Black Pepper

Black Pepper (Hei Hu Jiao)Black Pepper (Hei Hu Jiao)

Botanical Name: Piper nigrum

Black pepper stimulates the taste buds sending a message to the stomach to increase its hydrochloric acid secretions which improve the digestion of proteins and other food components. This increase in digestive activity also ensures that food is properly digested prior to arriving in the intestines, where undigested food can become food for unwanted bacterial growth and cause constipation or diarrhea. Black pepper helps stimulate the breakdown of fat cells and helps prevent atherosclerosis.

Below is an overview of Black Pepper (Hei Hu Jiao), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Black Pepper (Hei Hu Jiao).

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Western Name: Black Pepper

Also Known As: Pepper

Organs/Systems: Digestion, Lungs, Brain, Skin

Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: Carminative, Diuretic, Diaphoretic, Antioxidant, Antibacterial, Expectorant, Antiseptic, Rubefacient, Aromatic, Relaxant. Intestinal gas, heartburn, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, promotes sweating, increases urination, weight loss, cough, colds, skin problems, vitiligo, peptic ulcers, dementia, atherosclerosis, asthma, prevents gangrene, toothache, gum swellings, antistress.


Pin Yin: Hei Hu Jiao (translates as “Black Pepper”)

Also Known As: Hu Jiao (translates as “Barbarian Pepper”), Hu Jiao Li (translates as “Peppercorns”)

Meridians: Stomach, Large Intestines

Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Warms the Stomach/Warms the Interior: abdominal pain, indigestion, diarrhea. Expels Cold: colds, fever. Calms Rebellious Qi/Descends Qi Downwards/Reduces Pain: constipation, food stagnation, nausea, intestinal cramping. Antimalarial.

Basic Habitat/Botany:

The black pepper plant is a flowering smooth woody vine that can grow up to 33 feet. It is in the family Piperaceae. They begin to bear small white clustered flowers after 3-4 years that develop into the berries that are dried and then known as peppercorns. The pepper berry is a drupe, producing a single seed. A single stem will bear 20-30 fruiting spikes.

Native to Southern India, black pepper likes hot humid tropical climates. It is extensively cultivated in India and other hot tropical regions of the world. Vietnam is the world’s largest producer of pepper.

Black Pepper (Hei Hu Jiao)Parts Most Frequently Used: Peppercorns (Dried Berries)

Flavors/Temps: Pungent, Warming, Hot

Caution: Very safe. Essential oil can be irritating to the skin.

History/Folklore: Black pepper is called the “King of Spices.” The potassium in black pepper aids digestion and the outer layer of the peppercorns aids the break-down of fat cells. In ancient times, when there was no refrigeration, it was especially valuable for its ability to mask a foods lack of freshness or if a food had begun to go rancid. However, peppers use as a preservative remains questionable as the value of the spice and the amount needed to actually preserve a meat would make it less likely to be used than salt which is excellent for preserving. Pepper was valued as a flavoring and medicine.

Black pepper is often confused historically with long pepper (Piper longum). The Romans used both referring to them each as only “pepper.” Long pepper fell out of favor with the later introduction of chili peppers from the New World. As a medicine, long pepper is stronger than black pepper. Both have been used to treat eye problems.

Black peppercorns were found stuffed in the nostrils of Ramesses II of Ancient Egypt as part of the mummification process.

Pepper has been so important to ancient cultures that it has been used as a currency, called “black gold”, and as a sacred offering to the gods. In Greece it was used to honor the gods, pay ransoms and taxes. When Rome was invaded, pepper was given to the invading barbarians as an honored peace offering. Pepper was one of the key spices that the ancient spice trade was built upon, leading to the discovery of new lands and the building of new trade routes across the European and Asian continents. Black pepper is the world’s most commonly traded spice.

By the third century CE, black pepper is first mentioned in Chinese texts where it is described as “foreign pepper.” By the 12th century it was a popular ingredient in cuisine.

The Dutch use the phrase “peperduur” meaning “pepper expensive” to describe a very expensive item.

Black (half-mature, about to turn red and dried), green (unripe berries) and white peppercorns (entirely ripe berry is then soaked in brine to remove the dark outer skin, exposing the inner white-colored pepper seed) are all actually from the same fruit (Piper nigrum). The difference is derived from the different stages of development and processing methods. Orange and red pepper consists of the ripe red pepper drupes from the plants being preserved in brine and vinegar. Pink peppercorns are from an entirely different plant, the Peruvian pepper tree (Schinus molle).

The spiciness of pepper is due to the constituent piperine. Once the berries are dried pepper spirit and oil can be extracted from the berries by crushing them. Pepper spirit is used medicinally and in beauty products. Pepper oil is used in Indian Ayurvedic Medicine as a massage oil. Pepper was one of the medicines a Buddhist monk was allowed to carry.

Piperine is being studied for its abilities to increase the absorption of selenium, vitamin B12, beta-carotene, curcumin and other compounds. It is also being studied for its ability to reduce loss of memory and other cognitive malfunctions. Chemical pathways in the brain appear to be stimulated by piperine making it a possible aid to treating Alzheimer’s and dementia in older patients.

In Indian Ayurvedic Medicine, pepper is used as a tonic for treating colds, coughs, sinus and nasal congestion.

Pepper helps keep your arteries clean by scraping excess cholesterol off arterial walls, reducing atherosclerosis and helping to prevent strokes and heart attacks.

The skin condition, vitiligo, which causes skin to lose its normal pigmentation and turn white is aided by the stimulating effects the constituent piperine has on producing melanocytes pigments in the skin. Pepper is also said to reduce the chances of skin cancer due to excessive ultraviolet radiation.

The potassium in black pepper aids digestion and the outer layer of the peppercorns aids the break-down of fat cells.

The word pepper has been used to mean “spirit” or “energy” in the 1840s. Through the early 20th century, the word was shortened to the slang word “pep” to describe a person full of spirit and energy.

Black pepper was thought to protect against the ‘evil eye’ and wearing a peppercorn was said to free one of envious thoughts. Used in spells and charms, black pepper will banish negativity and provide protection. Burning black pepper before smudging your home with sage is a powerful combination. The black pepper will help remove negative energies and invigorate Qi prior to smudging. The soothing and cleansing properties of sage further help clear the air of bacteria, germs, and negative energy. Black pepper is also used in voodoo and black-magic.

As an essential oil, black pepper comforts, supports endurance and stamina, and increases flexibility.

Key Constituents:

Manganese (37% of RDA), Vitamin K (16%) A and C, Copper, Iron, Chromium, Calcium, Potassium, Dietary fiber, Phytochemicals (including Amides, Piperine, Piperidines, Pyrrolidines.

Did you know?

Organic Pepper

The adverse effects of irradiated (a non-organic process used on pepper and other vegetables and spices) is the significant loss of pepper’s vitamin C content. Organic is best.


Staying Fresh

Whole peppercorns can be kept indefinitely if stored in a cool, dark, dry place. Ground pepper can only stay fresh for about three months. Pepper loses flavor and aroma through evaporation. Airtight containers help preserve its flavor and scent.

Fun fact!

Strengthen the Mind and Heart

Black pepper essential oil is used to relax, invigorate the mind and strengthen the heart.


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