April 2007
The Herb Lady

Cayenne/Capsicum

Cayenne/Capsicum

Tonight I have made pepper jelly. Being myself, naturally I failed to wear rubber gloves to chop the peppers, so my hands are on fire. I can’t sleep; therefore, I might as well tell the story this burning brings to mind.

My husband, Richard, returned from World War II to farm his Grandmother Brown’s place along with his cousin Bill. Some of the local farmers were beginning to use tractors but Richard and Bill were still plowing with mules.

Along about May of 1949, shortly after we were married, Richard had some slight disorder that caused his knees to ache. A well-known liniment that contained hot pepper was a highly recommended topical pain reliever. He applied it to his knees. It worked wonders! Boy, that was good stuff. Good until he had no hesitation in trying it on his feet when they were aching one morning.

Well, he rubbed his feet well, put on his brogans, hitched up the mule and started plowing. Up one row and down the other they went. All the while the sun was getting higher and hotter. After a while I saw him head toward the house leading the mule. He kind of walked like he was barefoot on hot coals. When he reached the house you could almost see smoke coming out of his ears. His feet were practically on fire. We tried any remedy anyone could think of but to no avail—we could not remove the liniment. Finally, after about three days, it had worn off.

This served a good purpose though. In all these years, I’ve never again heard him say, "My feet hurt."


The above words were written about midnight sometime in 1981. It was my first column published in a newspaper. At the time I was not aware of my interest in herbs. Accidentally, I had picked one of the most beneficial herbs – peppers – as the topic of my first column.

Cayenne (capsicum) is a truly American herb. According to legend, Columbus found this herb on his trips to America and took it back to Europe with him. Now its use has spread to the four corners of the Earth.

Practically any southern garden will contain at least one variety of pepper; therefore, I’ll not waste space on growing instructions. You already know that. I’ll bet your ice boxes contain condiments that are made from pepper. Mine does too.

When I was a child my mother used a large sewing needle and a coarse thread to make a long string of dried hot pepper that she hung in the kitchen. These peppers were later used along with garden sage to season delicious homemade pork sausage. This is just one of the many ways we use pepper in our diets. The list is endless.

This is good because pepper is very beneficial health wise. One reference book states that it is high in vitamins A, C, iron and calcium. It also contains vitamin G, magnesium, phosphorus, sulfur, B-complex and potassium.

In addition to making an excellent topical liniment, pepper aids in the treatment of many ailments. My reference states that it is a good treatment for ulcers because it stimulates the protective mucus membranes of the stomach.

Following a heart attack an acquaintance was told to make capsicum a regular part of his diet. His doctor agreed with the folk remedy that capsicum helps to regulate the heart functions, strengthen the pulse rate and cleanse the circulatory system. Since this herb reportedly speeds up the metabolism and circulation, probably it would aid in keeping us warmer if taken on a regular schedule. I know that a small amount sprinkled in the shoes will keep a person’s feet warmer in winter.

Once I cut a triangular gash on my finger with scissors. After proper cleansing, I applied a generous portion of powdered cayenne and a bandage. My wound stopped bleeding and healed rapidly.

As stated, my first published article is quoted at the beginning of this column. My first editor (with whom I have lost contact) begged me to have those first stories combined into book form. I might, if ever I find an agent.

As always, I warn you to check with your physician before taking any herbal remedy. However, cayenne pepper is a common foodstuff and should receive your doctor’s okay.

Nadine Johnson is a resident of Goshen, Alabama, a member of the Goshen Farmers Co-op, and a long time user and promoter of wise herb use. Her telephone number is 334/484-3580. Her email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..