Power Plants: Capiscum

via Bryce Wylde

Biohacks, Remedies

Power Plants

CAPISCUM (Capsicum spp.)
Capsicums—more commonly known as peppers—add brilliant colour, pungent flavour and often tremendous heat to dishes around the world.
The most common varieties come from two closely related species: Capsicum annuum and C. frutescens. These include mild types like bell peppers, as well as hotter varieties used to make Tabasco sauce, chili powder and paprika. A pepper’s heat depends on the concentration of a phytochemical called capsaicin. This compound causes a burning sensation on the tongue, mucous membranes and skin. In reasonable quantities it gives foods a pleasant, spicy taste. In high concentrations it is so powerful it can be used as weapon: it’s the active ingredient in pepper spray.
Capsaicin has a numbing effect: it interferes with a neurotransmitter called “substance P,” which sends pain signals from nerves to the brain. Capsaicin creams can alleviate pain when rubbed on the affected area, though the effect is temporary. Research proves capsaicin creams are effective for a wide range of problems including neuropathy (painful nerve endings common in diabetics), post-surgical pain, psoriasis, shingles, arthritis and fybromyalgia
Low back pain is one of the most common reasons people see their family doctor, and the evidence is very good that topical capsaicin cream helps. It is approved by Germany’s Commission E (a board of scientific advisors who investigate traditional medicines) as an ointment for the relief of painful muscle spasms.
Capsicum isn’t just helpful for pain: it could also be a key weapon in the battle of the bulge. If you already “like it hot,” you may have an advantage when it comes to keeping off the pounds. Research shows capsicum can help you lose weight in three ways: by increasing your metabolism (you can burn an extra 50 or more calories per day), improving your energy expenditure, and reducing your appetite.
Difficulty: Medium
Hardiness: Annual
Time to Plant: Late spring
Time to Harvest: Summer
Location: Full sun
Soil Type: Rich and well-drained
Peppers have been spicing up gardens around the world for centuries. They can be a challenge to grow in cooler climates, however, as they require a lot of heat and a long time to mature. When choosing among the many varieties of capsicums at your garden centre, check the tags for maturity dates (see below).
Common Varieties: There are many cultivars of Capsicum annuum and the closely related C. frutescens, in a range of colours, shapes, sizes and heat intensity. For medicinal use, look for varieties that fall between 30,000 to 50,000 units on the Scoville heat scale. This includes cayenne and Tabasco peppers. (Hotter varieties typically belong to different species.)
Growing peppers from seed isn’t for the novice. Even for experienced gardeners I recommend purchasing transplants, and for those in cooler climates I recommend purchasing slightly mature plants.
Peppers can be grown both in the garden and in pots. Plant them in late spring once soil temperatures have warmed to 20°C. Planting them in cooler soils will stunt plants. Make sure they’re located in full sun and in rich, well-drained soil.
Peppers are heat lovers: the more sun and the more heat you can give them, the better they do. I often plant peppers in black pots, since black absorbs heat and helps them grow!
A plant’s maturity date is the number of days it requires to produce fruit. To make sure your growing season is long enough, count the number of days between average last frost date and average first frost date in your area. Some varieties of capsicum need 80 days or more, which is a challenge in some regions of Canada.
Peppers are tender plants that will suffer from cold wind, frosty nights and thunderstorms. Plant them in a wind-sheltered location and cover them on spring evenings when frost looms.
Water deeply and infrequently, maintaining adequate moisture and never allowing the plants to completely dry out. Water the roots only, not the foliage. Peppers benefit from mulching in the garden: mulch helps retain moisture and prevents splashing on the foliage during intense rains, reducing risk of disease. In containers and areas with poor soil, use a general-purpose fertilizer or organic fish emulsion twice monthly after watering.
Inspect the plants regularly for insects and disease. Peppers will benefit from preventive sprayings of insecticidal soap to reduce aphid and whitefly populations. If plants appear to be wilting and losing bottom leaves, or if they have black marks on lower foliage, remove and discard the entire plant, as they are most likely suffering from disease.
Harvest peppers in summer, allowing the fruit to reach their full size and colour on the vine. Remove by twisting and plucking or cutting them from stem.
Fresh peppers can last for weeks in the refrigerator, and will even keep for 5 to 7 days at room temperature when left out of direct light and kept dry. Peppers can be sundried, air dried, baked or dehydrated and stored in sealed plastic bags for months. They can also be pickled or packed in oil. Peppers lose flavour when frozen, but roasting them prior to freezing will help.
To sun dry hot peppers, wash them and dry with a papper towel. String 20 to 30 of them together by pushing a sewing needle and thread through their stems and tying the ends. Hang indoors in direct sunslight until dry. Monitor and remove any peppers that spoil (blacken).
Fibromyalgia or arthritis? Set fire to the pain!
Topical creams containing 0.025% to 0.075% capsaicin are generally used for pain relief. People often apply the cream to the affected area 3 or 4 times per day. A burning sensation may occur the first few times the cream is applied, but this should gradually decrease. That’s “substance P,” the cause of your pain, going to sleep!
You can make your own capsaicin cream with homegrown peppers. But be careful! Wash your hands thoroughly after handling the peppers, because if you get capsaicin in your eyes or on mucous membranes it can cause a terribly intense burning.

