The main virtue of the chilli pepper lies in the fact that it is a powerful stimulant, yet has no narcotic effects. At last, something that feels good and is good for you!
It is interesting that the chilli is most popular in tropical climates. One half expects people living in these regions would avoid any more heat at all costs, but no, the stimulation of the hot chilli causes the heart to beat faster thus causing the body to sweat and since the sweat glands are the body’s natural air conditioner, the tropics are obviously the place to activate them!
Chilli peppers, used with discretion, will also help a sluggish digestion. They certainly help the Mexicans and South Americans digest their heavy spicy foods. Most doctors in the 20th century agree that eating chillis, particularly the acrid Capsicum annuum frutescens, will encourage salivations, gastric secretions and gut movement and thus make food easier to digest. There is a West Indian recipe called Mandram which is also meant to help a weak digestion: chilli pods are mixed with thinly sliced, unpeeled cucumber, shallots, chives or onions, lemon or lime juice and Madeira. Similar recipes appear in homeopathic and herbal medicine books.
The oil content of the capsicum, if dissolved in ether and applied with cotton wool, is considered by many to be very useful in relieving rheumatic pains.
It is even claimed by some that if one eats a lot of chilli peppers they will rid the body of enough fats to lower the blood cholesterol level and reduce the chances of heart attack. Indeed, it is true that a study of chilli-eating Spanish Americans has shown them to suffer from a remarkable low level of heart disease! A new expression could be “A chilli a day, keeps the spare tire away!”
However, if taken in excess, hot chilli peppers can cause gastritis, renal irritation, inflammation, strangury and of course, make it necessary to keep a roll of toilet paper in the deep freeze and have to do handstands in the shower.
For hundreds of years, doctors, herbalists and quacks have been recommending chilli peppers as a cure for digestive disorders, catarrh, weak sight, pimples and skin diseases, rheumatism, chilblains and alcoholism. My own experience is that in the last 20 years, I can count the number of times I have been sick on one hand. I’m not saying that it is because of all the chilli peppers that I eat, but it always seems to be the sniveling, nose blowing, aches and pains kind of person that tells me that they can’t eat anything hotter than a ginger biscuit. You decide!