(I'm kind of pissed. I wasted decades of my gustatory life on the wrong hot sauce. Bye-bye Tabasco! Live, learn, and keep eating, I say.)
Peppers have been used for thousands of years to flavor, heal, and even as a weapon. I can think of a lot of ways pepper can end up in a fiction manuscript, so here we go!
I'm going to concentrate on the compound capsaicin, which naturally found in chili peppers and is the key component to the hotness factor.
Capsaicin is naturally found in the fruit of the genus Capsicum (chili peppers, cayenne, scotch bonnets, habanero, jalapeno). It's mostly found in the pithy part that holds the seeds. It causes varying degrees of burning and irritation. If ingested in large doses, capsaicin can kill humans (but this is virtually impossible by "accidentally" eating too many chili peppers.)
Why are some peppers so hot? The irritant nature may be a mechanism for protection and seed dispersion. Mammals (including us) might have chomped the fruits and destroyed the seeds during our chomping. Thus, the capsaicin may have warded off hungry mammals. However, birds are not affected by the capsaicin, and tend to swallow the seeds whole, pooping them out for the dispersal needed for future chili pepper generations.
How hot is hot? The Schoville scale is used to show how potent the hotness of different peppers or compounds can be.
Let's talk about Pepper Spray. Pepper in offensive/defensive methods have been used for a long time. 400 B.C. the Chinese would fling bags of pepper and spices at their opponents. (click here for reference; here's another good history on pepper spray.). Today, capsaicin or synthetic capsaicin are used in pepper sprays against humans and animals as a supposedly non-lethal method. Its use is very limited depending on which state you live in, as well as which country.
|I am so glad I'm not that guy on the left. (Source: Wikipedia)|
My personal experience with pepper spray. After college while I was living in NYC, my roommate got her hands on some pepper spray. I can't remember why, maybe to have in her purse for protection. We were hanging out with some friends, and she decided she'd spray one little squirt inside the apartment, just to see how strong it was. Not a lot, and not directed at anyone--just one little toot in the air.
Well, within seconds, I was coughing and hacking. My airways felt like I'd poured needles down them. My eyes were tearing like crazy. We ran to the opposite end of the apartment, but it was still so strong. We spend the next hour with the windows open, coughing and gagging with our heads lolling outside. After one, teensy little spray! That stuff was really scary.
Medical Therapy: Traditionally, peppers have been used externally as a means of increasing circulation, warming the skin, and as a pain reliever. Internally, it's been used to improve digestion, as a tonic, and to counter infections. Today, caspaicin is being explored as a use in treatment of diabetes and cancer. Its most common use is in creams and patches to treat pain from sore muscles and joints, as well as neuropathic pain (pain arising due to nerve dysfunction). Medications ranging from 0.025% to 8% concentration are applied (with gloves) to help ease pain over a period of time.
How does it work? It's thought to work in two ways. Capsaicin is irritating and warming, so there is a theory of "counterirritation" that the treatment distracts from the original pain. However, it's also thought to deplete Substance P (responsible for pain signalling in nerves), thus decreasing pain.
Who knew peppers were so versatile?
On that hot and spicy note, have a good Monday everyone!
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All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer. This is for fictional scenarios, only. Please check out the boring but necessary disclaimer on my sidebar ---> Also, don't forget to stop by Laura Diamond's Mental Health Mondays and Sarah Fine's The Strangest Situation for great psychiatric and psychological viewpoints on all things literary. :)