  1. Place dried cayenne peppers in a blender, cover, and pulse for about a minute until coarsely ground. Do not overgrind, or this will make it difficult to strain. Empty the ground pepper into a Mason jar and pour in enough vodka (at least 90-proof) into it to cover the peppers by ¼ inch. Screw the lid on the jar tightly.
  1. Allow the peppers to soak in the jar for 3 days (check on them every day and shake vigorously for 1 minute). Once the peppers have been soaking 72 hours, you’ll see the peppers have turned the vodka a pretty red.
  2. After a day or two, the bottom of the jar will be full of bright red capsaicin oil. Do not touch this directly with your hands, as it is incredibly potent! Pour the oil into at least twice as much shea butter and mix well using a small spoon (if you have sensitive skin, add three times as much shea butter). Place this mixture into a glass or plastic container with a lid, and store it in a cool, dry place.
  1. Pour the mixture through a coffee filter into a bowl. This will strain out all the pepper pieces, leaving a mixture of alcohol and capsaicin oil. Carefully discard the pepper pieces. Then pour the alcohol back into the jar, but do not cover. Leave the mixture in a dry, warm place (out of the reach of children!) until the alcohol completely evaporates.

Whenever you experience pain from fibromyalgia or arthritis, use a Q-tip or cotton ball to apply a small amount of the cream to the area. At first, you will feel a tingling, hot sensation, but this will fade, taking the pain with it. Continue to rub it in until the area feels slightly numb. Avoid using capsaicin cream on particularly sensitive areas, or anywhere near your eyes.
Monitor how your skin and the deeper muscles react. If a small rash develops, it may mean you need to add more shea butter to the mix to dilute it further. If the rash persists, stop using the cream.
Heartburn? Treat fire with fire!
Research shows that about 1 g of cayenne powder in capsule form, taken three times per day before meals, is effective for heartburn. To make your own, pour 1 cup (250 mL) of boiling water over ½ tsp (2.5 g) of ground, dried cayenne and let set for 10 minutes. A teaspoon of this infusion can be mixed with water and taken three to four times daily to help with heartburn. It’s counterintuitive, but it works! &&
Excess weight? Melt the pounds away!
By consuming 10 g of cayenne pepper with food daily, you’re likely to eat less. And the research shows that cayenne could also increase metabolism of the fats we consume. But, 10 g is equivalent to two teaspoons, and that’s a lot of heat, especially if you’re not into spices! Have no fear: you can make your own easy-to-swallow capsules! Start by purchasing 1000-mg empty gelatin capsules from your local health food store.
Pick 30 fresh peppers and sun dry them as described above. Once dry, place the peppers in a blender, cover, and pulverize to a fine powder. Place powder into a bowl and using latex gloves carefully (don’t get the powder into your eyes or lungs!) fill the capsules. Take 5 capsules twice daily with food and enjoy a significantly reduced appetite and a higher metabolism.
Fast forward to the health food store to purchase the Nature’s Way Cayenne pepper capsules or equivalent. Follow the instructions on the label.
Capsicum essential oil and cayenne pepper are both listed in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list for use as a spice in foods. But you can imagine that something this hot comes with a warning!
When taken orally, capsicum may irritate the gastrointestinal system, mouth and throat. In some cases heartburn, diarrhea, ulcer aggravation, and stomach pain can occur. Extremely hot varieties can also chemical damage to taste buds. Large amounts (over 20 g a day) may cause kidney and liver damage. Inhaling it may cause shortness of breath and coughing.
When used topically as a cream, capsicum may cause burning, redness, and irritation, especially if it comes in contact with mucous membranes. Never use capsaicin cream on the same area more than 2 or 3 times a day. Even a weak cream will cause irritation if applied too often.
Mason L, Moore RA, Derry S, et al. Systematic review of topical capsaicin for the treatment of chronic pain. BMJ 2004;328:991.
Chrubasik S, Weiser W, Beime B. Effectiveness and safety of topical capsaicin cream in the treatment of chronic soft tissue pain. Phytother Res 2010;24:1877-85.
Yoshioka M, St-Pierre S, Drapeau V, et al. Effects of red pepper on appetite and energy intake. Br J Nutr 1999;82:115–23.
Yoshioka M, St-Pierre S, Suzuki M, Tremblay A. Effects of red pepper added to high-fat and high-carbohydrate meals on energy metabolism and substrate utilization in Japanese women. Br J Nutr 1998;80:503–10.
Whiting S et al. Capsaicinoids and capsinoids. A potential role for weight management? A systematic review of the evidence. Appetite, 2012 Oct; Vol. 59 (2), pp. 341-8
&& Bortolotti M, Coccia G, Grossi G. Red pepper and functional dyspepsia. N Engl J Med 2002;346:947-8

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