Materia medica: Capsicum annum

Cayenne ripening in the greenhouse

Family: Solanaceae (Nightshades)


  • Botanically, most cultivated peppers today are Capsicum annuum (most common), C. frutescens (tabasco), C. chinense (habanero), or crosses within and among these various species (Missouri Botanical Garden, 2020).

  • The other domesticated species include Capsicum baccatum (ají, ají amarillo) and C. pubescens (rocoto, manzano) (Fett, 2003).

  • Capsicum is derived from the Greek word "kapto", meaning "to bite", or the Latin word "capsa" meaning "box" or "capsule", which is likely a reference to the capsule shaped fruit. (Missouri Botanical Garden, 2020).

  • Annum - meaning grown annually

Common Names (American Botanical Council, 2003):

  • Common names for cayenne (depending on species) include cayenne pepper, chili pepper, paprika, red pepper, tabasco pepper, bird pepper, African bird pepper, piquin, aji pepper, Brown’s pepper, Peruvian pepper, piris, habañero pepper, and bonnet pepper.

Parts Used: Dried ripe fruit (whole), powdered

Botanical ID:

  • Native to Zones 9-10, where it grows as a wild and cultivated perennial in the Tropical South and Central America

  • Cultivated as a shrubby annual in the Northeast, typically in gardens or greenhouses.

  • Plant height ranges between 2.5-6' in height, depending on species and growing conditions

  • Leaves are oval/lanceolate in shape and bright green

  • Flowers are off-white to white, giving way to characteristic hollow, berry-like fruit

  • Fruit is red, shiny, ovate and long. Contains seeds small and flat, 10-29 per per fruit (Henningsen, 2019)

  • Ethnobotanical researchers have determined that C. annuum was first domesticated in Mexico or northern Central America, C. frutescens in the Caribbean, C. baccatum in Bolivia, C. chinense in northern Amazonia, and C. pubescens in the southern Andes (Linder, 2008).

Growing & Harvesting:

  • A minimum temperature of 70 degrees is desired for prolific fruiting

  • Start seeds indoors in late march-early April. Placing seed trays over warm seed mat will help with germination.

  • Prefers drier soils, and will tolerate acidic to alkaline conditions.

  • Full-sun is best, plants do not tolerate shade well.

  • Fruits will deepen color the longer they are left on plant to ripen.

  • Harvest whole fruits throughout season as they ripen. Continuous harvest will promote more growth.

  • Can dry entire plant upside down, dry fruits on racks or in dehydrator, or string with needle and thread. Keep drying plants/fruits out of direct sunlight and maintain good airflow.

  • Wear gloves when dealing with dried plants and be cautious of rubbing face and eyes - capsaicin, the pungent constituent in cayenne will cause irritation!

Commercial Availability (Henningsen 2019):

  • Widely available in commerce, generally found in dried form, such as powders or whole fruit.

  • Tinctures

  • Vinegar infusions

  • Pure capsaicin products, such as topical sprays, gels, and ointments are also found in commerce

Taste & Energetics:

  • Taste: Intensely Pungent

  • Energetics: Hot, dry

Herbal Actions (Henningsen, 2019):

*Indicates primary action

  • Analgesic

  • Anti-atherosclerotic

  • Anti-inflammatory

  • Carminative

  • Circulatory Stimulant*

  • Counterirritant*

  • Diaphoretic

  • Hypoglycemic

  • Hypolipidemic

  • Hypotensive

  • Rubefacient*

  • Sialogogue (promotes saliva)

  • Stimulant

  • Stomachic (increases appetite, gastric tone)

  • Styptic*

  • Vasodilator*

Cayenne is one of the primary herbs in our Betty's Balm Salve

Specific Indications (Henningsen, 2019):

  • Cold, sluggishness with stagnation in cardiovascular system

  • Achy muscular pain

  • Deficiency with low vitality and symptoms that are relieved with heat

  • Poor digestion with poor circulation

  • TCM: Disperses cold and moves stagnation

  • Feeble and pale with depressed tissue, perhaps with loss of nerve feeling.

