Black Pepper – Herb of the Month – The Herb Society of America Blog


By Maryann Readal

Black pepper, Piper nigrum, is a ubiquitous spice that may be discovered on tables wherever in the world the place food is served. But what’s the story behind this common spice that’s utilized in kitchens the world over? 

P. nigrum is native to the Malabar Coast of southern India. It can be grown in different components of the tropical world, together with Vietnam, which has taken the lead in manufacturing by exporting 287,000 tons of black pepper value $722 million in 2019. This is about 35% of the world’s black pepper commerce. 

Pepppercorn drupes. Photo credit score: Missouri Botantical Garden

Black pepper is a perennial vine with coronary heart formed leaves and pendulous flowers. It is grown for its fruit, which is dried after which used as a seasoning. The black pepper vine grows in my Zone 8b backyard; nonetheless, it has but to supply any peppercorns, though it bloomed for the first time this yr. Maybe someday I’ll have peppercorns.

“Pepper” comes from the Sanskrit phrase pippali, which implies vitality and spiritedness. When we are saying “peppy,” we’re referring to the style of black pepper that may “pep” us up.

Black, white, and inexperienced peppercorns come from the similar plant. Black pepper is the dried, unripe fruit. White pepper is the seed of the dried, absolutely ripe fruit. Green pepper is the dried unripe fruit that’s brined to protect its taste and colour. Pink peppercorns will not be a pepper in any respect, since they arrive from the Peruvian pepper tree, Schinus molle, which is in the cashew household.

Archaeological proof reveals that black pepper was used as a seasoning in India as early as 2000 BCE. Exportation introduced it to Egypt, the place it was used as a spice and as a drugs. Containers of peppercorns have been present in Egyptian tombs, and so they have been even present in the nostrils of Ramses II who was mummified in 1213 BCE. Egyptians have been early customers of toothpaste, which they created from rock salt, dried iris flowers, black pepper, and mint. Cleopatra is alleged to have had pores and skin lotions made with black pepper.

peppercornsWith exploration got here the unfold of black pepper to the Roman Empire, the place it was thought-about so beneficial that enormous portions have been saved in the Roman treasury. The first century Roman cookbook, Cooking and Dining in Imperial Rome by Apicius, featured recipes by which 80% of them known as for black pepper. Pliny the Elder (25-79 CE) couldn’t perceive the purpose for pepper’s recognition. He remarked, “Whereas pepper has nothing in it that can plead as a recommendation to either fruit or berry, its only desirable quality being a certain pungency; and yet it is for this that we import it all the way from India!” Romans used black pepper as a therapy for digestive issues and fuel aid. They additionally used it as foreign money. When Alaric the Visigoth laid siege to Rome round 400 CE, he demanded a ransom of three thousand kilos of black pepper, together with gold and silver. 

After the fall of Rome, the Persians after which the Arabs have been in management of the spice commerce. They created improbable, scary tales about the place pepper grew to be able to scare different merchants away from the supply of black pepper. Their commerce created a brand new empire – the metropolis states of Venice and Genoa. The black pepper commerce was accountable, partially, for the wealth of these two cities that offered the commodity to the relaxation of Europe. 

Due to the high value of buying and selling between Europe and India, black pepper and different spices turned a luxurious and a logo of wealth, as the style for flavored meals and a perception in the medicinal qualities of spices grew.  Again, it was additionally used as foreign money: a pound of black pepper may free a serf, and plenty of a younger maiden was married with a black pepper dowry.

With the explorations of Vasco Da Gama and others in the 15th century, commerce in black pepper fell to the Portuguese, then to the Dutch, after which to the British East India Company. At one time, pepper accounted for 70% of the world spice commerce. As it turned extra accessible, costs dropped, and extra folks have been in a position to make use of black pepper. As a outcome, many world cuisines developed particular spice/herb blends that included black pepper.

Annual Peppercorn Ceremony in Bermuda. Photo credit score:

An amusing story about black pepper performs out in Bermuda, the place annually, the 200 yr previous Annual Peppercorn Ceremony happens. During this occasion, Freemasons present the Governor of Bermuda with one peppercorn on a cushioned silver platter in alternate for his or her lease of the Old State home. The concept of “peppercorn rent” remains to be practiced at the moment in England and in different international locations, the place a nominal charge is charged to lease a property. This refers again to the time when peppercorns have been used as foreign money. 

Piperine, a key constituent in black pepper, is being explored for its antioxidant properties and as a therapy for vitiligo, which is the loss of pores and skin pigmentation (Mihăilă et al, 2019). In addition, piperine is discovered to combat irritation, enhance digestion, and enhance absorption of some natural and traditional medicine (Streit, 2019). A comparatively current examine confirmed that smelling sizzling pepper oil helps to scale back the craving to smoke (Cordell & Buckle, 2013).

Black pepper is used extensively in Ayurvedic and Chinese drugs to deal with digestive tract issues. Traditionally, it was used to deal with worms, coughs and colds, sinusitis, dental issues, diarrhea, and so on. The oil was used to deal with scalp infections and pores and skin ailments. 

Who would have thought that this frequent culinary spice performed such an vital position in world historical past? It was used to pay taxes, ransoms, lease, and dowry. As a medium of alternate, it was known as black gold. It was, and nonetheless is, an vital medicinal ingredient. And, it was the purpose sailors set sail on perilous journeys to discover a passage to India. Although not thought-about a luxurious spice, the world’s demand for black pepper has not abated by way of the years, and continues to be an vital spice in most cuisines. It has a peppery maintain in lots of of our kitchens and nonetheless reigns as the “king of spices.”

For extra info and recipes utilizing black pepper, go to The Herbs Society of America’s Herb of the Month webpage:

Cordell, B. and Buckle, J. (2013). The results of aromatherapy on nicotine cravings on a U.S. campus: A small comparability examine. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19 (8). Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from

Mihăilă,B., Dinică, R.M., Tatu, A.L., and Buzia, O. D. (2019). New insights in vitilago therapies utilizing bioactive compounds from Piper nigrum. Exp Ther Med, 17 (2): 1039-1044. Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from

Streit, L. (2019). Is black pepper good for you, or unhealthy? Nutrition, makes use of, and extra. Healthline. Accessed May 27, 2020. Available from

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the coverage of The Herb Society of America, Inc. to not advise or suggest herbs for medicinal or health use. This info is meant for instructional functions solely and shouldn’t be thought-about as a advice or an endorsement of any explicit medical or health therapy. Please seek the advice of a health care supplier earlier than pursuing any natural therapies.

Maryann Readal is the Secretary of The Herb Society of America. She is a member of the Texas Thyme Unit in Huntsville, TX and is a Master Gardener. She gardens amongst the pines in the Piney Woods of East Texas.

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