Chili Pepper

Chili peppers have been valued for centuries for both their flavor and medicinal benefits. Learn more about their ability to relieve pain, lower cholesterol, and more.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Chili, Tabasco pepper
  • Scientific nameCapsicum frutescens
  • Plant typeShrub
  • Native regionSouth America
  • Main producer(s)India
  • Main Economic UseCulinary
Chili Pepper

Chili peppers, or Capsicum frutescens, are South American natives that have risen to the status of one of the world's most beloved and well-known spices. A perennial herb that grows best in subtropical regions, chili pepper was not discovered by Europeans until the colonization of the Americas, although researchers believe it was a staple food in the New World as far back as 6,000 years ago. Interestingly, the food's status as a medicinal agent - most notably, as an antiseptic and painkiller - seems to be even more ancient, as it is thought to have preceded its use as food source. Some researchers point out that it may have been first discovered around 8,500 BCE. The importance of chili peppers was magnified after the Discovery and Conquest when they were rapidly disseminated and adapted to different regions worldwide.


Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAnalgesic, Hypocholesterolemic
  • Key constituentsCapsaicin
  • Ways to useCapsules, Ointment
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Chili Peppers

Chili peppers offer many benefits, being the most important their anesthetic and hypocholesterolemic properties. This popular spicy herb has found a variety of medicinal applications, such us:

  • Inhibiting pain. Thanks to its analgesic properties, chili peppers help relieve the acute pain caused by arthritis and diabetic neuropathy.

  • Lowering blood cholesterol levels. The active compounds in chili peppers contribute to increase blood flow and improve fat metabolism, thus protecting cardiovascular health.

Chili peppers also have been traditionally used to clear airways (decongestant) and stimulate bowel movements (laxative).

Furthermore, extensive  research  been  done  during the last two decades to  determine  the benefits of chili peppers in the treatment of gastric ulcers and weight lost.

How It Works

Chili peppers are rich in antioxidant compounds, such as beta carotene and beta cryptoxanthin, which are transformed by the body into vitamin A. The lycopene in red chili peppers have cardioprotective properties, while lutein and zeaxanthin are both of essential for eye health. 

Capsaicin and dihydrocapsaicin are  the most  potent  capsaicinoids in chili peppers and the cause of their spicy flavor. The contact between capsaicin and the skin initially produces pain, inflammation, and a localized heat sensation. However, it quickly promotes an analgesic response by desensitizing sensory receptors.

Once isolated and in the proper dosage, capsaicin is opening new possibilities for the management of arthritic symptoms, diabetic neuropathy, and as a low-abuse-potential solution for those affected by chronic pain conditions.

While its mechanism of action is yet to be fully understood, it is thought that the antiulcerous effect of capsaicin promotes vasodilation and increases gastric mucous blood flow, which also facilitates good digestion and healthy bowel movements.


The nutritional profile of chili peppers is rounded up by vitamins C (ascorbic acid), E (tocopherol), B2 (riboflavin), and B6 (pyridoxine). It is also seen as a proper, if secondary, source of potassium and magnesium, two essential minerals.

Analgesic properties are also present in coffee and devil's claw, whereas avocado and olive help keep cholesterol levels in check.

Chili Pepper Side Effects

Chili pepper is considered safe to be ingested. However, people sensitive to capsicum may experience runny nose, stomach discomfort, sweating and skin redness. If consumed on a daily bases, capsicum can cause damage in liver or kidneys.


  • During pregnancy and breast-feeding capsicum can be applied topically but is recommended to ingest it in moderation, since it may cause pre-eclampsia in pregnant women and dermatitis in the infants.

  • While further studies are required to confirm if capsicum consumption by mouth is safe for children under two, it is strongly advised not to use it on children's skin.

  • Capsicum should not be applied on damaged or broken skin.

  • Because of its anticoagulant properties, consuming capsicum is contraindicated in case of surgery. Its use should be completely suspended at least two weeks before the medical procedure.

How to Consume Chili Pepper

Chili Pepper Foods

The most effective way of obtaining the medicinal benefits from chili peppers is using them as remedies, while their nutritional value is better absorbed through food. Most chili pepper supplements come in tablet or cream forms, and are mostly used as local anesthetics or for specific skin conditions.

Natural Forms

  • Raw. The nutritional value of chili peppers and its pungent flavor are fully preserved when consumed fresh. Sliced chili peppers can be added to salads, sprinkled over food, or blended with avocados for a spicy dip.

  • Cooked. When cooked, chili peppers lose a bit of their pungent capsaicin thus can be better tolerated for people with sensitive stomachs. However, their digestive and cholesterol-lowering properties still beneficial.

  • Pickled. A very popular way to extend the life of capsicum, pickling is also an effective method to preserve some of its nutritional content, such as A and E vitamins, and also its medicinal benefits. Pickled chili peppers can be used for both garnishing and cooking.

