Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) belonging to the Family Piperaceae, is a perennial woody vine with many nodes, climbing to about 5 meters. It is native to southwestern India and widely cultivated in tropical countries. Black Pepper is the dried full-grown but unripe fruit. White Pepper is the dried ripe fruit with the outer part of the pericarp removed by soaking in water, followed by rubbing. It is less aromatic than black pepper but has a more delicate flavour. The essential oil is obtained from Black Pepper. A clear to pale yellow essential oil is obtained through steam distillation with a yield of between 2 – 4%. Its major chemical constituents include around 60% monoterpenes and 30% sesquiterpenes.
Pepper is one of the oldest and most important spices. Black Pepper was known to the Greeks as far back as the fourth century B.C. The Romans also valued it highly and imported large quantities from the East. Trade in this spice continued throughout the Middle Ages until the overland caravan routes were cut off by the advancing Turkish tribes, who levied high duties on all merchandise passing through their territory. It was chiefly this disruption of the old overland routes that prompted the European spice traders to look for new ways to reach India by sea. It was towards the end of the fifteenth century that Vasco da Gama discovered an all sea passage to the Malabar Coast, which was one of the principal spice-producing territories at that time. This important discovery heralded the onset of the modern spice trade. At first the Portuguese held the monopoly, but trade was soon contested by the Hollanders, French and English leading to long naval wars between these great sea powers. Ships loaded with precious spices were captured, spice plantations were raided, and planting material was imported to other tropical coasts in order to start new plantations. Cultivation of pepper expanded from the Malabar to the Malacca Coast and then to the East Indian Archipelago. The main producers of export pepper today are India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil with Costa Rica, Madagascar, Kampuchea, Sri Lanka and Vietnam producing small amounts. Other countries producing pepper do so for their own domestic market.
Psychologically, Black Pepper has analgesic, antispasmodic and tonic properties. It can be helpful in counteracting lethargy and mental fatigue. It is said to bring courage, warm indifference and ease life changes.
On the physiological level it has analgesic and warming properties and can be helpful when dealing with muscular aches & pains, arthritis and sciatica. It can also help blood circulation and by so doing help with cold hands and feet.
Contraindications: Use in low concentrations on the skin as this oil can irritate the skin
Albert Leung & Steven Foster , Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients used in Food, Drugs, and cosmetics, John Wiley & Sons, Inc , New York, Chichester, Brisbane, Toronto, Singapore, 1996
Martin Watt, Plant Aromatics Set 4,
Ernest Guenther, The Essential Oils Vol.V, Krieger Publishing, Malabar, Florida, 1952, reprinted 1976.
E.A. Weiss, Essential Oil Crops, CAB International, Oxon, UK & New York, NY, 1997
Beverley Hawkins, Aromatherapy 201 Course 2000