A voice for
herbal medicine

We share traditional, scientific and practical insights written by experienced herbalists and health experts from the world of herbal medicine and natural health

Long pepper is a very nourishing herb for the digestive system

Long Pepper

Piper longum Piperacea

Long Pepper has a long traditional use both in medicine and as a culinary spice. It is the plants dried fruit spikes that are valued for their medicinal properties. Long pepper is a fine rejuvenative to the respiratory system. Its sweet post-digestive effect is incredibly nourishing to the deeper reproductive tissues of the body.

  • How does it feel?

    Long pepper is a native plant to South Asia and can be found both in the wild and being cultivated across the hottest parts of India to the cooler north-east Himalayas. The plant is a small, slender climber with woody roots. The flowers are likened to cylindrical spikes that can grow up to 2.5cm in length and 5mm in diameter. The fruits are shiny, black/green berries positioned within fleshy spikes.

  • What can I use it for?

    Long pepper contains a constituent known as Piperine. Piperine has demonstrated stimulant activity that supports a poor circulation and shifts stuck congestion within the respiratory and the reproductive systems. Piperine has the ability to enhance the bio-availability of certain constituents in both conventional and non-conventional medication.

    Piperine increases permeability and partitioning which can promote a rapid absorption from the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). This has made Long pepper a valuable herb in cases of malabsorption and/or where there is a lack of digestive metabolism. The high essential oil content and stimulant nature of piperine also gives this herb notable tonifying actions to tissues within the reproductive and respiratory systems, improving their strength and resistance. The pungent constituents within this herb are effective as anthelmintics, targeting infections of the GIT.

  • Into the heart of Long Pepper

    Long pepper is an incredibly nourishing herb to the respiratory system. Its pungent qualities give it the ability to remove congested stagnation and mucous that may be influencing chronic and degenerative conditions in the lungs.

    Long pepper will stimulate the circulation and increase vasodilation. Increased vasodilation can be helpful to clear stubborn fevers from the body and also support any circulatory weakness. Its invigorating nature and action upon the blood makes long pepper efficient at banishing characteristically cool and damp conditions of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems.

    Piperine has a direct effect upon curcumin, the active ingredient found in Turmeric, by making it more bio-available to the body. Long pepper can directly improve the absorption of nutrients within the body through enhancing the digestion and micro-circulation. Long pepper is, therefore, a very nourishing herb for the digestive system supporting essential metabolic processes and improving overall digestive efficiency.

    Long pepper is incredibly nourishing to the reproductive tissues because of its ability to tonify and strengthen them. This has made long pepper helpful where there is any reproductive weakness or debility in both the male and female reproductive system.

    Long pepper is primarily used for cold, wet and ‘mucus’ conditions of the lungs. It is a rejuvenative for the lungs, pranavahasrotas and avalambaka kapha. It encourages vasodilation and therefore increases circulation, specifically to the lungs. When used with honey in asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and compromised immunity it will reduce any excess kapha. Long pepper will also treat mild fever by removing the ama from rasa dhatu and alleviating the concurrent aches in the muscles and joints.

    Long pepper stimulates agni and clears a weak digestion with symptoms of nausea, slow digestion, flatulence and a cold and painful abdomen. In malabsorption it can increase assimilation of nutrients. Piperine specifically increases the absorption of curcumin in Turmeric root (used at 1:10). Its anthelmintic qualities can be used as part of a formula to kill worms, amoebas and parasites and will help to treat diarrhoea from cold symptoms and constipation (vibandha) from stagnant apana vayu. Long pepper can be effectively used in diabetes as it reduces any excess of, and rejuvenates, the medas-dhatu.

    The sweet post-digestive effect of long pepper points to its ability to tonify the shukra dhatu and reproductive tissue which is useful in infertility, impotence and premature ejaculation. It is the only hot and penetrating substance to do this as hot substances usually consume shukra dhatu.

    The pungency and sweetness of long pepper invigorates the blood and nourishes rakta. By enhancing the digestive fire in the tissues it is a rasayana to rasa and rakta dhatu as it helps to assimilate more nutrients for building the plasma and the blood. It can also help to penetrate the cold pain of sciatica.

