Chili Peppers: Euphoria or Torture?


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Chilis are a diverse fruit that bloom on the nightshade family of plants. Not only do chilis enhance the flavor of food, they also have a dual function of nurturing life by treating pain as well as halting humans in riot control. In this sense, chilis embody the the Daoist nature of the Yin Yang symbol where opposites are intrinsically connected.

Chilis are also a natural and safe way to protect crops from vermin, dogs and even elephants by adding it to feed or lining the perimeter of fields with chilis. This diverse fruit boasts a variety of macabre names and grow in numerous grades of intensity and shades of greens to red. From topical salves for arthritis to euphoria inducing salsas to legendary 90’s rock band, chili peppers attract millions of people worldwide.

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Chili peppers have been a part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500 BC. Some historians credit Chrisopher Colombus for “stumbling” upon peppers in the Caribbean and disseminating them throughout Europe and the East through trade routes. Others believe that the Spanish missionaries were drawn to the chilis wdiely used in Mexico and South Americans. Today chilies are at the core of many cuisines worldwide, namely Asian and South American cuisines.

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The hottest portion of the chili pepper is the white membrane, or placenta, that surrounds the seeds. This protective sheath keeps mammals from destroying the seeds in the wild whilst they do not affect birds at all, which helps spread the seed. The placental portion contains capsaicin that has been identified as a compound that elevates the body temperature, produces sweating and increases heart rate. It is an irritant for mammals, including humans, and produces a sensation of burning in any tissue with which it comes into contact. Capsaicin in the eyes and nose produces extreme discomfort, which is what makes it effective for crowd control.

Chilis are so hot that they are graded on an international scale called the Scoville Scale. The Scoville number refers to how much dilution would be needed to render the heat imperceptible. Currently Wikipedia lists the world’s hottest chili peppers as:

  • Carolina Reaper: 2.2M SHU

  • Trinidad Moruga Scorpion: 2.0M SHU

  • Bhut Jolokia: 1.58M SHU

  • Trinidad Scorpion Butch: 1.463M SHU

  • Naga Viper: 1.4M SHU

    Many sources credit the Bhut Jolokia as the hottest pepper on earth. It is also known as the “Ghost Pepper” because presumably one “gives up the ghost” after consuming it.Just to put this into perspective, the Jalapeno measures 2,500 – 8,000 SHU.

    In other words, the Jalapeno could be pulverized and used as baby food compared to the aforementioned chilis. These peppers listed above are pure gut wrenching, havoc-wreaking torture that create legends (or ER patients) at chili eating contests worldwide. Alternatively, these peppers are used as non-lethal weaponry such as the Bhut Jolokia grenades used by India’s Defense Ministry against protesters in Kashmir.

Medicinal uses:

When capsaicin touches the skin it creates a numbing effect, which is why it is used in topical ointments, dermal patches and nasal spray to temporarily relieve pain. This can be used to treat arthritis, psoriasis, muscle strain and peripheral neuropathy. Internally capsaicin increases blood flow and promotes sweating.

In Traditional Chinese medicine chilies are considered Yang in nature because they are hot and stimulate heat within the body. Taken internally peppers are effective for the treatment of “exterior” conditions such as the common cold. Cayenne pepper has been traditionally used to create a sweat at the onset of a cold. An early sweat can help release the pathogen and prevent the cold from settling in.

Additionally, chilies and spicy food in general is considered tonifying for people who tend to be cold, sluggish, phlegmy…chilies eaten can stoke the digestive fire and increase metabolism.

Aesthetics:

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The Calabrese region of Italy boasts the Calabrian pepper, affectionately dubbed the Devil’s Kiss, which has been appropriated into a pendant called a “cornicello”. Some people consider the “cornicello” to be a horn and others a calabrian pepper. Either way, the pepper is used a kind of talisman to ward off evil spirits.

This is one of my favorite Italian American symbols, as a kid growing up in the Bronx in the late 80’s Red peppers dangled from the rearview mirrors of cars…(mostly IROCs or cars of a similar nature). Of Italian American decent myself, I began donning a pepper in high school and have been wearing one on and off ever since. The pepper is a big part of my life both past and present.

To eat a great meal and sense both pleasure and pain in one dish is what some people (myself included) consider real gastronomic pleasure. When my mouth feels like it will ignite into flames…as my heart rate increases and I start sucking air through pursed lips and beads of sweat accumulate on my forehead, I think “aaah…I’m alive”. I can’t help but enjoy the little bit of torture, it’s that little bit of reality that sharpens my focus and helps me remain on my toes. Since adrenalin rich sports have taken a back burner in my life, habanero-rich meals help keep the day-to-day a little more dicey.

