Sunday, January 11, 2009

Chile Peppers - A Natural High

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in peppers, which come from the genus capsicum. Hot varieties of capsicum are called chilies. In addition to bolstering the body’s immune system, they cause the release of endorphins. The result is morphine-like pain relief and an increase in heart rate and circulation. Nerve response is affected. Adrenaline production is stimulated. You get high on chilies. You want more.

Worldwide, people want a lot more chilies these days. Global consumption of chilies is rising rapidly. Chiles have been a staple in Latin America, India and Asia for centuries. Decades ago, grocery stores in the southwest USA began carrying a greater volume of more varieties. The 21st Century has seen this rise in popularity spread to the rest of North America and Europe. Chefs are spicing up traditionally bland recipes, and food producers are adding chilies to a wide range of products such as jams and chocolate.

Dr. Andrew Weil published his study of the physiological effect of chilies in his first book, The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon. “The effect of capsaicin on the oral membranes is spectacular. A person uninitiated into the mysteries of chili eating who bites down on a really peppy capsicum pod may exhibit all the symptoms of furious rabies. It is difficult to convey to such a sufferer the truth that relief comes only of eating more chilies, but that is the case. Water makes the agony worse. The only real help comes of plunging in and developing tolerance to the effect.”

According to herbalist Jethro Kloss, author of Back to Eden, “There is, perhaps, no other article which produces so powerful an impression on the animal frame that is so destitute of all injurious properties. Capsicum seems almost incapable of abuse, for however great the excitement produced by it, this stimulant prevents that excitement subsiding so suddenly as to induce any great derangement of the equilibrium of the circulation. It produces the most powerful impression on the surface yet never draws a blister on the stomach, yet never weakens its tone."

The rush that comes from eating chilies is what keeps aficionados coming back for more. The eyes light up, nasal passages and the respiratory tract are cleared, concentration is increased, the liver is cleansed, and perspiration clears the pores of toxins and acts to cool the skin. Chilies deliver more vitamin C than citrus, bolstering the immune system. In the end, a sublime sense of well being comes from eating hot chilies.

This great pleasure has been sustained in Latin America for 8000 years, and cultivated for 5000, according to Dr. Wiel’s research. “It is a sensible remedy because chili brings a great deal of blood to the surface of mucous membranes, and increased blood supply should promote healing.” In 1493 historian Peter Mart reported that Columbus had discovered peppers more pungent than those of Asia, and within a few years the plants reached the Far East. They established themselves so well in SE Asia and India that some early botanists thought they were native there!
Chilies are yet another example of the wonderful gifts Latin America continues to provide to the world. You can grow chile peppers in your home year round with a heat lamp. To order chile pepper plants for your home or garden, visit


  1. You touched on one of the most funny things about chilis. They are so hot and spicy and they make your mouth burn, but you want more.

    Also, I think it's interesting that there are different attitudes about spicy food and chilis among the Latin American countries. For example, when I visited Costa Rica I was surprised at how mild much of the food was. Where I was expecting some spice, I got sweetness instead.

    I've heard that they like their food mild in Argentina as well.

  2. Good point. That is interesting. Costa Rica didn't have the strong Mayan presence that it neighbors had. Argentina had a prolonged European influence, which may have cooled things down a bit. I've been told the chili pepper originated in Peru, but others say Ecuador. Wherever I go, I find there is usually a Mexican restuarant serving up the hot stuff!