Cayenne is an herb I have been close with since long before I was an herbalist. I grew up in Arizona, and many of my relatives were from Mexico. We grew up eating the German and French fare of my parents alongside a huge heap of Mexican food, which is truly one of my favorite types of cuisine. The combination of spice and flavor was a stimulating and exciting alternative to mainstream “American” cuisine. I find that many Americans don’t know how to utilize spices in their cooking to add flavor, texture, and purpose to food.
Mexican and South American cooking, on the other hand, uses a lot of cayenne, a pepper native to South America and southern North America. The word cayenne comes from the native Brazilian Tupi name for it. It is a hot, red-yellow pepper that is often dried and powdered, giving us cayenne powder. Some stores sell pure cayenne (capsaicin) powder, and others sell a blend called cayenne powder, that contains other seasonings like garlic, salt, and oregano.
Cayenne is wonderful at stimulating digestion, moving internal heat out, and cooling the body through diaphoresis. This is probably why I ate it all the time living in Arizona—to help me sweat, thus cooling my body. Today, living in cooler Colorado, I don’t eat as much cayenne as I used to, but I do still use it daily. I have fibromyalgia, and I find cayenne provides some much-needed relief for the chronic pain of that condition.
I make a salve, inspired by a client who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, who once mentioned that she really hates Icy Hot, that the cold aggravates her pain. So, I created a warming salve, with a base mix of oils infused with cayenne, fresh St. John’s Wort, and other herbs that help block pain signals from being sent, while also working to reduce pain, inflammation, and soreness in the area. Warming Salve is one of my best sellers now, and cayenne is a good friend of mine to help with pain.
There are many other uses of this wonderful food herb, and I hope this issue helps you get to know them better.