The King of Spices

by Jade Shutes

Black Pepper

Piper nigrum

Other names: Hu Jiao (TCM), Marica (Sanskrit)

I have found myself quite drawn to all the warming essential oils this winter.  Ginger was posted on our blog here. And here is a much loved spice: Black pepper!

Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a member of the Piperaceae family (also known as the Pepper family) which includes over 8 genera and 2000 species including the popular kava (Piper methysticum). Black pepper is native to Southern India. The ‘Land of Pepper’ lies inland from the ports of Kerala. Piper nigrum is a tropical, evergreen perennial climber to 20 feet with heart-shaped leaves. It bears clusters of small flowers and small spherical fruits that turn red when they ripen.

The black, white and green peppercorns are products of the same plant. The green pepper is the whole fresh berry and when dried in the sun becomes black. Black pepper is the almost mature, complete berries that are dried. White peppercorns come from the mature berry which has the skin removed and is then dried.

Historical Information

Black pepper is called “The King of Spices” and it is considered to be the most important and most widely used spice in the world.  Black pepper has been used in Ayurvedic, Unani, Siddha,  and Traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years for the treatment of cold, pain, fever, and as an antimalarial treatment. It was an important spice in early east-west trading. Pepper is mentioned in the writings of the early Romans. The Roman empire wanted black pepper, more than any other spice, from India. The Caesars treated pepper as a currency, storing vast quantities of it, unused, in the Roman treasury. (Dalby, A., Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices)


According to Grieve (1982), Attila the Hun is known to have demanded 3000 pounds of pepper in ransom for the city of Rome (p.627). During the time of Hippocrates the pepper was used as both a spice for food and as a medicine. It has been employed for treatments of the stomach, for excess gas and in fever preparations. The Asian world has long considered black pepper to be an important spice for detoxifying and as an anti-aging compound.

World Production

Current world producers of black pepper include: As of 2008, Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper, producing 34 percent of the world’s Piper nigrum crop as of 2008. Other major producers include India (19 percent), Brazil (13 percent), Indonesia (9 percent), Malaysia (8 percent), Sri Lanka (6 percent), China (6 percent), and Thailand (4 percent).

An Aromatic Experience

If you have a black pepper grinder with fresh black pepper, go and get it. If you don’t have the grinder, than use already fresh ground pepper or find a friend who has a grinder (even better!). Also gather up any essential oils of Black pepper you have.  First, take a few inhalations of the essential oil of Black pepper. Close you eyes and hold a bottle of Black pepper essential oil close enough to your nose to be able to smell, waft the bottle to the left and right, inhale, observe, feel.

Notice its aroma, its affects on your mind/body/emotions.  Then clear your nasal palate by taking a few inhalations of fresh ground coffee or coffee beans.

Then, take a few moments to grind a bit of black pepper into your palm, close your eyes, and hold your palm a few inches from your nose, and gently (so as not to sniff up the ground black pepper, not fun!) take a few inhalations.  Take a moment to observe its aroma and aromatic impact on your mind/body/emotions. Take another moment to smell the freshly ground black pepper.  Then clear the nasal palate by smelling ground coffee or coffee beans.

Now repeat this process with the essential oil.  Close you eyes and hold a bottle of black pepper essential oil close enough to your nose to be able to smell, waft the bottle to the left and right, inhale, observe, feel.

What differences do you note?  How did smelling the fresh ginger enhance your perceptions of the ginger essential oil?

NOTE: If you ever happen to be at the Longwood Gardens outside of Philadelphia in Kennett Square, PA  take a look inside the Conservatory and you will find Black pepper vines and if your lucky, some pepper growing on the vines.

Black pepper Chemistry

The sharp aroma of black pepper is due to its essential oil content. Black pepper contains approximately 1.2 to 3.5% essential oil.  Its key chemical constituents include: d-limonene (up to 20%), a-pinene, b-pinene, sabinene, b-caryophyllene and δ-3-carene.  It is an essential oils rich in monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes (e.g. b-caryophyllene).

As a herb: Black pepper contains 5-10% pungent acid-amides (pseudoalkaloids), with piperine as its main compound and several others including piperyline, piperoleines, and piperamine.  Pharmacological studies show that piperine is analgesic, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory and exhibits a depressant effect on the central nervous system.

Core Aromatic Applications:

Black pepper essential oil is typically utilized for:

Circulatory system: sluggish circulation, chilblains, Raynaud’s Syndrome, sensitivity to cold
Digestive system: indigestion, encourages peristaltic movement, flatulence, sluggish digestion, lack of appetite
Musculoskeletal system: muscular aches and pains, sciatica, pain relief, rheumatism, muscle stiffness, arthritic pain relief, rheumatic pain
Nervous system: neuritis, peripheral neuropathy, fatigue
Respiratory system: colds, flu, bronchitis, chills, catarrh, smoking cessation aid (Rose and Behm, 1994), antimicrobial and antiviral

Core therapeutic actions include:

Analgesic, antiviral, antimicrobial, carminative, digestive, rubefacient, stimulant (digestive and circulatory), tonic to nervous system

Clinical Research

According to Balacs (1995), Piper nigrum essential oil may be as effective as the alcohol extract in helping smokers quit. According to a research study carried out in North Carolina, 48 cigarette smokers took part in a 3 hour study during which they were not allowed to smoke and were instead given dummy cigarettes impregnated with black pepper extract, or with mint/menthol (placebo 1), or with nothing (placebo 2) (Rose and Behm, 1994) Those who inhaled the black pepper reported that their craving for cigarettes was significantly reduced.

