This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
John Leech, the talented Punch artist, when he died, left behind him forty pairs of trousers, and forty-six pots of Cayenne Pepper! A much esteemed West Indian dish is Pepperpot, the chief ingredient being Cassareep (with dried fish, or flesh, and vegetables), which is chiefly the young green pods of the okra, and Chillies; or the said dish is made of tripe shredded, and stewed, to the liquor of which small balls of dough are added, together with a high seasoning of Pepper. This Cassareep, growing abundantly in the West Indies, produces large tubers on its roots which are the source of our tapioca. The name given to such roots is Jatropha manihot, as derived from the Greek words Iatron-phago, "I eat a cure," expressing the healing, and nutritious properties of this genus. An extract of the "Cassareep" root furnishes the Pepperpot now mentioned. The tubers yield a pulp, a starch, and a milky juice. When the starch, or flour, of the roots is dried on thin hot plates, it constitutes the tapioca of our culinary use. The milky juice is poisonous with prussic acid whilst fresh, but loses its harmful effects after it has been expressed for thirty-six hours, or if it is boiled.
When this juice is condensed by heat to a treacle-like extract it becomes Cassareep, being a brown, slightly sweet, aromatic, thick liquid, which will communicate a remarkably savoury taste to meat gravies, particularly in the making of Pepperpot. It should be used in drops, and serves as a capital digestive addition to meat pies. With beef, veal, fowl, rabbit, kidneys, and their pies, the judicious use of Cassareep effects a decided improvement by employing from a teaspoonful to a tablespoonful. The extract must be kept cool, as it is liable to ferment. Cayenne in smaller quantities, whether by infusion in boiling water as a tea, or in the tincture, serves admirably to relieve dragging pains in the loins through a sluggish action of the kidneys. For incipient quinsy, before the tonsillar abscess breaks, a basin of hot gruel well seasoned with Cayenne Pepper, if taken soon enough, will often give ease, and resolve the swelling. In the early part of the last century a medicine of Capsicum powder compounded with table salt was famous for curing a putrid sore throat.
Two dessertspoonfuls of small red Chillies (powdered), or three of ordinary Cayenne Pepper were beaten together with two dessertspoonfuls of fine salt into a paste, half a pint of boiling water being next added; then the liquor was strained off when cold, and half a pint of very sharp vinegar was mixed with it; One tablespoonful of this mixture was the dose for an adult every half-hour, or every hour, being diluted with more water if found to be too strong.
A Capsicum gargle of properly modified strength will specially relieve other milder forms of sore, and relaxed throat, by virtue, not only of its stimulating action, but further because possessing an inherent specific medicinal affinity for the throat; which part Sydney Smith apostrophized thus in his own instance: -
"Much injured organ! constant is thy toil! Spits turn to do thee harm, and coppers boil; Passion, and punch, and toasted cheese, and paste, And all that's said, and swallowed, lay thee waste! "
Under the invocation of Saint Blaize (in whose processions at one time drunkenness prevailed, giving rise to the reproach "drunk as Blazes") a custom has become perpetuated from Italy by the Fathers of Charity, for the blessing of throats. Two candles consecrated on Candlemas Day, being crossed in the form of an X, are placed under the affected person's chin so as to touch the throat, while these words are said: "By the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, through the merits of St. Blaize, Bishop, and Martyr, may our Lord deliver thee from every malady of the throat." Miraculous cures are said to have followed this pious ceremony. Saint Blaize was the patron of wool-combers. Another "sovereign cure for drunkenness, and pleasant withal" is told of by Tuer, in London Cries, as having been known by the name of Saloop, which was originally dispensed at street corners, where it was consumed formerly for the most part about the hour of midnight. It eventually found its way into the coffee houses of past times. The ingredients used in preparing this beverage were various, sassafras, and other simples of the cuckoo-flower tribe being the principal among them.
With respect to Peppers, and their allied pungent spices, as desirable aids to digestion, doctors have differed, and still include objectors. Dr. Beaumont said: "These spicy condiments do not afford any nutrition, and their continual use affects the stomach as alcohol, and all other stimulants do; the present relief afforded is at the expense of future suffering." Likewise also Mattieu Williams in his Chemistry of Cooking, writes: "Thousands of poor wretches are crawling miserably to their graves, the victims of the multitude of maladies of both mind, and body, that are connected with chronic incurable dyspepsia brought about by the use of Cayenne, and its condimental cousins".
For catarrh of the stomach which gives distress without feverish disturbance, or for gout of stomach under the like conditions, a tea made by pouring boiling water on sufficient Cayenne Pepper, and drinking half a tumblerful (whilst quite hot) at a time will give relief.
A Capsicum ointment, or Chilli paste, will almost invariably serve to mitigate the painful stiffness of chronic rheumatism if rubbed in topically for ten minutes at a time with a gloved hand. This paste is to be made with "capsicin," the oleo-resin of the pods (half an ounce), and sheep's-wool oil (lanoline), five ounces, melting the latter, and after adding the capsicin letting them be stirred together until cold. Indolent piles which have extruded, and the circulation in which is stagnant, can be stimulated to reduction by the use of this ointment when diluted so as to cause only moderate smarting. At the same time the viands taken at table should be sprinkled with Cayenne Pepper. For a scrofulous discharge from the ears of a child Capsicum tincture, of a weak strength (four drops to a tablespoon-ful of cold water), injected three times a day, will exercise curative effects. In passive congestion of the eyes through catarrh, or rheumatism, the diluted juice of Capsicum used as a lotion is a sovereign remedy. It will even clear the sight of healthy eyes, but must not be used too strong, only sufficiently so as to produce a temporary smarting.
A "poor man's plaster' 'made of Capsicum extract, or Cayenne Pepper, mixed with melted resin plaster, and then spread on brown paper, is of admirable use in lumbago, and chronic rheumatism; it must be warmed before application. This, and the Chilli paste, excite comforting sensations of warmth in the skin, with redness thereof, but they do not blister it. "I am improved," wrote Sydney Smith to Mrs. Grote, "as to lumbago, but still less upright than Aristides." Unbroken chilblains may be readily cured by rubbing them once a day with a small piece of sponge saturated by a tincture of Cayenne Pepper, until a strong sense of tingling is induced. "The occurrence of chilblains," says Dr. Rabagliati, "is for the most part an indication of overfeeding, or of feeding too often, in much the same way as corns occur." Again: "Chilblains are half gouty, and therefore yield to friction twice daily with soft soap as an alkali".
In Evelyn's time a Pepper known as Tabasco was used as a condimentary addition to "sallets," being pronounced especially wholesome. This is the Piper Jamaiciense, or Amomum Plinii, got from a West Indian plant of the Pimento, or Allspice, order. A liquid extract of the Tabasco was used, of which it was said "from three to six drops will animate the whole salad." Allspice tincture, and a cordial Allspice-water are to be had nowadays from our druggists.