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.
As to the Latin word "Piper" for Pepper, its derivation is said to be from the Greek "Peperi, quod apricatum,"- because baked, and dried by the sun. "There is 3 maner of Peper, alle upo' o' tree, - long Peper, blak Peper, and white Peper".
The principal kinds (white, and black) are procured from the seed of a small shrub which grows at Malabar, and in various parts of India; for preparing white Pepper the outer husk of this seed is removed. Pepper was known to the ancient Greeks, and was so highly valued in the early centuries of the Christian era that when Alaric besieged Rome (408 a.d.) he included in its ransom three thousand pounds of Pepper. A similar spice is Long Pepper, from the East Indies; its spike has the half-ripe berries attached. This Pepper being not so strong, but more acrid in its effect, has been long used in making medical confections. The seeds of each sort contain an essential oil, and an alkaloid, "piperine," of great power.
Both Hippocrates, and Galen employed Pepper as a medicine, and its culinary use was described by Apicius. Our old English writers make frequent mention of it. For instance, Sir T. Elyot, in the Castel of Health, says with respect to this healthful condiment: "The nature of Pepper is that beinge eaten it passes through the bodye, heatying, and comforting the stomacke, not entrynge into the vaynes, or annoyinge the lyuer." The early signification of "to pepper" was to pelt with peppercorns, and to cause smarting of the part hit therewith; this verb was also employed to signify giving a person his quietus, or "doing for him." In Romeo and Juliet the term is thus used, "I am peppered, I warrant, for this world".
Grocers as dealers in Pepper were formerly known as pepperers. "On June 12th, 1345, a number of pepperers, as the grocers were then styled, met together at dinner by agreement." Should the stomach feel empty, and, still more, if any dry retching occurs, take bottled porter, and biscuit spread with a little butter, and sprinkled well with Pepper, (white, or Cayenne); "which last article" (as Dr. Chambers advises), "by the way, amply repays the space it will occupy in a traveller's pocket throughout a journey, so useful is it on all occasions." Pepper when powdered is a vigorous stimulant to digestion, but if taken in excess it may inflame the bowels. "When I'm a Duchess," said Alice (in Wonderland), "I won't have any Pepper in my kitchen at all. Soup does very well without it. Maybe it's always Pepper that makes people hot-tempered; and vinegar that makes them sour; and camomile that makes them bitter; and, - and barley sugar, and such things that make children sweet-tempered. I only wish people knew that!" The cross Duchess had been saying to Alice:-
"I speak severely to my boy, I beat him when he sneezes, For he can thoroughly enjoy The Pepper when he pleases. Bow! wow! wow!"
The Capsicum, Or Bird Pepper, a tropical production now cultivated freely throughout Great Britain as a stove plant, affords us Cayenne Pepper as its fruit pods, to be powdered for the kitchen, and the table. Another variety of this Capsicum is "Chillies." Because thrushes, ruffs, reeves, and other such small birds can eat, and digest the small "Chilli," its berry goes by the name of "Piment des oiseaux." The Bird Pepper by its Cayenne exercises important, and useful medicinal actions in culinary forms. Chemically it furnishes an essential oil, with a crystalline principle, "capsicin," of much vigour. The oil may be taken remedially in a dose of from half to one drop, rubbed up with some powdered white sugar, and mixed with a wineglassful of hot water; or an essence may be made for more convenient purposes by mixing certain proportions of the oil, and spirit of wine (one part to nine), so that the dose thereof shall be from five to ten drops in water. If one fluid ounce of this essence is mixed with five fluid ounces of water, a capital Capsicum lotion becomes compounded, which will prove signally useful for relieving externally the variety of lumbago in which there is no tenderness on pressure, but much pain on movement; the lotion should be applied over the loins on a piece of lint, or a folded pocket handkerchief.
It is found that shortly after stinging and redness have been produced the patient can move quite freely; though perhaps some hours later a second application may become necessary.
Very remarkable success attends the use of Cayenne Pepper as a substitute for alcohol with hard drinkers, and as a valuable drug in delirium tremens; when full doses given repeatedly at such intervals as seem necessary will reduce the tremor, and agitation within a few hours, causing presently a calm, prolonged sleep; at the same time the skin will become warm, and will perspire naturally; the pulse will subside in quickness, whilst regaining fullness, and volume; the kidneys also, and the bowels will act freely. For an intemperate person who really desires to wean himself from indulging in spirituous liquors, and yet feels to need some other stimulant in place thereof, at first Cayenne Pepper, given in essence, or tincture, mixed with that of bitter orange peel, will answer most effectually, the doses being reduced in strength, and frequency from day to day. But no alcoholic liquor of any sort should be resumed; indeed, there will arise a mortal repugnance thereto. "The feverish remorse," said Charles Lamb, in Confessions of a Drunkard (1830), thus felt "were enough to make him clasp his teeth fast together,
"And not undo 'em, To suffer wet damnation to run thro' 'em".
For the racking headache which follows a drinking debauch it is famously effective to drink from time to time a cupful of a strong tea made from the Garden Thyme as grown in the herb bed; its volatile aromatic oil is specifically beneficial for this severe penalty exacted by the overnight indulgence. A tincture of Capsicum is officinal, and may be had of uniform strength from any druggist; sixteen grains of pure good Capsicum powder to each fluid ounce of spirit of wine, macerated, and strained, the dose thereof being from five to twenty drops, with two tablespoonfuls of cold water. For an attack of delirium tremens, beef-tea red-hot with Cayenne Pepper, and with grated Parmesan cheese in it, may be helpfully taken by the patient in frequent copious draughts. While this is so strong, and burning, that under ordinary conditions one would scarcely dare to taste it, yet the patient will pronounce it the most cool, and refreshing drink. Some such a sad, but sagacious rogue must have been the Peter Piper of our young days, who is said to have eaten a "peck of pickled Pepper;" though nursery tradition asks doubtingly whether he did so, or not.