Some Like it Hot

Swami Ajnananda Saraswati

The chili, capsicum frutescens, known as red pepper, cayenne, African pepper or bird pepper, is used all over the world. In Africa, South America, India and South East Asia it is an essential culinary and medicinal herb. Many people here in India do not know that the plant is not a native of the subcontinent but was imported by the Portuguese.

Chili stimulates the digestive juices and the digestive fire of manipura chakra and in poor countries where the standard of hygiene is low, it is prized for its ability to destroy harmful bacteria in food.

It seems that there is no middle ground with chili; either one likes it or not, although there is a wide variety ranging from mild to fiery. With a little practice it becomes possible to enjoy these red hot herbs and there is good reason for doing so. It should be noted, however, that prolonged or excessive use of chili can be harmful for people with poor kidneys. If there is any history of kidney trouble, you should seek medical advice before using it in large doses therapeutically.

Medicinal Properties and Uses

Chili is an appetizer, stimulant, tonic, digestive and tissue restorative. It also promotes the flow of saliva and tears. Some of its constituents by chemical analysis are: albumen, starch, pectin, potassium phosphate, vitamin C, iron and a reddish oil.

Ayurvedic and Unani medical texts describe chili as being good for coughs, laryngitis, indigestion, increasing peristaltic bowel action and the bites of snakes and scorpions. According to these texts, when the poison of snake bite has begun to take effect, heat ill the mouth from chili will not be felt. Where there is toothache the fresh juice may be extracted and applied effectively.

It is a useful adjunct to orthodox medical treatment of cholera, malaria, scarlet and yellow fevers, where the tea made by simmering one teaspoon of powdered chili in one cup of water for five minutes is used in spoonfuls every ten to fifteen minutes. The tea is also excellent for sobering up someone who is suffering from too much alcohol.

Oil of capsicum, which is almost completely soluble in alcohol, may be simply extracted from the powdered herb by soaking two ounces of freshly ground chili in one pint of medicinal brandy for at least two weeks, shaking the bottle every eight hours or more frequently if time affords. The bottle should be kept in a warm place during this process. Finally the residual powder is filtered off through cloth and the tincture placed in a brown glass container away from the light. This tincture may be useful in cases ranging from toothache, where one or two drops may suffice to relieve pain and assist healing through the antiseptic action, to coughs and colds where doses of up to twenty drops are taken with a little lemon and honey as required to relieve symptoms.

A tested recipe for relief from colds is four to six crushed garlic cloves, two chilies finely chopped, one heaped tablespoon chopped ginger, three black peppercorns, two aromatic crushed cloves. Simmer gently for five minutes in half a pint of water, sweeten with honey and drink while warm.

Where there is respiratory congestion such as pneumonia or bronchitis it is used as a plaster in the following way. A very strong tea is made by boiling one ounce of powdered herb in one pint of water. This is added to sufficient bran (the fiber of the wheat left after milling to flour) to make a paste which is applied over the area and then covered with towels to retain the heat.

Chili may be sprinkled or applied fresh to open wounds where its action is similar to that of hydrogen peroxide in sterilizing. In India it forms part of some tooth powders which are effective in freshening the mouth and preventing such diseases as pyorrhoea. Because of its high alkalinity it also plays an active part in preventing decay by neutralizing the enamel destroying acids produced by plaque-born bacteria.

It is a great stimulant and blood purifier and excellent for stupors, prolonged fever and skin diseases such as boils. It may be taken as powder either in capsules or in pills made by rolling it in a little bread or dough, although the fresh herb is best.

Years ago when Swami Satyananda Saraswati left his guru's ashram for a period of intensive sadhana at Gangotri, his physical condition deteriorated and he returned almost a walking skeleton. As a result of his weakened condition he contracted tuberculosis. Various medicines and a diet of meat and eggs were prescribed. It was also suggested that he should go to a sanatorium to recover. He refused all these, however, and moved out of the ashram to a small hut nearby. He took only green chilies (fifteen to twenty at a time) and chapattis, and soon his appetite returned. Within three months his health was completely restored and he returned to the ashram. Even to this day he says, "Green chilies are life to me; if it wasn't for green chilies I would have been dead thirty odd years ago."