Clinical Uses:

Musculoskeletal (Henningsen, 2019)

  • Arthritis or other chronic pain in the muscles

  • Muscle pain in general

  • Osteoarthritis/Rheumatoid arthritis (topical and internal application)

  • Spasming

  • Numbness and tingling (topical and internal application)

Cardiovascular (Henningsen, 2019)

  • Circulatory disorders

  • Low blood pressure

  • Bleeding

  • Reducing plaque

Gastrointestinal (Henningsen, 2019)

  • Diarrhea

  • To increase metabolic activity

  • Diabetic Neuropathy

  • High Cholesterol

  • Motion sickness

  • Gas

Nervous System (American Botanical Council, 2003):

  • Neuralgia

  • Neuropathy


  • Headaches (dull pain) or cluster headaches (American Botanical Council, 2003)

  • Toothaches (Henningsen, 2019)

  • Laryngitis - used in a gargle/mouthwash with Myrrh (Hoffmann, 2003)

Key Constituents & Pharmacology (Henningsen, 2019):


  • Capsaicinoids: Capsaicin, dihydrocapsaicin.

  • Capsaicin: Acts on vanilloid receptors (TRPV1) and depletes substance P, a neurotransmitter which promotes sensations of pain. Only acts on C-fiber neurons, which are associated with pain. Also promotes increased blood flow to an area



  • Capsanthin, capsorubin, and carotene. All promote skin health.

Steroidal Saponins

  • Capsicidins: Found in seed and root. Have particular cholesterol lowering effects via encouraging breakdown of cholesterol. (Note use whole fruit to capture capsicidins)


  • Vitamins A & C

Relevant Research:

Safety & Dosage (Gardner & McGuffin, 2013):

  • Safety: Class 1 (internal) 2D (external), Interaction Class A

  • External: May cause contact dermatitis if applied undiluted. Do not use near eyes or sensitive mucus membranes. Use highly diluted on sensitive skin or open wounds.

  • Internal: May exacerbate heartburn or gastric irritation,

  • Medication Interactions (Internal Use Only):

  • Can increase absorption of certain medications, such as acetaminophen and MAOIs, when taken concurrently due to circulatory stimulant effect.

  • One study found reduced bioavailability of aspirin or salicylic acid when taken with cayenne (orally) in rat populations.

  • May increase incidence of cough experienced as side effect of ACE inhibitors when applied topically.

  • As a hypotensive, it may increase or augment antihypertensives and the speed at which they are metabolized by the liver.

Preparations + Dose (Henningsen, 2019):

  • Powder: 30-120mg (encapsulated)

  • Infused oils for external creams, salves or topicals

  • Tincture: 1:10 (80-95%) .25-1ml TID

Combinations (Henningsen, 2019):

  • Internal Cold & Pain: Combine with Turmeric & Cinnamon

  • TCM: Blood Stagnation, combine with Hawthorn & Dan Shen (Red Sage Root)

  • Topical oil for musculoskeletal pain, nerve pain, and sore joints, combine with of oils of St. John's Wort, Arnica, and Wintergreen essential oil.

  • Traditional Black Herbalist Recipe: Add ¼ tsp powdered cayenne in water with lemon. May combine with herbs such as thyme or sage for congestion.

*Note: The information shared here is meant for educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Please consult your physician or a trained herbalist before working herbs, especially if you currently take medications. If you would like to share this information in your own publications, please credit our work accordingly.


Cited Works:

American Botanical Council. 2003. Cayenne: Clinical Overview. The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Retrieved:

Fett, Debra. 2003. Botanical Briefs: Capsicum Peppers. Close Encounters with the Environment. Vol 72. Retrieved:

Gardner, Z. & McGuffin, M. ed. 2013. American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Henningsen, Kristin. 2019. "Capsicum annum." Presented at Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism. Montpelier, VT.

Linder, Kelly. 2008. Archeobiology Reveals Chili Peppers Older than Originally Thought. HerbalGram. 77. Retrieved:

Missouri Botanical Garden. 2020. Capsicum annum. Retrieved:


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Randolph, VT 05060



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