    Long pepper nourishes the majja dhatu, due to its sweet vipaka, and helps in vata disorders and also to nourish the brain.

  • Did you know?

    The Roman emperors valued the properties and taste of Long pepper more highly than Black pepper!

Additional information

  • Safety

    The piperine content of Long pepper, when used as an isolated ingredient, has been associated with enhancing blood levels of certain medication such as propanolol, theophylline, rifampicin as it may inhibit drug metabolism in the liver when it is used over a long period of time at a high dose. Hence all patients taking drugs that are metabolised in the liver must be carefully monitored if long pepper is prescribed. Other sources report that in its whole form it is a short-term bio-availability enhancer, increasing nutrient absorption, quickening absorption and reducing blood levels of medication.

  • Dosage

    1–5g/day powder or 5–15ml of a 1:5 in 60% tincture. Due to safety issues do not use at a high dose (more than 5g/day) for long periods of time. Low dose is safe for long-term use as attested to by the vast amount of Ayurvedic formulas containing Pippali.

  • Traditional energetics

    • Rasa (taste) Pungent.
    • Virya (action) Mildly heating not hot.
    • Vipaka (post-digestive effect) Sweet.
    • Guna (quality) Oily, light, penetrating.
    • Dosha effect: VK-, P+.
    • Dhatu (tissue) Plasma, blood, fat, nerve, reproductive.
    • Srotas (channels) Circulatory, digestive, respiratory, reproductive.
long pepper illustration
Aromatic
An ‘aromatic’ remedy, high in volatile essential oils, was most often associated with calming and sometimes ‘warming’ the digestion. Most kitchen spices and herbs have this quality: they were used both as flavouring and to ease the digestion of sometimes challenging pre-industrial foods. Many aromatics are classed as ‘carminatives’ and are used to reduce colic, bloating and agitated digestion. They also often feature in respiratory remedies for colds, chest and other airway infections. They are also classic calming inhalants and massage oils, and are the basis of aromatherapy for their mental benefits.
Astringent taste
The puckering taste you get with many plants (the most familiar is black tea after being stewed too long, or some red wines) is produced by complex polyphenols such as tannins. Tannins are used in concentrated form (eg from oak bark) to make leather from animal skins. The process of ‘tanning’ involves the coagulation of relatively fluid proteins in living tissues into tight clotted fibres (similar to the process of boiling an egg). Tannins in effect turn exposed surfaces on the body into leather. In the case of the lining of mouth and upper digestive tract this is only temporary as new mucosa are replenished, but in the meantime can calm inflamed or irritated surfaces. In the case of open wounds tannins can be a life-saver – when strong (as in the bark of broadleaved trees) they can seal a damaged surface. One group of tannins, the reddish-brown ‘condensed tannins’ are procyanidins, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
Bitter
Bitters are a very complex group of phytochemicals that stimulate the bitter receptors in the mouth. They were some of the most valuable remedies in ancient medicine. They were experienced as stimulating appetite and switching on a wide range of key digestive functions, including increasing bile clearance from the liver (as bile is a key factor in bowel health this can be translated into improving bowel functions and the microbiome). Many of these reputations are being supported by new research on the role of bitter receptors in the mouth and elsewhere round the body. Bitters were also seen as ‘cooling’ reducing the intensity of some fevers and inflammatory diseases.
Blue-purple colouring
Any fruits with a blue-purple colouring contain high levels of the polyphenols known as anthocyanins. These work 1) on the walls of small blood vessels, helping to maintain capillary structure to reduce a key stage in inflammation, and improving the microcirculation to the tissues; 2) to improve retinal function and vision; 3) to support connective tissue repair around the body.
Cooling
Traditional ‘cold’ or cooling’ remedies often contain bitter phytonutrients such a iridoids (gentian), sesiquterpenes (chamomile), anthraquinones (rhubarb root), mucilages (marshmallow), some alkaloids and flavonoids. They tend to influence the digestive system, liver and kidneys. Cooling herbs do just that; they diffuse, drain and clear heat from areas of inflammation, redness and irritation. Sweet, bitter and astringent herbs tend to be cooling.
Hot
Traditional ‘hot’ or ‘heating’ remedies, often containing spice ingredients like capsaicin, the gingerols (ginger), piperine (black or long pepper), curcumin (turmeric) or the sulfurous isothiocyanates from mustard, horseradich or wasabi, generate warmth when taken. In modern times this might translate as thermogenic and circulatory stimulant effects. There is evidence of improved tissue blood flow with such remedies: this would lead to a reduction in build-up of metabolites and tissue damage. Heating remedies were used to counter the impact of cold, reducing any symptoms made worse in the cold. .