Castor Nut: The Awesome, The Not-So-Hot and the Downright Deadly

Castor Nut

Castor Oil is an incredible substance that is obtained by pressing the seeds of the castor plant, Ricinus communis (Euphorbiaceae). It is a clear oil that has been used for medicinal use in Ancient Egypt, China, Persia, Africa, Greece, Rome, and in 17th Century Europe and the Americas. Centuries ago, the plant was referred to as “Palma Christe” because the leaves were said to resemble the hand of Christ. This association likely arose out of people’s reverence for the plant’s healing abilities.

Castor oil is now widely used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, machinery and industry. Even Castrol motor oil for machinery is derived from castor oil….must be good for the joints?

 The Awesome:  Always start with the positives!

One of the more compelling health benefits is castor oil’s ability to support the immune system. This healing property does not require you ingest the oil, rather apply it externally. Castor oil “packs” can be an economical and efficient method of infusing the ricinoleic acid and other healing components of castor oil directly into your tissues.

Popularized by psychic and intuitive healer, Edgar Cayce in the 1930s and 1940s, Castor Oil packs became widely utilized. Some say Edgar Cayce was the father of the New Age Movement. His work with castor oil was later researched and proven by primary care physician William McGarey amongst others.

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Even Ancient Yogis and modern day yogis of the Ashtanga tradition follow a Saturday ritual of a castor oil bath. This helps reduce any inflammation in the joints while providing a ritual during the day off from training. In this tradition castor oil is applied liberally while the practitioner lays in corpse pose (shivasina) for 10-15 minutes. Afterwards wash the castor oil off in the shower.

 

Castor oil packs applied topically can:

  • Stimulate and support the immune system

  • Drain the lymphatic system

  • Increase lymphocyte production

  • Increase circulation

  • Have an antiinflamitory effect

  • Have an antiviral effect

  • Have an antifungal  effect

  • Improve painful conditions and swelling

Some conditions treated are GI complaints, ovarian cysts, menstrual issues, irregular menses, painful menses, fibroids, acne, arthritis, lymph edema and chronic infections.

 Topical Application: You can rub castor oil into the skin but if you truly want the most therapeutic effect try a “CASTOR OIL PACK”.  Packs are the most common and effective way to apply topical castor oil.

In order to make a Castor Oil Pack You will need the following supplies:

  • High quality cold-pressed castor oil

  • Hot water bottle or heating pad

  • Plastic wrap

  • Two or three one-foot square pieces of wool or cotton flannel

  • One large old bath towel

Fold flannel three layers thick so it is still large enough to fit over your entire upper abdomen and liver. You can also treat over a local area, like swollen lymph nodes on the neck, ankles, knees…anywhere that needs additional love. Soak flannel with the oil so that it is completely saturated. The oil should be at room temperature. Place the flannel pack directly onto your abdomen; cover oiled flannel with the sheet of plastic, and place the hot water bottle on top of the plastic.

I recommend wearing old pajamas as the oil stains and is difficult to remove. Leave pack on for 45 to 60 minutes. This is a great time to do meditational breathing, reading or just relax.  You can reuse the pack several times, each time adding more oil as needed to keep the pack saturated.

The “Not-so-Pretty” but effective Internal Uses of Castor Oil:

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Castor oil has been an internal remedy for thousands of years. Remember Spanky from The Little Rascals being spoon fed castor oil?  Castor oil can even be seen on Tom and Jerry as a way to harass Tom. Centuries of ingesting Castor oil by myriads of cultures have shown us that castor oil is a formidable laxative.

Castor oil has been proven to stimulate the intestines and the uterus and is often recommended to stimulate labor. I however do not recommend  castor oil for labor induction unless in very specific conditions as castor oil as it can cause violent vomiting and diarrhea which can really be tough on a laboring woman.

 The”Downright Deadly” but infrequently seen use of the Castor nut:

Unless you go into the business of manufacturing castor oil you will not come into contact with Ricin. Ricin is a highly toxic, naturally occurring protein and even a dose the size of a few grains of table salt can kill an adult human. Heating during the oil extraction process denatures and inactivates the protein rendering castor oil harmless.

In a few occurrences since the late 1970’s ricin has been utilized as a biological toxic weapon.  As a matter of fact even this year,  an envelope addressed to President Obama tested positive for ricin.  All that being said, castor oil has been deemed safe and effective by the FDA so do not worry.

 Castor Oil is an ancient and effective way to improve your health. Give it a try for yourself.