LONG PEPPER (Piper longum)


Latin: Piper longum
Sanskrit: Pippali

WHAT IT DOES: Long pepper is pungent in taste and hot in action, and tonic.  It improves appetite and digestion, helps control coughs and asthma, reduces mucus and increases absorption of food, nutrients and herbs

RATING: Silver, as it contains both tonic effects as well as some restrictions

SAFETY ISSUES: Use cautiously with stomach weakness or hyperacidity.  Do not use continuously in high dose for longer than two weeks.  Low dosage (as a spice) is safe for long term use.

STARTING DOSAGE:

• Dried powder: 200-mg concentration, one and-a-half grams two to three times per day (larger amounts–up to 30 grams per day–may be used if cooked for two hours)

Long pepper is an interesting medicine.  It is one of three parts of the famous Ayurvedic digestive formula called trikatu (the other two are black pepper and ginger root).  Long pepper is pungent and stimulating to the appetite, and can be added to the diet to improve nutrient absorption.  TAM doctors use it for bronchitis, asthma, cough and fever, and to stimulate the medicinal effects of other herbs.

Scientific attention has focused on piperine, an alkaloid found in long pepper and black pepper, which stimulates an enzyme that promotes amino acid uptake from the digestive tract and increases heat in the GI tract.  Piperine appears to increase blood concentrations of turmeric root (Shoba et al., 1998).  Therefore, instead of using the more expensive and perhaps slightly dangerous turmeric extract called curcumin by itself, all you may need to do is add either of the peppers to ordinary turmeric root, about 5% by weight, for short periods of time (perhaps a few weeks at most).

Numerous studies of long pepper show blood levels of various vitamins and nutrients to increase by as much as 30% when ingested concurrently.  Nonetheless, I do not recommend long-term continual use due to the herb’s strongly spicy quality.  Atal (1985) estimated that the inhibition effect lasts only 1-6 hours in animals, and this makes it very useful with ingested nutrients.  However, if long pepper is taken continuously or in excess, it could also keep toxic molecules from being metabolized and excreted.  I add long pepper or trikatu to herbal formulas for short periods of use to aid digestion when weak, especially if the patient has signs of mucus.  TAM doctors report that long pepper reduces colic pain and mucus, and can be used for cough and asthma.  It stimulates the medicinal effects of other herbs.  Unlike black pepper, long pepper is reputed to have tonic qualities–good for long life.

Research Highlights

• Piperine has an affinity for fatty tissue, where it interacts with the cell membranes.  Its components are absorbed very quickly across the intestinal barrier, increasing permeability (Johri et al., 1992), so researchers theorize that it attaches to various molecules and helps them across (Khajuria et al., 1998)
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• Piperine’s most important action may be the inhibition of liver and intestinal glucuronidation, which allows molecules to flow into the blood without being excreted (Atal et al., 1985).

• Especially interesting to me was one study published in Planta Medica showing how piperine dramatically increased blood concentrations of turmeric root, one of my favorite anti-inflammatories (Shoba et al., 1998).

• Long pepper also has some mild liver-protective activity (Koul and Kapil, 1993).