Mucilaginous
Mucilages are complex carbohydrate based plant constituents with a slimy or ‘unctuous’ feel especially when chewed or macerated in water. Their effect is due simply to their physical coating exposed surfaces. From prehistory they were most often used as wound remedies for their soothing and healing effects on damaged tissues. Nowadays they are used more for these effects on the digestive lining, from the throat to the stomach, where they can relieve irritation and inflammation such as pharyngitis and gastritis. Some of the prominent mucilaginous remedies like slippery elm, aloe vera and the seaweeds can be used as physical buffers to reduce the harm and pain caused by reflux of excess stomach acid. Mucilages are also widely used to reduce dry coughing. Here the effect seems to be by reflex through embryonic nerve connections: reduced signals from the upper digestive wall appear to translate as reduced activity of airway muscles and increased activity of airway mucus cells. Some seed mucilages, such as in psyllium seed, flaxseed (linseed) or guar bean survive digestion to provide bulking laxative effects in the bowel. These can also reduce rate of absorption of sugar and cholesterol. .
New-mown hay aroma
The familiar country odour of haymaking, of drying grass and other plants, is largely produced by coumarins (originally isolated from tonka beans – in French coumarou) and widely used in perfumery. They are chemically categorised as benzopyrone lactones and are important phytochemicals, with strong antioxidant activity in the laboratory and likely effects in modulating inflammation. They were most often associated with the calming effect linked to their use in stuffing mattresses and pillows and plants, high In coumarins were commonly used for these properties.
Resinous
Resins are most familiar as tacky discharges from pine trees (and as the substance in amber, and rosin for violin bows). They were most valued however as the basis of ancient commodities like frankincense and myrrh (two of the three gifts of the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus) and getting access to their source was one benefit to Solomon for marrying the Queen of Sheba (now Ethiopia). Resins were the original antiseptic remedies, ground and applied as powders or pastes to wounds or inflamed tissues, and were also used for mummification. With alcohol distillation it was found that they could be dissolved in 90% alcohol and in this form they remain a most powerful mouthwash and gargle, for infected sore throats and gum disease. They never attracted much early research interest because they permanently coat expensive glassware! For use in the mouth, gums and throat hey are best combined with concentrated licorice extracts to keep the resins in suspension and add extra soothing properties. It appears that they work both as local antiseptics and by stimulating white blood cell activity under the mucosal surface. They feel extremely effective!
Salty
The salty flavour is immediately distinctive. A grain dropped onto the tongue is instantly moistening and a sprinkle on food enkindles digestion. This easily recognisable flavour has its receptors right at the front of the tongue. The salty flavor creates moisture and heat, a sinking and heavy effect which is very grounding for the nervous system and encourages stability. People who are solid and reliable become known as ‘the salt of the earth'.
Sharpness
The sharp taste of some fruits, and almost all unripe fruits, as well as vinegar and fermented foods, is produced by weak acids (the taste is generated by H+ ions from acids stimulating the sour taste buds). Sour taste buds are hard-wired to generate immediate reflex responses elsewhere in the body. Anyone who likes the refreshing taste of lemon or other citrus in the morning will know that one reflex effect is increased saliva production. Other effects are subjective rather than confirmed by research but there is a consistent view that they include increased digestive activity and contraction of the gallbladder.
Sweet
In the days when most people never tasted sugar, ‘sweetness’ was associated with the taste of basic foods: that of cooked vegetables, cereals and meat. In other words sweet was the quality of nourishment, and ‘tonic’ remedies. Describing a remedy as sweet generally led to that remedy being used in convalescence or recovery from illness. Interestingly, the plant constituents most often found in classic tonics like licorice, ginseng are plant steroids including saponins, which also have a sweet taste.

Sign up to our Newsletter

Sign up to our newsletter to receive the very latest in herbal insights.

Sign up to our newsletter