According to research by Ebihara et al (2006), nasal inhalation of black pepper essential oil, which can activate the insular or orbitofrontal cortex, was found to improve the reflexive swallowing movement caused by dysphagia. It was found that it can be effective regardless of the individual patients level of consciousness or physical and mental status.



In Ayurvedic medicine Black pepper, a pungent herb, is used to treat the digestive, respiratory, circulatory and excretory channels.  It is indicated for sluggish digestion, abdominal pain, toxins or ama and anorexia (appetite stimulant).  For the lungs, black pepper is indicated for cold, wet, damp, Kapha conditions with white sticky mucus and a productive cough. It is used for asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and sore throats. Black pepper is also used to increase microcirculation in the capillaries and is indicated for skin diseases with signs of stagnant blood.

“Black pepper infused oil or ghee, applied into the nose, can be a wonderful decongestant to the sinuses blocked with Kapha or ama.” (Pole)   Black pepper increases Pitta, and decreases Kapha and Vata.


Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

In Traditional Chinese medicine, black pepper is considered to be pungent and hot. It is indicated for the Stomach and Large intestine meridians.  Black pepper warms the stomach and spleen, disperses cold – stomach cold, and is used to treat vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain due to cold invading the stomach.  It is contraindicated when there is heat present due to Yin deficiency.

Dosages of the herb:
(van Wyk and Wink, and Pole)
Internally: 0.3 – 0.6 grams; 1.5 grams per day maximum
Tincture: 1-2ml of a 1:5@70% tincture
Essential oil: 5-10% dilution to avoid irritation of the skin

The Aroma of Black pepper:

Psychological and Spiritual affects

Black peppers aroma is warm, spicy, pungent and peppery.

Psyche and emotion: general fatigue, stimulating, gives stamina when someone is tired, emotional coldness, apathy, low endurance, nervousness, weakness of will, fragile nerves, loss of motivation, mental and emotional exhaustion, insecure with self or others

Subtle/energetic aromatherapy: Black pepper represents strength, courage, and strong conviction, and can be used to strengthen an individual’s intention. Black pepper can help with motivation, endurance and stamina. It can be employed for emotional blockages, indecision, emotional coldness, apathy, and mental fatigue. (Worwood, 1996) “Black pepper oil can help to restore a sense of determination – an unwavering single-mindedness that stems from an inner connection with one’s Hara or Tanden, the key vital centre that is situated below the navel.” (Mojay, 1997)


Digestive oil: to increase agni (digestive fire)
1oz Sesame oil
12 drops Black pepper  Piper nigrum
10 drops Ginger   Zingiber officinale
8 drops Cinnamon  Cinnamomum zeylanicum

Warming and comforting massage oil
1oz Organic Jojoba oil or Sesame with:
10 drops Black pepper  Piper nigrum
7 drops Myrrh  Commiphora myrrha
6 drops  Ylang ylang  Cananga odorata

Winters Circulatory stimulating bath
Combine 5-7 drops Black pepper with 10 drops Rosemary ct. cineole in 10ml of jojoba or sesame. Add to warm bath water once you are in the bath.

For a foot bath (great for reflexology sessions in the winter months): add 4 drops Black pepper and 5 drops Rosemary ct. cineole

Respiratory inhaler
(when mucus is present in lungs)
Mix synergy together in a small bowl then soak inhaler pad in the essential oils. Place pad in the inhaler tube and close inhaler. Use as needed.
7 drops Ginger  Zingiber officinale
8 drops Black pepper  Piper nigrum

Massage oil for Poor circulation
1 ounce organic jojoba or sesame
8 drops Ginger  Zingiber officinale
6 drops Black pepper  Piper nigrum
10 drops Grapefruit  Citrus paradisi

Strengthening to Spirit massage oil
1 ounce sesame or jojoba oil
10 drops Black pepper  Piper nigrum
14 drops Frankincense  Boswellia carterii or Boswellia frereana
7 drops Palo santo   Bursera graveolens


Dalby, A.  Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000.

Holmes, P.  (2001). Clinical Aromatherapy: Using Essential Oils for Healing Body and Soul. Cotati, CA: Tigerlily Press, Inc.

Mojay, Gabriel (1997). Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit. Healing Arts Press; Rochester, VT.

Pole, S. (2006). Ayurvedic Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier.

Van Wyk, B., and Wink, M. (2004). Medicinal Plants of the World. Oregon: Timber Press.

Worwood, V. (1996). The Fragrant Mind. Novato, CA: New World Library.

Zeck, R.  (2008). The Blossoming Heart. Australia: Aroma Tours.