  • Powder. Dehydrated and finely ground chilli pepper has a longer shelf life and can be used to season a variety of dishes. It delivers all the health benefits of chili pepper, but with a slightly milder pungency.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

  • Capsicum cream. Clinical trials have shown that, when topically applied, the analgesic properties of capsaicin effectively reduces pain associated with arthritis.

  • Capsicum capsules. Taking capsules is the most effective way to reap the cholesterol-lowering effects of chili peppers.


Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Big online retailers, Farmers' markets, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores

Natural Forms

Raw chili pepper is easy to find in most grocery stores or local markets around the world. The most common presentations of raw chili pepper include the whole fruit and powdered chilli. Dehydrated chili peppers are not as common but may still be found in specialized stores or ethnic markets.

Herbal Remedies & Supplements

Chili pepper supplements are mainly found in specialized health stores. These are growing in popularity due to capsaicin's pain-relieving ability, and there is a wide variety of chili pepper supplement choices available through online retailers. Each brand of chili pepper supplement may come with different concentrations, although they are overwhelmingly more common in tablet form and made from either powdered chili peppers or isolated capsaicin.


Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsFruit
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilLight (sandy), Well-drained
  • Soil pH5.6 – 6.0 (Moderately acidic), 6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
  • Growing habitatSubtropical regions
  • Growing time5 months
  • Potential insect pestsFungi
  • Potential diseasesPhytophthora spp.

Chili pepper is a perennial shrub that produces a fruit known for its strong, spicy flavor. It grows usually less than three feet (1 m) tall, with small, white, pendent flowers and elongated, yellow, orange or red fruits (berries). It can be distinguished from other types of domesticated peppers by flowers that are solitary rather than in groups, and filaments (thread-like stalks supporting the anther) that are not purple.

Growing Guidelines

  • Chili peppers grow better with temperatures between 60 - 70°F (16 - 21°C) and full sun exposure.

  • They require five months of warm climate and bright sunshine to produce their berries, which bright color and flavor will be directly linked to the amount of sun exposure and heat.

  • Chili peppers require well-drained soil or low-retention, sandy soil. The pH should range between 5.5 and 6.5.

  • This crop is very susceptible to root diseases such as Phythophthora spp. and other fungi infestations.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesRepellent

Plant Biology

The chili pepper is an annual plant originally native to tropical America. It has a thin, erect stem and narrow, glossy green leaves that grow from the branches. The chili pepper flowers can grow either alone or in clusters and they are star-shaped, with five lobes that can be white, green, or purplish. The chili pepper fruits, which are green but turn into glossy red as they ripe, have an elongated shape and are considered berries because they carry multiple seeds.

  • Classification

    The scientific name for chili pepper is Capsicum annuum, and it is a member of the Solanaceae family, also known as the nightshade family, which contains approximately 2,700 species of flowering plants, most notably potato (Solanum tuberosum), tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), eggplant (Solanum melongena), and cayenne (Capsicum anuum).

    The genus Capsicum comprises 27 species and it is set apart because the presence of capsaicinoids, organic compounds that provide color and flavor to the fruits. The Latin name Capsicum derives from the Greek kapto meaning 'to bite' - in reference to the pungency of the chili pepper fruit.

  • Varieties and Cultivars of Chili Pepper

    Over the course of history, over 300 types of peppers of different flavors, shapes, and colors have been cultivated or created through selective breeding in different regions of the world. Among the different varieties of chili peppers, the 'Tabasco', 'Malagueta', 'Piri piri' ('African devil'), and 'Kambuzi' peppers are the most widespread. Likewise, another notable cultivar of chili pepper is the 'Infinity chili', which was briefly considered in 2011 as the world's hottest pepper.

Economic Data

Chili peppers are of great economic importance in agriculture and gastronomic industries and are considered one of the most used spices worldwide. According to aggregate estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), during the last five years alone, worldwide production of chili peppers has risen from 28 million tonnes to over 32 million tonnes.

India is currently the world's largest exporter, consumer, and producer of chili peppers. Within India, one state alone, Andhra Pradesh, contributes 70% of the country's chili exports.

Other Uses of Chili Pepper

Chili peppers are often used in Africa and South Asia as a repellent to protect crops from elephants. Chili peppers are also used in the production of pepper spray, a non-lethal defensive weapon.


  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, p. 78
  • NCCAM Herbs at a Glance, : Complementary Health Approaches for Chronic Pain, 2014
  • FAOSTAT, Chillies and Peppers, green: Production report
  • Science Magazine, Starch fossils and the domestication and dispersal of chili pepper (Capsicum spp. L. ) in the Americas, 2007
  • Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Capsicum annuum (chilli pepper)
  • New Mexico State University, Chile Pepper Institute, Nutritional Information
  • Molecules, Chemical and Pharmacological Aspects of Capsaicin, 2011
  • Clinical Nutrition Journal, Effects of capsaicin, green tea and CH-19 sweet pepper on appetite and energy intake in humans in negative and positive energy balance, 2009
  • Culpeper's Complete Herbal, Guinea Pepper
  • Public Library of Science One, A capsaicin (8%) patch in the treatment of severe persisitent inquinal postherniorrhapaty pain a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 2014