hot flavoring that it shares with black pepper, which explorers, such as Columbus, were in search of. It is the Portuguese who are responsible for bringing cayenne to the rest of the world from its native South America. It was brought into Britain in 1548 by way of India (9). It is now used in many cultures and is one of the most popular spices in the world.

    Cayenne has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal plant.

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From Texas A&M Bioinformatics Working Group's
Vascular Plant Image Gallery (2)

Cayenne pod

Photo by Rease Harker

Ecological Characteristics:

Capsicum spp: cayenne pepper is found in tropical regions such as South and Central America. Today cayenne pepper is grown throughout the world in sub-tropical and tropical countries, greenhouses or in your back garden annual in warm climates (6).



According to Dominion Herbal College webpage,

Capsicum frutescens:

“Perennial shrubs to 2 m (6’) with woody trunk. Leaves various usually elliptical up to 10 cm (4”) long. Flowers white to yellowish in groups of 2 or 3 and followed by small, upright, fiery, green fruits that ripen to red.”

Capsicum annuum:

“Herbaceous annual or biennial 60 70 cm (24-03”) tall with simple ovate leaves, bell-shaped solitary white flowers are followed by hollow fruits up to 15 cm (6”), which ripen to varying color.”

Capsicum microcarpum:

“Tender annual to 2 m (6’), with ovate to lancelate leaves up to 3 m (1 º) long with white flowers and very pungent, red, pea-sized fruit. Possibly the ancestor of the peppers (6).”

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“Seeds should be sown in light, well-drained soil in a warm, sunny greenhouse (60 degrees minimum) 6 to 8 weeks before they are to be set out. They should be set out when the weather is really warm and settled. The seeds take 16 to 20 weeks to sprout. Transplant the seedlings, as soon as they are large enough to handle, into flats, 2 to 3 inches apart or individually in small pots. In either case, use well-drained soil. The plants must never suffer through drought or low temperatures. Harden them off gradually before planting them outside” (2).







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Photo by Yvonne M. Tso

A cross section of a cayenne pod

Photo by Yvonne M. Tso

Medicinal Uses

Cayenne Pepper is a plant that has many medicinal uses; it covers a wide range of ailments. Most of the medicinal properties it has are due to the chemical that gives it its flavor found in the fruit and seeds. This chemical is known as capsaicin. Capsaicin is said to do many miraculous things medicinally. One of the most miraculous is probably its ability to prevent or even stop a heart attack (7). It increases heart action without raising blood pressure (3). It also thins your blood and reduces the risks of suffering a stroke (11). Another good property that cayenne possesses is it acts as an internal disinfectant it can detoxify the colon and help with eliminative functions (10). Some other medicinal uses of cayenne are of pain relievers, by being put on topically to the area. If you have a cut it can stop the bleeding, or it can be taken internally to relieve pain from stomach ulcers by creating more mucous and coating the wall of the stomach. Capsicum also has properties, which can knock out cold and flu miseries, or when used as a gargle can relieve sore throat pain. People with diabetes may take it to lower their blood sugar levels. There are so many uses of Capsicum some of which are not written here. Cayenne is also very high in vitamin C so it acts as a preventative against respiratory infections and can help strengthen the immune system (11). It has also been proposed that the capsaicinoids might be useful in fighting cancer (5). So cayenne is an all around great medicinal plant that can be used for a very large variety of whatever might be ailing you.    

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Non-medicinal Uses

The most well known non-medicinal use of cayenne is its use in adding a flavor or kick to food. Another way it is used non-medicinally is it is said that if you sprinkle it into your socks on a cold winters day it will keep your feet warm (13). The peppers of the plant when dried and strung into ristras can be and are used as decoration.






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  Photo by Yvonne M. Tso    



The most important chemicals found in cayenne are the capsaicinoids that give cayenne its medicinal properties as well as the hot flavor of the peppers (5). There are two capsaicinoids that are responsible for the majority of the capsaicinoid content of a pepper. The names of these compounds are capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin varying only in one chain by the presence or absence of a carbon-carbon double bond (12)(See structure below).

Cayenne peppers also contain many nutrients including Vitamin A, B and C, Beta Carotene, Iron, Phosphorus, Calcium, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin (5, 13).

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Capsaicin’s “heat” is measured in Scoville Units, which correspond to about sixteen units per part-per –million. Pure capsaicin would be given the Scoville rating of 16,000,000.

Pepper Type

Scoville Units



Scotch Bonnet


Jamaican Hot




Cayenne, Tabasco












New Mexico




Bell Pepper


Sweet Italian




  1. Botanical medicinals –(Cayenne Pepper)
  2. Capsicum.
  3. Capsicum or Cayenne-
  4. DeWitt, Dave. Pepper Profile: Cayenne.
  5. Dewitt, Dave. Stock, Melissa T. and Hunter, Kellye. The Healing Powers of Hot Peppers. (17-22) Three Rivers Press, NY, © 1998
  6.  Dominion  Herbal  College, Herb of the Month- From the Chartered Herbalist Course Materials-
  7. Dr. Christopher on healing with cayenne- file://A\Healing%20With%Cayenne.htm
  8. Natural medicine. Cayenne.
  9. Grieve, M. A modern herbal. Cayenne
  10. Ihesie, Godwin. The healing values of Cayenne pepper. file://A:\The%20healing%20values%20of%20Cayenne%20pepper.htm
  11. Manzoni, Jill Holistic Health Corner- Cayenne and It’s Miraculous Properties- Holistic Mind and Spirit-
  12. Red “why are they so hot?” Chilli Peppers file://A:\Red%20why%20are%20they%20they%20so%20hot%20Chilli%20Peppers.htm
  13. Stock, Melissa and Hunter, Kellye. The healing powers of hot peppers-
  14. Texas A&M University, Bioinformatics working group, Vascular plant image gallery (Capsicum frutescens)


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Updated February 13, 2008

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