This artice being so well known, it will be unnecessary to be very particular in describing it. It has been a long time used by being ground to powder, and a proportion of salt mixed with it; this destroys in some degree its stimulating effects and makes it less pungent; but it is not so good for medicine as in the pure state. It is said to be a native of South America, and is cultivated in many of the West Indies. That which comes to this country is brought from De-merara and Jamaica. It also grows in other parts of the world. There are several species that are described under the name of Capsicum, all of which are about the same as to their stimulating qualities. The pods only are used; they are long and pointed, are of a green color till ripe, when they turn of a bright orange-red. When the pods are green they are gathered and preserved in salt and water and brought to this country in bottles, when vinegar is put on them, which is sold under the name of pepper-sauce. The ripe pods ground to a powder are what is used for medicine and cooking.
I shall not undertake to dispute but that cayenne has been used for medical purposes long before I had any knowedge of it, and that it is one of the safest and best articles ever discovered to remove disease, I know to be a fact, from long experience; but it is equally true that the medical faculty never considered it of much value, and the people had no knowledge of it as a medicine till I introduced it, by making use of it in my practice. Mention is made of Cayenne in the Edinburg Dispensatory, as chiefly employed for culinary purpose, but that of late it has been employed also in the practice of medicine. The author says that "there can be little doubt that it furnishes one of the purest and strongest stimulants which can be introduced into the stomach; while at the same time it has nothing of the narcotic effects of ardent spirits. It is said to have been used with success in curing some cases of disease that had resisted all other remedies." All this I am satisfied is true, for if given as a medicine it always will be found useful; but all the knowledge they had of it seems to have been derived from a few experiments that had been made, without fixing upon any particular manner of preparing or administering it, or in what disease, as is the case with all other articles that are introduced into general practice. In Thacher's Dispensatory, the same account is given of Cayenne as in the Edinburgh, and in almost the same words.
I never had any knowledge of Cayenne being useful as a medicine, or that it had ever been used as such, till I discovered it by accident, as has been the case with most other articles used by me. After I had fixed upon a system for my government in practice, I found much difficulty in getting something that would not only produce a strong heat in the body, but would retain it till the canker could be removed and the digestive powers restored, so that the food, by being properly digested, would maintain the natural heat. I tried a great number of articles that were of a hot nature, but could find nothing that would hold the heat any length of time. I made use of ginger, mustard, horseradish, peppermint, butternut bark, and many other hot medicines, but they were all more or less volatile, and would not have the desired effect. With these, however, and the Emetic Herb, together with the aid of steam, I was enabled to practice with pretty general success. In the fall of the year 1805, I was out in search of Umbil on a mountain in Walpole, N. H. I went into a house at the foot of the mountain to inquire for some rattlesnake oil. While in the house I saw a large string of red peppers hanging in the room, which put me in mind of what I had been a long time in search of to retain the internal heat. I knew them to be very hot, but did not know of what nature. I obtained these peppers, carried them home, reduced them to powder, and took some of the powder myself, and found it to answer the purpose better than anything else I had made use of. I put it in spirit with the Emetic Herb, and gave the tincture mixed in a tea of witch-hazel leaves, and found that it would retain the heat in the stomach after puking, and preserve the strength of the patient in proportion. I made use of it in different ways for two years, and always with good success.
