121. Piper nigrum, Linn.—The Black Pepper.

Fig. 295. Piper nigrum. Sex. Syst. Diandria, Trigynia.
(Fractus immaturus, L.—Dried unripe berries, E. D.)

History.—The ancient Greeks were acquainted with pepper (πέπερι), their knowledge of which must have been derived, directly or indirectly, from the Hindoos. Hippocrates [De morb. mul. &c.] employed it in several diseases. Pliny [Hist. Nat. lib. xii. cap. 14, ed. Valp.] notices its uses as a condiment, and expresses his astonishment that it should have come into general use, since it has neither flavour nor appearance to recommend it.

Botany. Gen. Char.—Spadix covered with flowers on all sides. Flowers hermaphrodite, rarely dioecious, each supported by a scale. Stamina 2 or more. Ovarium with 1 solitary erect ovule. Stigma punctiform, obtuse, or split. Berry 1-seeded. Embryo dicotyledonous [monocotyledonous, Blume], inverted (Blume). [Enum. Plant. Javae, p. 64.]

Sp. Char.—Stem shrubby, radicant, climbing, terete. Leaves ovate or elliptical, acuminate, occasionally somewhat oblique, subcordate, 5—7-nerved, coriaceous, smooth, recurved at the margin, glauco-greenish beneath. Spadices shortly pedunculated, pendulous. Fruits distinct (Blume). [Op. cit.]

Stem 8—12 feet long, jointed, dichotomous. Fruit at first green, then red, afterwards black.

According to Dr. Roxburgh, [Fl. Indica, vol. i. p. 153.] Piper trioicum is cultivated, and yields excellent pepper.

Hab.—Cultivated in various parts of India and its islands (Roxburgh), also in the West Indies.

Preparation.—When any of the berries on a spadix change from green to red, the whole are considered fit for gathering; for, if they are allowed to become fully ripe, they are somewhat less acrid, and, moreover, easily drop off. When collected, they are spread out and dried in the sun, and the stalks separated by hand-rubbing. They are afterwards winnowed. [Marsden, History of Sumatra, 3d edit. p. 137.] The dried and shrivelled berries constitute black pepper (piper nigrum).

White pepper (piper album) is prepared from the best and soundest grains, taken at their most perfect stage of maturity. These being soaked in water, swell and burst their tegument, which is afterwards carefully separated by drying in the sun, hand-rubbing, and winnowing. [Marsden, Op. cit.]

Commerce.—The pepper countries extend from about the longitude of 90° to that of 115° E., beyond which no pepper is to be found; and they reach from 5° S. latitude to about 12° N., where it again ceases. The following estimate of the production of pepper is drawn up by Mr. Crawford. [M'Culloch, Dict. of Commerce.]

Production of pepper.
Sumatra (west coast)20,000,000 lbs.
Sumatra (east coast)8,000,000 lbs.
Islands of the Straits of Malacca3,600,000 lbs.
Malay peninsula3,733,333 lbs.
Borneo2,666,667 lbs.
Siam8,000,000 lbs.
Malabar4,000,000 lbs.
Total50,000,000 lbs.

Description.—Black pepper (piper nigrum) is round, covered externally with a brownish-black corrugated layer (the remains of the succulent portion of the berry), which may be readily removed by softening it in water. Internally we have a hard, whitish, spherical, smooth seed, which is horny externally, but farinaceous internally. The taste of both nucleus and covering is acrid and hot. Amongst wholesale dealers three sorts are distinguished:—

1. Malabar pepper.—This is the most valuable: it is brownish-black, free from stalks, and nearly free from dust.

2. Penang pepper.—This is brownish-black, larger, smoother, free from stalks, but very dusty. It is sometimes used in England to manufacture white pepper.

3. Sumatra pepper.—This is the cheapest sort. It is black, mixed with stalks, and contains much dust. (Under the name of Sumatra pepper, some dealers include the Penang or brownish-black sort, and the black Sumatra sort.)

