Plant Spotlight: Ghost Pepper
Aptly named, the ghost pepper has a delayed heat that slowly sneaks up on the back of the palate, gradually intensifies, then hangs around for an intense amount of time. The ghost pepper is also known as bhut jolokia and is a hybrid chili pepper cultivated in Northeast India. It is the third hottest chili pepper in the world. But beyond its heat, it provides a lovely and complex flavor that adds a variety of intensity to food.
FOLKLORE AND HISTORY
Currently, ghost peppers are used in chili grenades to dispense crowds in India and on fence posts to deter elephants from trampling farms. Although, the use of fumigation from peppers has been around for a long time through a variety of cultures. In ancient times, this fumigation was even believed to protect against vampires and werewolves. Peppers have also been used in conjuring and increasing potency of spells.
There is a Mexican ritual where chilis are used to counter the effects of “salting” which is a ritual to cast a spell on a person to cause them harm. To cast the spell, the evildoer gathers dirt from the grave of a person who died a violent death. Then they gather salt from the homes of three widows. The salt is mixed with the soil and is sprinkled in front of the door of the victim. If the victim finds the salt and soil, he or she burns it immediately and then must counter whatever evil effects are left by smoking them out.
To accomplish this ritual, on the first Friday of the month, hot coals are placed in a bucket and myrrh, storax, the peeling of a clove of garlic, rosemary, rue, star anise, and chilis are added. The victim carries the smoldering bucket throughout the house, adding extra smoke to the corners where evil may hide, while reciting a prayer that evil depart and good arrive. Further, the salting victim must perform another chili ritual. He or she stands outside of the patio, holds twelve chiles in the left hand, plus three pinches of coarse salt, and rubs them over the body in the form of a cross. Then the salt and the chiles are thrown into a fire. The victim believes that burning chiles and salt will cause the malefactor to burn in the same manner. Then the victim recites the following three times: “Ghost of the cemetery, may those who have salted me receive this salt.”
Chilis have also been used for centuries in cultures around the world to remove the evil eye, bad luck, and bewitchment with children. Perhaps because of their fiery nature, chilis are thought to absorb evil influences, which are then destroyed by fire.
On the converse, some cultures believe that the chilis themselves can bring trouble and that red pepper pods on a doorstep are the sign of a malignant influence.
Used as a weapon, or function as medicine, chili peppers are strong in either use and have been used medicinally for over 9,000 years. Chilis are used for pain in topical salves and are a go to remedy for arthritis. When its medicinal constituent capsaicin touches the skin, it creates a numbing effect. Beyond arthritis, this is used for psoriasis, muscle strain and peripheral neuropathy.
Taken orally, the heat of the chili stimulates heat within the body which helps create a sweat to clear a cold and prevent it from settling in when taken early on. Chilis also are considered tonifying for people who tend to be sluggish, cold and phlegmy. They will stoke the digestive fire and increase metabolism while also improving circulation.
Chili peppers are added to many herbal formulas in small amounts to speed delivery of the properties of other herbs into the digestive and circulatory system. They improve the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and medicines alike.
HOW WE USE GHOST PEPPERS
Oh these fiery little peppers really heat up our kitchen. This chili pepper is the show stopper in our Bitter Ghost Bitters. They bring the heat but in a slow, sneaky, lingering sort of way. On the days of straining and filtering the peppers, we have to clear out the kitchen and set up a warning to anyone nearby as the oils gather into the air making themselves well known. These beauties love Florida heat and we are so lucky to be able to source them form our own back yard in Boca Raton.