"The unripe berries of Piper nigrum, Linné"—(U. S. P.).
COMMON NAME: Black pepper.
ILLUSTRATION: Bentley and Trimen, Med. Plants, 245.
Botanical Source.—Piper nigrum is a perennial vine with a trailing or climbing stem, round, smooth, shrubby, flexuose, dichotomously branched, jointed, swelling at the joints, and often throwing out radicles there which adhere to bodies like the roots of ivy, or become roots striking into the ground. The leaves are from 4 to 6 inches long, alternate, distichous, broad-ovate, acuminate, of a dark-green color, glossy above, paler beneath, 5 to 7 nerved, the nerves connected by lesser transverse ones or veins, and prominent beneath; the petioles are round, and from 1 to 1 inch long. The flowers are whitish, small, not stalked, and borne in spikes opposite the leaves, chiefly near the upper ends of the branches, pedunculate, 3 to 6 inches long, slender, drooping, apparently some male, others female, while sometimes the flowers are furnished with both stamens and pistils. Stamens 3. The fruit ripens irregularly all the year round, is sessile, the size of a pea, at first green, then red, and afterward black, covered by pulp (L.).
History and Description.—Piper nigrum is a native of the East Indian continent, notably the Malabar coast, as well as of many islands in the Indian ocean, where it is extensively cultivated, as well as in the West Indies. Commercial grades are known as Malabar, Singapore, Penang, Sumatra pepper, etc. The berries are collected while red, before they have fully matured, and when dried, form the, black pepper of commerce; when allowed to ripen, and then divested of their husks by being soaked in water, dried, rubbed and winnowed, they constitute white pepper, which is less pungent and aromatic than the black. Sumatra and Java furnish the principal portion of the black pepper met with in this country and Europe. The berries, which are about the size of a currant, are officially described as "globular, about 4 Mm. (⅙ inch) in diameter, reticulately wrinkled, brownish-black or grayish-black, internally lighter, hollow, with an undeveloped embryo; odor aromatic; taste pungently spicy"—(U. S. P.). Alcohol or ether extracts their virtues completely; water only partially.
Chemical Composition.—The sharp taste of pepper is due to the presence of about 6 to 8 per cent of the weak alkaloid piperine (C17H19NO3) which in substance is almost tasteless, but develops its sharp taste when in solution. White pepper seems to contain even more piperine than black. Piperine, when boiled with alcoholic caustic potash, is decomposed into the potassium-salt of piperic acid (C12H10O4), and into the powerfully basic piperidine (C5H11N) (see Piperinum). According to T. Weigle (Chem. Zeitung, 1893, p. 1365), the sharp taste of the fresh fruit is produced by the piperine being dissolved in the essential oil; old fruits taste less sharp owing to partial resinification of the essential oil and consequent partial crystallization of piperine. The odor of the fruit is due to the essential oil (oil of pepper) which is devoid of sharp taste. From 1 to 2.3 per cent may be obtained from the powdered fruit by distillation with water. It is colorless to yellowish green, slightly laevo-rotatory and has a specific gravity of 0.880 to 0.905. Its principal constituent is laevo-phellandrene (Schimmel & Co., 1890). The pepper fruit also contains cellulose, large quantities of starch (as much as 32 per cent), some coloring matter and a viscid, non-saponifiable, tasteless and almost odorless oil (C10H16O4), probably formed from the essential oil by oxidation. It is soluble in alcohol of 90 per cent, in ether, and petroleum ether; piperine is hardly soluble in the latter solvent (Weigle). Pepper fruit dried at 100° C. (212° F.), leaves from 3.2 to 5.7 per cent of ash; its average is 4.5 per cent. Tannin is absent in the pepper fruit. Buchheim (1876) obtained from the pepper fruit, besides piperine, an amorphous alkaloid chavicine soluble in alcohol, ether and petroleum ether. Alcoholic caustic alkali decomposes it into the alkali salt of chavicic acid, and piperidine (compare Piperinum).