The heavier the pepper is, the more it is esteemed in the market. The heaviest of all, being hard and smooth, is called shot pepper, which is either Malabar or Sumatra sort; the Penang sort never yielding this kind of pepper.

Most dealers sift their black pepper before offering it for sale, and use the dust (called P. D.) for pickling or grinding.

Fulton's decorticated pepper is black pepper deprived of its husk by mechanical trituration.

Bleached pepper or English bleached pepper is Penang pepper bleached by chlorine. In this state it ought perhaps to be classed among the white peppers.

White pepper (piper album) is the fruit deprived of the external fleshy portion of the pericarp. The grains are larger than those of black pepper, spherical, whitish, and smooth, horny externally; internally they are farinaceous or hollow in the centre. They are less acrid and pungent than black pepper. In commerce three sorts are distinguished:—

1. Tellicherry pepper, which is of two kinds. Large or fine Tellicherry pepper is larger and whiter than any other description of white pepper, and fetches a higher price. Small or coriander-like pepper is shrivelled.

2. Common white pepper comes from Penang by Singapore. It is round and not shrivelled. Its value depends on its size and whiteness.

3. English bleached white pepper.—When the two preceding sorts are scarce, brown Penang pepper is bleached. The yellowest and largest grains are chosen for this purpose, for neither an expensive nor small sort would pay.

Composition.—In 1819, Oersted discovered piperin in pepper. In 1821, black pepper was analyzed by Pelletier. [Ann. de Chim. et de Phys. xiv. 344.] In 1822, white pepper was analyzed by Lucä. [Schwartze, Pharm. Tabellen.]

Black Pepper (Pelletier).White Pepper (Lucä).
Acrid soft resin.Acrid resin16.60
Volatile oil.Volatile oil1.61
Piperin.Extractive, gum, and salts12.50
Bassorin.Woody fibre29.00
Starch.Water and loss19.29
Malic acid.-----
Tartaric acid.White pepper100.00
Potash, calcareous and magnesian salts.
Woody fibre.
Black pepper.

Dr. Ure [Supplement to Ure's Dict. of Arts, p. 200, 1844.] obtained from 100 parts of white peppercorns, a trace of volatile oil, 8 ½ grains of a pungent resin containing a small fraction of piperin, about 60 grains of starch with a little gum, and nearly 30 grains of matter (lignin) insoluble in hot or cold water.

Lucä found no piperin in white pepper, but Poutet [Journ. de Pharm. t. vii.] subsequently detected it. Probably, therefore, in LucU's analysis the piperin was contained in the resin.

1. Resin of Pepper (resina piperis).—This is a very acrid substance, soluble in alcohol and ether, but not so in volatile oils. It possesses in high perfection the acrid properties of pepper. Dissolved in ether, it was employed by Dr. Lucas in intermittents, and in two out of three cases with success. [Dierbach, Neuest. Entd. in d. Mat. Med. Bd. i. S. 252, 1837.] In the museum of the Pharmaceutical Society there are two kinds of pepper resin: one called the "green resin," the other the "red resin."

2. Volatile Oil of Pepper (oleum piperis).—When pure, this is colourless; it has the odour and taste of pepper. Its sp. gr. is 0.9932 (Lueä). Its composition is C10H8. It absorbs hydrochloric acid in large quantity, but does not form a crystalline compound with it. According to Meli, [Dierbach, op. cit.] it possesses the same febrifuge properties as piperin, perhaps because it retains some of the latter principle. It has been used in some forms of dyspepsia depending on general debility.

3. Piperin.—This substance was discovered by Oersted in 1819, but was more accurately examined by Pelletier in 1821. It exists in black, white, and long pepper, and also in cubebs.

It is a crystalline substance, the crystals being rhombic prisms, with inclined bases. It fuses at 212° F., is insoluble in cold water, and is only very slightly soluble in boiling water. Its best solvent is alcohol: the solution throws down piperin when water is added to it. Ether dissolves it, but not so readily as alcohol. Acetic acid likewise is a solvent for it.

