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Herb Information
Name: Cayenne
Biological Name: Capsicum frutescens, capsicum annuum
Other Names:  

Africa pepper, American pepper, bird pepper, capsicum, chili pepper, cockspur pepper, goat's pepper, pod pepper, red pepper, chillies, chili pepper, garden pepper, African red pepper, American red pepper, Spanish pepper, Zanzibar pepper, capsicum, Cayenne

Parts Used: fruit
Active Compounds:  

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. 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.


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 that 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).

Remedies For

Strimulant, tonic, sialagogue, alterative, rubefacient, carminative, digestive

Useful for:

Diabetic neuropathy
Rheumatoid arthritis
Shingles (herpes zoster)/postherpetic neuralgia

Cayenne pepper has beneficial antioxidant and cardiovascular effects.
It has many beneficial effects on gastrointestinal function.

Antioxidant activity: The carotene molecules of cayenne pepper and paprika exert powerful antioxidant effects.

Cardiovascular effects:
Cayenne pepper exerts a number of beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. It reduces the likelihood of developing, atherosclerosis by reducing blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It also reduces the platelet aggregation and increases fibrinolytic activity. Cultures consuming a large amount of cayenne pepper have a much lower rate of cardiovascular disease.

Topical Effects:
When topically applied to the skin or mucous membranes, capsaicin stimulates and then block small diameter pain fibers by depleting them of neurotransmitter called substance P. Substance P is believed to be the principal transmitter of pain impulses. It also has been shown to activate inflammatory mediators in joint tissues in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Clinical Applications:
Capsaicin lowers body temperature by stimulating the cooling center of the hypothalamus in the brain. It appears that people who live in tropics deals with high temperature by consuming cayenne pepper.

Cayenne ointments may offer benefits in a number of conditions, including pain disorders (postamputation pain, postmastectomy pain, post herpetic neuralgia, diabetic neuropathy, cluster headaches, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Topically applied capsaicin may be useful in the treatment of psoriasis.

Pain Relief:
Capsaicin was found to relieve the pain associated with shingles (herpes zoster), a clinical condition known as post-herpetic neuralgia. Clinical trials have shown that about 50% of those taking capsaicin report improvement as opposed to 10% for the placebo group. 

Topically applied capsaicin may be effective in reducing the pain of trigeminal neuralgia, a painful disorder of the main nerve of the face characterized by severe, stabbing pain affecting the cheek, lips, gums, or chin on one side of the face. In one study, more than 80% of those treated with capsaicin responded favorably. This is remarkable as there are no medication available for this condition except surgery. Capsaicin may help relieve the pain following breast reconstruction or mastectomy.

Mouth pain due to chemotherapy or radiation:
Capsaicin was found to reduce the pain of mouth sores resulting from chemotherapy or radiation treatment dramatically in a clinical trial.

Diabetic Neuropathy:
Diabetic neuropathy is a painful nerve disorder caused by long-term diabetes. Capsaicin has been found to be of considerable benefit in relieving pain of this condition.

Cluster headaches:
Cluster headaches are migraine-like headaches characterized by severe pain, usually localized around one eye. Double blind studies have shown that intranasal application of a special capsaicin ointment by a physician may relieve cluster headaches. Episodic patients were found to benefit more from the treatment than chronic patients.

Capsaicin may be effective in relieving the pain of either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

Excessive substance P levels in the skin have been linked to psoriasis. Capsaicin was found to reduce scaling, redness and combined psoriasis severity.


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, jalapenos, paprika, and other similar peppers. The fruit is used. 

Cayenne is a perennial plant in its native tropical habitat; but is annual when cultivated elsewhere. It grows to a height of 3 feet or more. Its stem is woody at the bottom and branched near the top. The leaves are ovate generally. The flowers are white to yellow. It may grow alone, in pairs or threes. The flowers appear from April to September. The fruit is a many seeded pod with a leathery outside in various shades of yellow or red.


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.

Infusion: Use 0.5 to 1 tsp. Pepper per cup of boiling water. Take warm, 1 tbsp. at a time.

Powder: For acute conditions. Take 3 to 10 grains, for chronic conditions 1 to 3 grains.


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.

Prolonged application to the skin can cause dermatitis and raise blisters. Excessive consumption can result in gastroenteritis and kidney damage.

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