Native to India and Indonesia, dried fruits of the pepper plant have been transported to Europe via the spice routes at least since the 5th century A.D. This culinary and medicinal spice has formed a foundation of untold riches during history and is still one of the most important flavourings at our dinner tables. The essential oil extracted from black pepper contains the essence of the fruit in a liquid form. It packs a punch when it comes to treating aching muscles in sports or regular massage. It can also renew your blood and, perhaps not surprisingly, help you digest your food.
Black Pepper Plant Description
The black pepper plant is a perennial vine growing up to 5 metres (16 feet) in height. It has dark green ovate leaves and flower heads with 20-30 sessile flowers. The flowers develop into fruits which in turn produce the peppercorns used in essential oil production.
The black pepper fruits do not all mature at the same time. The harvesting, however, is started as soon as the first fruits are ready. The ripe fruits are put under running water to remove the outer layer or the pericarp. The seeds are then dried and powdered, producing white pepper.
The black peppers are produced from the unripe fruits of the black pepper plant. They are soaked in hot water and sun dried after harvesting. The taste of the Black Pepper is more pungent owing to the resins and the piperine alkaloid present.
Etymology of the Name
The word pepper is derived from the Tamil word pippali, meaning long pepper. The ancient Greeks and Romans both called the spice peperi which later developed into the latin piper. The scientific name of black pepper, Piper nigrum, simply stands for the words pepper and black.
Extraction of Black Pepper Essential Oil
The black pepper essential oil is extracted from the unripe black pepper fruits by steam distillation. The resulting mobile liquid is clear or pale-green in colour. It has the unmistakable warm, spicy odour of the black pepper.
Historical and Current Uses
Black Pepper is native to the Southern India as well as Indonesia. It has been cultivated in the far east for at least 2000 years and it’s medicinal and culinary qualities have been known for another 2000 years more. In Europe the spice has been known from around 400 A.D.
Peppers have been among the most important merchandises throughout history. Fortunes have been created and lost transporting spices, including the black pepper, via the spice routes from India and Indonesia into Europe. The warming, stimulating peppers were used to season food but also to preserve meat, and to cover the rancid smell of rotten food.
The medicinal use of black pepper was also known from early on. The 18th-century botanist and herbalist Joseph Miller wrote this about the healing qualities of pepper in his work Botanicum Officinale:
“Pepper is heating and drying, expelling wind, and of great use against coldness and windiness of the stomach, and the colic; it strengthens nerves and head, and helps the sight; outwardly it is good for toothache and for cold affections of the nerves, and pains in the limbs.”
In the modern time, black pepper is a stable food spice used all over the world. It is also widely used as a flavouring ingredient by the food industry.
Black Pepper Essential Oil is rich in Monoterpene hydrocarbons which give it analgesic, antiseptic and tonic qualities. The percentages of these terpenes vary depending on the origin and preparation methods of the oil.
Another terpene group represented in the black pepper oil, Sesquiterpene hydrocarbons, may give it some antiviral properties.
The following is a typical chemical composition of the Black Pepper Essential with individual percentages given in brackets:
- Beta-caryophyllene (27.8%)
- D-3-carene (20.2%)
- Limonene (17.1%)
- Beta-pinene (10.4%)
- Alpha-pinene (5.8%)
- D-elemene (2.5%)
- Alpha-copaene (2.3%)
- Alpha-humulene (1.4%)
- Terpinolene (1.0%)
- P-cymene (0.8%)
- D-cadinene (0.8%)
- Caryophyllene oxide (0.6%)
- Beta-elemene (0.4%)
- G-terpinene (0.2%)
- Camphene (0.1%) 1
Black Pepper Essential Oil is analgesic (pain-killing), antiseptic (prevents the growth of harmful micro-organisms), antispasmodic (relieves involuntary muscle movements), carminative (relieves flatulence), diaphoretic (induces perspiration), diuretic (increases urination), febrifuge (reduces fever), laxative (promotes bowel evacuation), rubefacient (warming), stomachic (promotes appetite and aids digestion) and tonic (stimulating).
Black Pepper Stimulates the Spleen
Black Pepper essential oil stimulates the spleen by helping it to recycle damaged red blood cells more efficiently. One of the functions of the spleen – which is located below the left lung in the upper abdomen – is to filter out damaged red blood cells and save the useful components of the blood for reuse.
In its function as a spleen stimulant Black Pepper Essential Oil may assist in recovery from anaemia. It can also be used to renew red blood cells and purify the blood in case of blood loss or bruising.
Black Pepper for Digestive Problems
Black Pepper essential oil promotes appetite and eases constipation by making the functioning of the stomach and intestinal muscles smoother. It is particularly recommended for atonic dyspepsia, a weakened state of muscles in the stomach wall.
It is also used to control flatulence.
Black Pepper for Aching Muscles
Used in massage before and after an athletic performance or training, Black Pepper essential oil prevents and remove muscular stiffness and pains. Marathon runners who were given massages prior to an event using a massage blend containing a mixture of black pepper and rosemary essential oils experienced improved times and less muscular fatigue and pain. 2
Black Pepper Essential Oil can also be used to treat pains caused by rheumatism and arthritis, as well as general muscular aches. When using black pepper in a massage blend keep the amount of oil small to avoid skin irritations.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
The traditional Chinese medicine uses the warming qualities of black pepper for conditions associated with cold: poor digestion, fatigue, headaches, fluid congestion, chills and aches and pains.
Black Pepper Personality
The black pepper personality is a grumpy old man used to giving orders to others in his circle. It is bossy, self-satisfied and not comfortable in expressing warm feelings.
Black Pepper essential oil is non-irritating and non-sensitising if used in small amounts. It may irritate the skin in larger amounts. Very large amounts may have a damaging effect on the kidney.
1 Salvatore Battaglia: The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy. Second edition. 2015.
2 Patricia Davis: Aromatherapy: An A-Z. 2005.