In the fall of 1808, I was in Newburyport, and saw a bottle of pepper-sauce, being the first that I had ever seen. I bought it and carried it home; got some kind of pepper that was dried, which I put into the bottle; this made it very hot. On my way home, was taken unwell, and was quite cold. I took a swallow from the bottle, which caused violent pain for a few minutes, when it produced perspiration, and I soon grew easy. I afterwards tried it and found that after it had expelled the cold, it would not cause pain. From these experiments I became convinced that this kind of pepper was much stronger, and would be better for medical use than the common red pepper. Soon after this I was again in Newburyport, and made inquiry, and found some cayenne, but it was prepared with salt for table use, which injured it for medical purposes. I tried it by tasting, and selected that which had the least salt in it. I afterwards made use of this article and found it to answer all the purposes wished, and was the very thing I had long been in search of. The next year I went to Portsmouth, and made inquiries concerning cayenne, and from those who dealt in the article, I learned that it was brought to this country from Demerara and Jamaica, prepared only for table use, and that salt was put with it to preserve it and make it more palatable. I became acquainted with a French gentleman who had a brother in Demerara, and made arrangements with him to send to his brother and request him to procure some, and have it prepared without salt. He did so, and sent out a box containing about eighty pounds in a pure state. I sent also by many others that were going to the places where it grows to procure all they could; in consequence of which large quantities were imported into Portsmouth, much more than there was immediate demand for. I was not able to purchase but a small part of what was brought, and it was bought up by others on speculation, and sent to Boston. The consequence was that the price was so much reduced that it would not bring first cost, which put a stop to its being imported, and it has been very scarce.
When I first began to use this article it caused much talk among the people in Portsmouth and the adjoining towns. The doctors tried to frighten them by telling that I made use of cayenne pepper as a medicine, and that it would burn up the stomach and lungs as bad as vitriol. The people generally, however, became convinced by using it that all the doctors said about it was false, and it only proved their ignorance of its medicinal virtues and their malignity towards me. It soon came into general use, and the knowledge of its being useful in curing disease was spread all through the country. I made use of it in curing the spotted fever, and where it was known, it was the only thing depended on for that disease. I have made use of cayenne in all kinds of disease, and have given it to patients of all ages and under every circumstance that has come under my practice, and can assure the public that it is perfectly harmless, never having known it to produce any bad effects whatever. It is no doubt the most powerful stimulant known; its power is entirely congenial to nature, being powerful only in raising and maintaining that heat on which life depends. It is extremely pungent and when taken sets the mouth as it were on fire; this lasts, however, but a few minutes, and I consider it essentially a benefit, for its effects on the glands causes the saliva to flow freely and leaves the mouth clean and moist.
The only preparation necessary is to have it ground or pounded to a fine powder. For a dose, from half to a teaspoonful may be taken in hot water, sweetened, or the same quantity may be mixed with either of the other numbers when taken. It will produce a free perspiration, which should be kept up by repeating the dose until the disease is removed. A spoonful, with an equal quantity of common salt, put into a gill of vinegar, makes a very good sauce to be eaten with meat, and will assist the appetite and strengthen the digestion. One spoonful of this preparation may be taken to good advantage, and will remove faint, sinking feelings, which some are subject to, especially in the spring of the year. Pepper-sauce is good for the same purpose. A teaspoonful of cayenne pepper may be taken in a tumbler of cider, and is much better than ardent spirits. There is scarce any preparation of medicine that I make use of in which I do not put some of this article. It will cure the ague in the face, by taking a dose, and tying a small quantity in a fine cloth, and put it between the cheek and the teeth, on the side that is affected, sitting by the fire, covered with a blanket.
This is the history of this most valuable medicine and is given in Dr. Thomson's own language so as to take nothing from it. This medicine is no longer given in this form but is now given only in the purified tablet form. Dose from one to ten minims.
Capsicum. (Greer.) Capsicum is the most pronounced stimulant of the materia medica, and it cannot be equalled for use when powerful and prolonged stimulation is needed, as in congestive chills, heart failure, etc. The whole circulation is affected by the agent, and it can be used externally as well as internally. Liniments for neuralgia, sciatica, paralysis, etc., should contain Capsicum. And in chronic, sluggish conditions a small amount may be added to other kinds of medication. In congested, ulcerated or infectious sore throat it is most excellent, especially combined with myrrh. It is antiseptic in character and a most suitable gargle in diphtheria. Given internally it will check uterine hemmorrhages. One grain is considered a full dose, except for rare cases, as in congestive chills. Ten grains to a pint of boiling water will make an ordinary infusion. Capsicum plasters are valuable for pneumonia and other conditions, but should not be allowed to remain over an hour on the parts.
The best way to give Capsicum is to have the tablets and drink down with fairly hot water. In this way the patient does not get the taste of them. In my practice I use the sugar-coated one-grain tablet.