Adulterations and Tests.—Falsification of the whole pepper fruit is of rare occurrence. It may be found occasionally admixed with the fruit of cubebs, allspice, piper longum, etc. A globular iron ore (bean-ore) has been reported as an adulterant of whole pepper (Chem. Zeitung, 1880, p. 1030). Adulteration of powdered pepper may be recognized by the microscope and by chemical methods. The determination of ether extract, representing the piperine and resin, in conjunction with the determination of ash may be useful in deciding the purity of a given sample. Mr. J. E. S. Bell (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1888, p. 481) found sixteen out of twenty samples of pepper, mostly from American markets, to be pure. The ether extract in the four impure samples varied from 3.29 to 4.11 per cent, the ash from 7.25 to 8.59 per cent, while in pure pepper it varies from 3 to 5 per cent. The highest yield of ether extract was 7.85 per cent. Genuine black pepper should yield 7.66 per cent piperine (Niederstadt). T. F. Hanausek (1884) mentions among adulterants of powdered pepper, crust of bread, flour, linseed cake, acorn meal, sawdust, powdered olive kernels; of late (1898), powdered exhausted coriander fruit, less frequently mineral matters, such as sand, gypsum, etc. Mr. F. A. Hennessy (Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1890, p. 276) reports on the wholesale manufacture of "spice mixture" from a low grade of wheat flour. Also see an interesting article on "poivrette," an adulterant of powdered pepper made from olive kernels, in Amer. Jour. Pharm., 1887, p. 146. (For a detailed consideration of the microscopical and chemical analysis of pepper, see J. König, Die Menschl. Nahrungs- und Genussmittel, 3d ed., 1893, p. 673; also see literature in Flückiger's Pharmacognosie, 3d ed., 1891, p. 914.)
Action, Medical Uses, and Dosage.—Pain and redness are the results of the local application of powdered pepper. Internally administered it excites in the mouth and fauces a burning sensation, warms the stomach and slightly quickens the circulation. Abdominal heat and burning, marked thirst, vomiting, fever, and sometimes convulsions follow an excessive dose. It may produce an urticaria, which, however, soon disappears. Large doses increase renal activity and irritate the urinary tract. Black pepper is a gastro-intestinal stimulant, and is much used as a condiment to improve the flavor of food, and to favor its digestion by stimulating the stomach. It has been advantageously used as a carminative to remove flatulency, and to correct the nauseating or griping quality of other drugs, and is sometimes added to quinine in cases where the stomach, from torpidity or other cause, is not acted upon by the quinine alone. It has been recommended as a remedy in intermittents, but very often fails, though it nearly always materially assists the action of quinine. As a gastric stimulant it is very valuable in congestive chill, cholera morbus, and associated with hydrastis, nux vomica, or other stomachic bitters is effectual in atonic dyspepsia. Combined with macrotys it has rendered good service in atonic amenorrhoea and dysmenorrhoea. The unbroken seeds of white pepper taken in teaspoonful doses 2 or 3 times a day, have been recommended to overcome the obstinate constipation of dyspeptics; they are, however, rarely used at present.
The dose of black pepper is from 1 to 15 grains. Prof. Scudder, with whom black pepper was a favorite drug, directs from 1 to 10 drops of the following tincture: Take finely ground black pepper, ℥viii; alcohol, 98 per cent, Oj. Pack the drug in a percolator, moisten with a portion of the alcohol, allow it to stand a day, and then pass through it the remaining portion of alcohol.
Specific Indications and Uses.—Gastric atony; congestive chills.
Related Peppers.—LONG PEPPER. This pepper is derived from two species of Piper, Piper officinarum, De Candolle (Chavica officinarum, Miquel), producing the Java long pepper, and Piper longum, Linné (Chavica Roxburghii, Miquel) producing the India long pepper. Both species grow in the islands of the Indian Ocean, the latter species also in the Philippine Islands, in southern India, Malabar, Bengal and Ceylon.
The Java long pepper grows in cylindrical aments consisting of a multitude of minute ovoid berries, each 1/10 of an inch long, densely arranged in spiral form around a common axis, the whole spike being about 1 ½ to 2 inches long and ¼ inch thick and of an ashen gray color. When washed they are reddish brown. The fruits are collected before maturity, dried in the sun, and have a mild aromatic odor but a pungent, aromatic taste.
India long pepper is of similar growth, but its spikes are shorter, only from 1 to 1 ½ inch in length, and the fruits are less pungent. Its aromatic taste and odor are gradually developed upon drying. It is less esteemed than the Java variety. Long pepper contains piperine (Winkler, 1828; Flückiger, Pharmacognosie, 1891), and yields upon distillation with water, 1 per cent of a bland, thickish, yellow-green oil of specific gravity 0.861, and resembling ginger in odor. Long pepper is rarely used medicinally in the United States.
Piper Novae-Hollandae.—Australia. The berries of this pepper contain an essential oil reputed useful in gonorrhoea and related disorders.