Few herbs have the versatility for human use as does the common chili pepper, or Capsicum frutescens. The capsicum plant is a small, spreading shrub that originated in tropical America but is now widely cultivated throughout the world, including in the United States. The small red fruit owes its stinging pungency to a chemical called capsaicin, which comprises about 12 percent of the pepper and was isolated by chemists more than a century ago.
If the word capsaicin looks familiar, it’s likely because you’ve seen it advertised as an ingredient in many drugstore ointments used to relieve arthritis and muscle pains. Registered patent names such as Capsaizin P and Zostrix contain the chili pepper ingredient.
The Indians of the American tropics cultivated the chili pepper for centuries for both its culinary and medicinal uses.
The plant makes its first appearance in Western literature in 1494, when it captured the imagination and pen of a physician named Diego Alvarez Chanca, who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage to the West Indies. Today many world pharmacopoeias (official drug lists) include cayenne or capsicum, and the American Physicians Desk