Piperin, when pure, is white; but, as met with in commerce, it is usually straw-yellow. It is tasteless and inodorous. It was at first supposed to be an alkali; but Pelletier has shown that it possesses no analogy with vegetable alkalies, and that it is related to the resins. With strong sulphuric acid it forms a blood-red liquid. Nitric acid colours it first greenish-yellow, then orange, and afterwards red. The action of hydrochloric acid is similar.

Its formula, according to Regnault, is C34H19NO6.

Piperin has been recommended and employed by Meli and several other physicians [Dierbach, Neuest. Entd. in d. Mat. Med. Bd. i. S. 176, 1828.] as a febrifuge in intermittent fevers. It is said to be more certain and speedy, and also milder in its action, than the cinchona alkalies. Moreover, we are told that it might be procured at a cheaper rate than sulphate of quina. Its dose is about six or eight grains in powder or pills. Sixty grains have been taken in twenty-four hours, without causing any injurious effects. Meli considers two or three scruples sufficient to cure an intermittent. Magendie [Formulaire.] proposes it in blennorrhagia, instead of cubebs.

4. Starch.—Both black and white peppercorns contain abundance of very minute starch grains.

Adulteration.—Sago is said to have been used to adulterate ground white pepper. The microscope would readily detect the fraud; the starch grains of sago being very much larger than those of pepper, from which they also differ in shape. The following are the adulterations recently discovered [Lancet, Feb. 8, 1851.] in pepper by the microscope: wheat-flour, linseed meal, pea-flour, mustard-seed, and starch grains.

Physiological Effects.—Pepper is one of the acrid species whose general effects have been already noticed (see vol. i. p. 252). Its great acridity is recognized when we apply it to the tongue. On the skin it acts as a rubefacient and vesicant. [Richard, Dict. de Méd. t. xvii. p. 307.] Swallowed, it stimulates the stomach, creates a sensation of warmth in this viscus, and, when used in small doses, assists the digestive functions, but if given in large quantities induces an inflammatory condition. Thirty white peppercorns, taken for a stomach complaint, induced violent burning pain, thirst, and accelerated pulse, which continued for three days, until the fruits were evacuated. [Wibmer, Arzneim. u. Gifte, Bd. iv. S. 220.] Wendt, Lange, and Jager [Quoted by Wibmer, op. cit., S. 119.] have also reported cases in which inflammatory symptoms supervened after the use of pepper. On the vascular and secerning systems pepper acts as a stimulant. It accelerates the frequency of the pulse, promotes diaphoresis, and acts as an excitant to the mucous surfaces. On one of my patients (a lady) the copious use of pepper induced burning heat of skin, and a few spots of Urticaria evanida usually on the face. "I have seen," says Van Swieten, [Commentaries, English transl. vol. v. p. 57.] "a most ardent and dangerous fever raised in a person who had swallowed a great quantity of beaten pepper." It has long been regarded as a stimulant for the urino-genital apparatus. The opinion is supported by the well-known influence of the peppers over certain morbid conditions of these organs. Moreover, the beneficial effect of pepper in some affections of the rectum leads us to suspect that this viscus is also influenced by these fruits.

