Chile Story

Chili illustration 1543AD
Welcome to the chili’s family of plants. These plants are called solanaceous and are deliriants .  A deliriant is a plant that can cause confusion and even hallucinations!  The large extended family also includes such common foods as tomatoes and potatoes and chilis.  Evidence of the cultivation and use of chili has been found as long ago as 3500 B.C. and there are nearly 400 varieties. The most infamous members of chili’s plant family are the ‘hexing herbs’ of the Middle- Ages; henbane, deadly nightshade and mandrake.  These were considered the basic tools of witchcraft during that period of history and were thought to result in ‘flights into the spirit world’!

Chile is a South American herb grown all over the tropics, arrived in the West from India about 1548 and was called a Ginnie pepper.   Columbus mistook the chili for pepper and named it ‘chili pepper’. 

What makes chili so HOT?  It contains capsaicin that, when eaten, causes the brain to release a neurotransmitter called substance P. This signal instructs the brain to tell the body that it is in pain, which, in turn, causes the heartbeat to increase and produce endorphins, natural pain killers! These endorphins lower blood pressure in the body. 

Before battles for territory between Native Americans and pioneers began in in the United States, they shared much of their herbal lore with each other. In 1769, a school of herbalism founded by Samuel Thomsen in Connecticut swept the country.  Mr. Thomsen’s ‘Physiomedicalism’ combined Native American herbal healing arts with traditional pioneer herbal treatments and theorized that all illness in the body was caused by cold. Adhering to this theory, ‘hot’ chili (cayenne) was prescribed extensively during the early 19th century for increasing the body’s internal temperature and strengthening a patient’s resistance to rheumatism, depression, chills! Chile is also antibacterial and is used as an antiseptic.  More recent research suggests that chili (cayenne) can ease the pain of shingles and migraine headaches and cancer.