Black pepper (Piper nigrum, Piperaceae) is a perennial woody climbing vine growing to between 14-20 feet. The vine has spikey, white flowers, dark green, heart-shaped leaves, and berries that turn from red to black as they ripen.1,2 While native to India, black pepper has been cultivated in several tropical countries including China, Madagascar, and Malaysia, with the best black pepper reportedly coming from Malabar.
In ancient Greece, Rome, China, and India, black pepper was used as a medicine to treat gout and rheumatism, reduce fever, halt bleeding from wounds, and as a carminative and digestive stimulant.1 Mendicant monks in India were said to consume seven to nine grains of black pepper per day to give them the endurance needed to cover long distances when traveling. Black pepper was also used in infectious diseases such as scarlet fever, smallpox, cholera, and typhus.
The essential oil, steam distilled from the ripe, dry peppercorns, has been used to treat arthritis, muscular aches and pains, poor circulation, anemia, flatulence, headache, cold and flu, constipation, nervous conditions, and heartburn.3 It has been used for smoking cessation also with both craving and anxiety symptoms being reduced.4 The essential oil can dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow to a specific area when applied topically. It may flush lactic acid from the muscles after physical exercise. It has been used to relieve cramps, ease colic, and counteract the effects of poison.
In a small, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial conducted in Portugal, researchers found that inhalation of black pepper essential oil resulted in a significantly lower pain intensity score than the placebo oil.5 The nine week study conducted with 54 patients presenting with pain demonstrated that black pepper essential oil does not need to be applied topically in order to produce analgesic effects.
1Rhind JP. Fragrance and Wellbeing – Plant Aromatics and Their Influence on the Psyche. London: Singing Dragon; 2014.
2Lawless J. The Encyclopaedia of Essential Oils. Shaftesbury, Dorset, UK: Element Books Limited; 1992.
3Lis-Balchin M. Aromatherapy Science – A Guide for Healthcare Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press; 2006.
4Purchon N, Cantele L. The Complete Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Handbook for Everyday Wellness. Toronto, Ontario: Robert Rose Inc.; 2014.
5Costa R, Machado J, Abreu C. Evaluation of analgesic properties of Piper nigrum essential oil: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. World J Tradit Chin Med. 2016;2(2):60-64.