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The Capsicum, or Bird Pepper, or Guinea Pepper, is a native of tropical countries; but it has been cultivated throughout Great Britain as a stove plant for so many years (since the time of Gerard, 1636) as to have become practically indigenous. Moreover, its fruit-pods are so highly useful, whether as a condiment, or as a medicine, no apology is needed for including it among serviceable Herbal Simples.
The Cayenne pepper of our tables is the powdered fruit of Bird Pepper, a variety of the Capsicum plant, and belonging likewise to the order of Solanums; whilst the customary "hot" pickle which we take with our cold meats is prepared from another variety of the Capsicum plant called "Chilies."
This plant—the Bird Pepper—exercises an important medicinal action, which has only been recently recognized by doctors. The remarkable success which has attended the use of Cayenne pepper as a substitute for alcohol with hard drinkers, and as a valuable drug in delirium tremens, has lately led physicians to regard the Capsicum as a highly useful, stimulating, and restorative medicine.
For an intemperate person, who really desires to wean himself from taking spirituous liquors, and yet feels to need a substitute at first, a mixture of tincture of Capsicum with tincture of orange peel and water will answer very effectually, the doses being reduced in strength and frequency from day to day. In delirium tremens, if the tincture of Capsicum be given in doses of half-a-dram well diluted with water, it will reduce the tremor and agitation in a few hours, inducing presently a calm prolonged sleep. At the same time the skin will become warm, and will perspire naturally; the pulse will fall in quickness, but whilst regaining fulness and volume; and the kidneys, together with the bowels, will act freely.
Chemically the plant furnishes an essential oil with a crystalline principle, "capsicin," of great power. This oil may be taken remedially in doses of from half to one drop rubbed up with some powdered white sugar, and mixed with a wineglassful of hot water.
The medicinal tincture is made with sixteen grains of the powdered Capsicum to a fluid ounce of spirit of wine; and the dose of this tincture is from five to twenty drops with one or two tablespoonfuls of water. In the smaller doses it serves admirably to relieve pains in the loins when depending on a sluggish inactivity of the kidneys. Unbroken chilblains may be readily cured by rubbing them once a day with a piece of sponge saturated with the tincture of Capsicum until a strong tingling is induced. In the early part of the present century, a medicine of Capsicum with salt was famous for curing severe influenza with putrid sore throat. Two dessert spoonfuls of small red pepper; or three of ordinary cayenne pepper, were beaten together with two of fine salt, into a paste, and with half-a-pint of boiling water added thereto. Then the liquor was strained off when cold, and half-a-pint of very sharp vinegar was mixed with it, a tablespoonful of the united mixture being given to an adult every half, or full hour, diluted with water if too strong.
For inflammation of the eyes, with a relaxed state of the membranes covering the eyeballs and lining the lids, the diluted juice of the Capsicum is a sovereign remedy. Again, for toothache from a decayed molar, a small quantity of cayenne pepper introduced into the cavity will often give immediate relief. The tincture or infusion given in small doses has proved useful to determine outwardly the eruption of measles and scarlet fever, when imperfectly developed because of weakness. Also for a scrofulous discharge of matter from the ears, Capsicum tincture, of a weak strength, four drops with a tablespoonful of cold water three times a day, to a child, will prove curative.
A Capsicum ointment, or "Chili paste," scarcely ever fails to relieve chronic rheumatism when rubbed in topically for ten minutes at a time with a gloved hand; and an application afterwards of dry heat will increase the redness and warmth, which persist for some while, and are renewed by walking. This ointment, or paste, is made of the Oleo-resin—Capsicin—half-an-ounce, and Lanolin five ounces, the unguent being melted, and, after adding the Capsicin, letting them be stirred together until cold. The powder or tincture of Capsicum will give energy to a languid digestion, and will correct the flatulency often incidental to a vegetable diet. Again, a gargle containing Capsicum in a proper measure will afford prompt relief in many forms of sore throat, both by its stimulating action, and by virtue of its special affinities ; this particularly holds good for a relaxed state of the throat, the uvula, and the tonsils. Cayenne pepper is employed in the adulteration of gin.