Black pepper is the most popular spice worldwide, occupying a perennial place at just about every kitchen table. Black pepper essential oil, meanwhile, is not very well-known. But it should be!
Piperine, the compound in black pepper that gives it its spicy flavor, is a main component of the essential oil. Piperine promotes health and vitality by stimulating the whole body, and tossing black pepper essential oil into your diffuser, massage oil, or tea can bring those benefits to you.
Black peppercorns are the cooked, dried, unripe fruits of the woody vine Piper nigrum. The vine is native to the Malabar Coast of India, but is now cultivated in tropical regions worldwide.
Green and white peppercorns are the same fruit harvested and prepared in different ways; green pepper is the dried, uncooked, unripe fruit and white pepper is the ripe fruit with the dark outer skin removed.
Pepper gets its spiciness from piperine, not capsaicin (the compound that creates spice in hot peppers).
History and Traditional Medicinal Uses
Black pepper has a long history as a pillar of the spice trade--even being used as a currency--and of ancient medicines. In fact, black pepper is listed in the Buddhist Samaññaphala Sutta as one of the few medicines monks were allowed to carry, and in the Handbook of Domestic Medicines and Traditional Ayurvedic Remedies as a foundation for 270 out of 310 remedies.
Many medicinal properties are traditionally ascribed to black pepper; different cultures use it as a treatment for constipation, flatulence, indigestion, rheumatism, muscular pain, and insomnia, among others.
Benefits of the Essential Oil
In traditional medicine, black pepper oil is most frequently used as a digestive aid--and some recent scientific research has confirmed its potency in that role. One study found that piperine stimulates the production of pancreatic enzymes, which help us break down food; others saw evidence that piperine has antidiarrheal and anti-constipation abilities in mice.
Piperine may also improve the efficacy of other vitamins, minerals, and supplements that it is taken with. For instance, black pepper oil can increase the absorption of curcumin (from turmeric) or beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A). Black pepper can also act as a prebiotic, supporting the growth of good bacteria and suppressing the growth of pathogenic bacteria in the gut.
The warmth and spiciness from black pepper essential oil can invigorate your body and improve circulation. Improve blood flow to the hair and skin via topical application, or diffuse the aroma for a full-body wake-up.
Studies have even suggested that black pepper aromatherapy might lower blood pressure--though all studies to date have been in animal subjects.
The warming effect of black pepper essential oil can be soothing to sore muscles. Preliminary studies are also investigating black pepper as a potential treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
Calms and grounds the mind
The peppery, musky scent grounds the spirit and calms the mind, and scientists are looking into black pepper as a potential auxiliary treatment for mental health issues. According to early research, black pepper aromatherapy has anxiolytic and antidepressant activity in mice.
To kick smoking as a habit--or any other cravings, like sugar!--diffuse black pepper oil in your home.
Another historical use of black pepper: preserving food. Modern lab studies have found that black pepper is a moderately powerful preservative, and attribute black pepper’s preservative power to the antioxidant and antimicrobial abilities of piperine.
How to use
Diffuse black pepper essential oil to create a grounded, focused home environment. To beat cravings, time your diffusion for when you are most likely to need the anti-cravings boost; for sweets and salty food, that might be after dinner and in the late afternoon.
Massage into your skin to warm the muscles and improve circulation. Dilute several drops of black pepper oil into jojoba oil or another carrier before application.
Ingest 1-3 drops orally to get digestion benefits; take with curcumin, vitamin A, or other non-bioavailable supplements to improve their absorption into the body.
Although black pepper essential oil is safe, piperine is an irritant which can cause burning sensations or inflammation in large doses. Always dilute in a carrier oil before topical application and pay attention to potential side effects in pets and children, who have lower tolerances.
Black pepper is generally considered unsafe during pregnancy (at levels above those consumed regularly in food).
Black pepper essential oil may interact with some medications by increasing their absorption; ask your doctor whether this is a risk for you. If you are advised to limit or avoid black pepper intake due to abdominal ulcers or other issues, avoid the essential oil as well.
Always spot-check essential oils before topical application to check for sensitivity and limit diffusing time. Essential oils, although natural, are very potent substances with the potential for unforeseen side effects.
When you’re feeling cold or under the weather, there’s nothing like ginger-turmeric tea to warm up the body. This recipe adds cinnamon for extra stimulating power, and black pepper essential oil to increase absorption of the powerful healing compounds in turmeric.
- 2 c water
- ½ in. Fresh Turmeric, sliced
- ½ in. Fresh Ginger, sliced
- Half of a Cinnamon Stick
- 3 drops Black Pepper EO or 2 Black Peppercorns
Place turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and water in a small saucepan and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Strain the mixture into a mug, add the black pepper essential oil, and enjoy.
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