Native to South and Central America, peppers have been used for cooking, medicine and rituals for thousands of years. Christopher Columbus brought seeds to Europe where the spicy fruits were readily adopted.
Capsaicin, is the documented, active ingredient in hot peppers, and is used to treat pain, digestive ailments and to aid in circulation and heart health. It can also lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. Counterintuitively, it it’s been known to heal stomach ulcers and ease pain as it vanquishes streptococcus bacteria. Its warming properties increase the effectiveness of other medicinal plants and can be also be used topically to increase circulation. Cayenne peppers also contain vitamins A,B and C, as well as the antioxidant carotene.
Cayenne pepper plants have medium to dark green leaves and long, thin fruits that ripen to bright red. The plants are robust and highly ornamental.
In spring, start seeds indoors in planting trays 8 weeks before your last expected spring frost date. Grow the seedlings under grow lights. When seedlings have their first set of true leaves, transplant each one into a 4″ pot. About a week after the last frost, transplant them into the garden or 12″ to 15″ pots after acclimating them to outdoor conditions. Space plants 18″ apart and add a support at planting time. In sunny, fertile conditions they will become top-heavy with fruit!
Harvest & Keeping
Harvest Cayenne peppers when the fruits turn bright orange or red. Turn them into hot sauce, pickle them, add to vinegar or dry them.
To dry, remove the stems from clean fruit and place them in a food dehydrator at 115º or oven at the very lowest setting. Be sure to ventilate the kitchen, as fumes can be pungent. You can also dry them by inserting a threaded needle through intact peppers and hanging the string in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place for a couple of weeks.
Place dried peppers in tightly sealed plastic bags or glass jars. Note: dried peppers are much hotter than fresh.
Wear rubber gloves or wash hands thoroughly after handling and avoid touching your face and eyes. Do not take cayenne if you take ACE inhibitor or stomach acid reducing medications.