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Botanical name(s):

Capsicum annuum, C. frutescens. Family: Solanaceae

Other name(s):

Capsaicin, capsacum, African chili, chili, hot pepper, Louisiana long pepper or sport pepper, paprika, red chili, spur pepper, tabasco pepper

General description

Cayenne is a hot spice. It’s commonly used in cooking. Bell pepper and paprika are the mild forms of this pepper.

When you apply it to your skin (topically), cayenne works to relieve pain. It contains capsaicin. This is used in ointment form for pain relief. Ointments made from cayenne stop muscle and joint pain by "confusing" pain transmitters. They also block pain messages from the skin.

When taken by mouth, cayenne may also aid in digestion and improve circulation. It may also reduce cholesterol and blood fat levels.

Medically valid uses

Cayenne is commonly used as the following:

  • Topical analgesic. It desensitizes local nerves and decreases pain due to certain conditions. These include post-herpetic neuralgia caused by shingles. Studies show that applying 0.25% to 0.75% capsaicin cream topically may also aid in short-term pain relief. It eases pain from rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and psoriasis. It also relieves pain due to neuralgias. These include shingles and diabetic neuropathy.

  • Diaphoretic. This promotes sweating.

  • Sialagogue. This increases the flow of saliva.

  • Rubefacient. This increases surface blood flow when applied to the skin.

  • Pepper spray for self-defense

Unsubstantiated claims

Please note that this section reports on claims that have not yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

Cayenne pepper is claimed to help the circulatory system. It may control blood flow, improve circulation, and ease symptoms of Raynaud's disease (by improving circulation). It may also strengthen the heart, arteries, capillaries, and nerves.

Cayenne is also claimed to improve appetite. It may act as a tonic. This may help your digestive system work better. It may also stop bleeding from ulcers and help flatulent dyspepsia.

In the respiratory system, cayenne may help break up congestion due to bronchitis. Cayenne may also help to prevent infections. These include colds and chills, sinus infections, and sore throats. As a gargle, cayenne can be used for laryngitis. It works well with myrrh.

When you apply it externally, it may help with toothache, lumbago, arthritis, and rheumatism.

Dosing format

Cayenne is available in many forms. It comes as an ointment, oil or entire plant, in dried fruits, and crushed or powdered. It’s best to keep it in a sealed, light-resistant container.

The fruit is the part of the plant that’s used. It should be harvested when fully ripe, removed from the calyx, and then dried in the shade.

For external use, follow the instructions on the package. Apply it on an area for a maximum of two days. Wait 14 days before putting it on the same area again. If you use it for a longer amount of time, it may harm sensitive nerves.

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

Excessive consumption of pepper that has capsaicin in it can cause problems. These include acute gastritis and hemorrhagic gastritis. You should not let cayenne touch your mucous membranes, especially your eyes. In rare cases, this can cause urticaria or skin irritation.

Do not use cayenne if you have an active gastric or duodenal ulcer, diverticulitis, or irritable bowel syndrome.

Do not apply cayenne to injured skin. People who are allergic to cayenne should not use it.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should talk to their healthcare provider before using any herbal medicines.

Online Medical Reviewer: Poulson, Brittany, RD
Online Medical Reviewer: Wilkins, Joanna, R.D., C.D.
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2016