Uses.—It is employed as a condiment, partly for its flavour, partly for its stimulant influence over the stomach, by which it assists digestion. As a gastric stimulant it is a useful addition to difficultly-digestible foods, as fatty and mucilaginous matters, especially in persons subject to stomach complaints from a torpid or atonic condition of this viscus. Infused in ardent spirit it is a popular remedy for preventing the return of the paroxysms of intermittent fevers, given shortly before the expected attack. The practice is not recent, for Celsus [Lib. iii. cap. 12.] advises warm water with pepper to relieve the cold fit. The febrifuge power of this spice has been fully proved, in numerous cases, by L. Frank, [Journ. Complém. du Dict. des Scienc. Méd. t. viii. p. 371.] Meli, [Ibid. t. xiii. p. 124.] Riedmüller (Dierbach), and others; though Schmitz [Rust's Magaz. Bd. xvi.] denies it. Barbier [Traité Elém. de Mat. Méd. 2de édit. t. ii. p. 57.] says that, in some instances, where large doses were exhibited, death occurred in consequence of the aggravation of a pre-existent gastritis. It has been employed in gonorrhoea as a substitute for cubebs. In relaxed uvula, paralysis of the tongue, and other affections of the mouth or throat requiring the use of a powerful acrid, pepper may be employed as a masticatory. In the form of ointment it is used as an application to tinea capitis. Mixed with mustard, it is employed to increase the acridity of sinapisms.

Administration.—The dose of black pepper (either of corns or powder) is from five to fifteen grains; the powder may be given in the form of pills.

1. CONFECTIO PIPERIS, L.; Confectio Piperis Nigri, D.; Electuarium Piperis, E.; Confection of Black Pepper.—(Black Pepper, Elecampane-root [Liquorice-root in powder, E.], of each lb j; Fennel lb iij; Honey, White Sugar, of each lb ij. Rub the dry ingredients together to a very fine powder, L. E.—Black Pepper in fine powder, Liquorice Root in powder, of each ℥ss; Refined Sugar ℥j; Oil of Fennel ʒss; Clarified Honey, by weight, ℥ij, D. The London College keeps this in a covered vessel, and directs the Honey to be added when the Confection is to be used. But the Edinburgh and Dublin Colleges order the Honey to be added immediately after the ingredients have been mixed.)—This preparation is intended to be a substitute for a quack medicine, called "Ward's Paste," which has obtained some celebrity as a remedy for fistulae, piles, and ulcers about the rectum. Its efficacy doubtless depends on the gentle stimulus it gives to the affected parts. Sir B. Brodie [Lectures in Lond. Med. Gaz. vol. xv. p. 746.] observes that severe cases of piles are sometimes cured by it; and be thinks that it acts on them topically, the greater part of the paste passing into the colon, becoming blended with the faeces, and in this way coming into contact with the piles, on which it operates as a local application, much as vinum opii acts on the vessels of the conjunctiva in chronic ophthalmia. In confirmation of this view, he mentions the case of a patient attended by Sir Everard Home, who was cured by the introduction of the paste into the rectum. Confection of black pepper is adapted for weak and leucophlegmatic habits, and is objectionable where much irritation or inflammation is present. The dose of it is from one to two or three drachms twice or thrice a day. "It is of no use," says Sir B. Brodie, "to take this remedy for a week, a fortnight, or a month; it must be persevered in for two, three, or four months." As it is apt to accumulate in and distend the colon, gentle aperients should be exhibited occasionally during the time the patient is taking the confection.

2. UNGUENTUM PIPERIS NIGRI; Ointment of Black Pepper.—(Prepared Hog's Lard lb j; Black Pepper, reduced to powder, ℥iv. Make an ointment.)—Formerly in vogue for the cure of tinea capitis.

[3. EXTRACTUM PIPERIS FLUIDUM, U. S.; Fluid Extract of Black Pepper.—Take of Black Pepper a pound; Ether a sufficient quantity. Put the powder into a percolator, and pour ether gradually upon it until two pints of filtered liquor are obtained. From this distil off, by means of a water-bath, at a gentle heat, a pint and a half of ether, and expose the residue, in a shallow vessel, until the whole of the ether has evaporated and the deposit of piperin and crystals has ceased. Lastly, separate the piperin by expression through a cloth and keep the liquid portion.

This preparation is of semifluid consistence, of a dark colour, and possessed strongly of the odour and taste of black pepper. It may be used where the article is usually employed. Dose, gtt. xx—fʒss.]

The Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, Vol. II, 3th American ed., was written by Jonathan Pereira in 1854.