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Cayenne (Capsicum annuum, Capsicum frutescens)
Part used and where grown: Originally from South America, the cayenne plant has spread across the globe both as a food and as a medicine. Cayenne is very closely related to bell peppers, jalapeños, paprika, and other similar peppers. The fruit is used.
In what conditions might cayenne be supportive?
¥ diabetic neuropathy
¥ osteoarthritis ¥ psoriasis
¥ rheumatoid arthritis
¥ shingles (herpes zoster)/postherpetic neuralgia
Historical or traditional use: The potent, hot fruit of cayenne has been used as medicine for centuries. It was considered helpful for various conditions of the gastrointestinal tract, including stomachaches, cramping pains, and gas. Cayenne was frequently used to treat diseases of the circulatory system. It is still traditionally used in herbal medicine as a circulatory tonic (a substance believed to improve circulation). Rubbed on the skin, cayenne is a traditional, as well as modern, remedy for rheumatic pains and arthritis due to what is termed a counterirritant effect. A counterirritant is something which causes irritation to a tissue to which it is applied, thus distracting from the original irritation (such as joint pain in the case of arthritis).
Active constituents: Cayenne contains a resinous and pungent substance known as capsaicin. This chemical relieves pain and itching by acting on sensory nerves. Capsaicin temporarily stimulates release of various neurotransmitters from these nerves, leading to their depletion. Without the neurotransmitters, pain signals can no longer be sent.1 The effect is temporary. Capsaicin and other constituents in cayenne have been shown to have several other actions, including reducing platelet stickiness and acting as antioxidants.
How much should I take? Creams containing 0.025-0.075% capsaicin are generally used. There may be a burning sensation for the first several times the cream is applied, but this should gradually decrease with each use. The hands must be carefully and thoroughly washed after use, or gloves should be worn, to prevent the cream from accidentally reaching the eyes, nose, or mouth, which would cause a burning sensation. Do not apply the cream to areas of broken skin. A cayenne tincture can be used in the amount of 0.3-1 ml three times daily.
Are there any side effects or interactions? Besides causing a mild burning for the first few applications (or severe burning if accidentally placed in sensitive areas, such as the eyes), there are no side effects from use of the capsaicin cream. Very high intake of cayenne internally may cause ulcers, but the necessary amount is rarely achieved with sensible intake.
As with anything applied to the skin, some people may have an allergic reaction to the cream, so the first application should be to a very small area of skin.
1. Lynn B. Capsaicin. Actions on nociceptive C-fibers and therapeutic potential. Pain 1990; 41:61-9.
Disclaimer: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.