Green Pepper, White Pepper
Piperaceae (The Pepper Family)
Old English: pipor, from the early West Germanic borrowing from the Latin “piper”, from the Greek “piperi” probably borrowed from the Persian from the Middle Indic “pippari” from the Sanskrit “pippali”. Pepper from pappali has not drastically changed in over 3000 years.1
Its spice and pungency of p. nigrum is due to the chemical piperine. This should not to be confused with the capsaicin which is found in most sweet peppers and chilies (Capsicum annuum).
Black pepper is native to Kerala in Southwestern India and is extensively cultivated there and elsewhere in tropical regions. Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper, producing 34% of the world’s P. nigrum crop as of 2013. (Hajeski)
The pepper plant is a perennial woody vine growing up to thirteen feet in height on supporting trees, poles, or trellises. It is a spreading vine, rooting readily where trailing stems touch the ground. The leaves are alternate, entire, two to four inches long and 2.5 to 4.5 inches across. The flowers are small, produced on pendulous spikes one to three inches long at the leaf nodes, the spikes lengthening up to three to six inches long as the fruit matures. (Hutchison)
Pepper can be grown in soil that is neither too dry nor susceptible to flooding, moist, well-drained and rich in organic matter.
A single stem of P. Nigrum can bare 20 to 30 spikes. Harvest begins when 2 or 3 peppercorns turn red. Green peppercorns are picked unripe and left to dry. Black the ripe corns and dried. The white are fermented. Ripe, red peppercorns are rarely found outside their country of origin. Peppercorns are then dried. Volatile oils, the smells and tastes-good part of pepper, are preserved best when peppercorns are left to dry whole and stored in a cool, dry, dark space.
Middle Note; Black Pepper has a warm, spicy scent. It blends well with other spices like cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. It can also create a unique scent profile when combined with more floral or citrus scents like chamomile, lavender, ylang ylang, lemon, orange, and thyme.
It’s a very revitalizing oil that helps soothe minor muscular aches and pains, colds, and stimulates circulation. (Worwood)
History & Culture
Dried ground pepper has been used since antiquity both for its flavor and as traditional medicine. Black pepper is the world’s most traded spice, and is one of the most common spices added to cuisines around the world.
Wild pepper grows in the Western Ghats region of India. Into the 19th century, the forests contained expansive wild pepper vines, as recorded by the Scottish physician Francis Buchanan (also a botanist and geographer) in his book A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar (Volume III). However, deforestation resulted in wild pepper growing in more limited forest patches from Goa to Kerala, with the wild source gradually decreasing as the quality and yield of the cultivated variety improved. No successful grafting of wild pepper to common pepper has been achieved to date.
Pink pepper or pink peppercorns come from a tree (Schinus terebinthifolia), a member of the cashew family, and are thus completely unrelated to p. nigrum. Pink peppercorns can induce anaphylactic shock.
Black pepper graces (or languishes) on tables across the western world. Like other spices with high levels of volatile oils ground black pepper begins to lose its flavor shortly after it’s been cracked or ground. Recipes the world over have included black pepper as a flavoring agent. Most American food and its use of “salt and pepper to taste” can be traced back to its European roots and the spice trade.
Like most herbs, black pepper has been used medicinally as well. Because of its pungent smell, it has been used in an aperitif or small appetizers. It aids in digestion by helping stimulate salivary glands and digestive enzymes. (Hutchison) It can It can be added to teas, however, in small amounts. Too much black pepper and the tea’s flavor will be mostly of pepper and would be nearly undrinkable. I love adding herbs and spices to foods and knowing I’m getting the medicinal value as well as the boost in flavor. I’m truly European-American and do like to season most of my food during the beginning of cooking with salt and a bit of pepper and add more spices as the cooking goes.
Externally, black pepper essential oil can be used for nasal congestion. (Worwood) I like to put in an aromatherapy blend for nasal congestion mostly mentholated scents, peppermint, eucalyptus, maybe even a little rosemary or blue cypress. A drop (or two) of black pepper in the mix can deepen the scent and take it in a new and interesting direction.
Like other highly fragrant herbs black pepper’s use in ritual and sympathetic goes back thousands of years. While I’m still learning and on the lookout for manuals of ritual magic that go past the Greek Magical Papyri (GMP), we can see the use of this herb through the classical world. In what I’ve read so far, I haven’t seen any ancient direct uses of black pepper in magical operations. However, I’m going to guess it was used somewhere by someone for magic prior to the 1400s.
In Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy, he writes of various herbs corresponding with different planets and forces. Black Pepper is explicitly stated as being associated with the Sun. Somewhere between the early modern period and the witchcraft books published in the latter half of the 20th century we see black pepper attributed to Mars. From Scott Cunningham to Ellen Dugan to Sandra Kynes as of 2018 places Black Pepper under the ruler-ship of Mars. I can see it being both solar and martial and martial. The scent is pungent and fiery. These flavors would have been seen as solar back in the middle ages. Now many authors are attributing fiery spices to Mars.
I included a sigil made of black pepper made of glyphs for both Mars and the Sun. It feels very protective, almost to the point of being offensive in its power. Feel free to experiment with this sigil and black pepper in your magic and see if it feels more solar or martial to you.
1. Etymology is compiled from Etymololine.com, a site managed by etymology scholars. (https://www.etymonline.com/word/pepper)
* Piperaceae – Piper nigrum. From: Curtis’s botanical magazine; or flower garden displayed. London, 1832, volume 59 (plate 3139). Hand-coloured engraving by Lansdown Guilding
Agrippa, Henry Cornelius. Three Books of Occult Philosophy: The Foundational Book of Western Occultism. Ed. Tyson, Donald. Llewellyn Worldwide Publishing. (2017)
Blackthorn, Amy. Blackthorn’s Botanical Magic: The Green Witch’s Guide to Essential Oils for Spellcraft, Ritual & Healing. San Francisco: California. 2011
Buchanan-Hamilton, Francis. A Journey from Madras through the Countries of Mysore, Canara and Malabar. Cambrige: Massachusetts. Cambridge University Press. (2011)
Cunningham, Scott. The Complete Book of Incense, Oils & Brew. Woodbury: Minnesota. Llewellyn Worldwide Publishing. (2008)
Dykes, Benjamin. PhD. “Planetary Magic Amoung the Harranian Sabians.” The Celestial Art: Essays on Astrological Magic. Edited by Austin Coppock and Daniel A. Schulke. Theee Hands Press. 2018. 57 – 79.
Hajeski, Nancy J. National Geographic Complete Guide to Herbs and Spices: Remedies, Seasonings, and Ingredients to Improve Your Health and Enhance Your Life. National Geographic Books. p. 236. (2016).
Hutchison, Frances. Ed. Encyclopedia of Herb Gardening. San Francisco: California. Fog City Press. 2004
Kynes, Sandra. Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Essential Oils. Woodbury: Minnesota. Llewellyn Worldwide Publishing. (2018)
Worwood, Valerie Ann. The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy. New World Library. San Rafael, California. 1991