red pepper

I’ve been getting to be closer friends with red pepper in the previous month. It’s like one of those people you see around all the time, maybe chat with now and again, but don’t take the time to really sit down with and get to know.

It’s been on my list ever since I went to a wonderful talk by Bevin Clare about herbs for travelers. I thought she’d talk about what herbs to bring with you, maybe give me ideas for putting together a travel kit. She mentioned that a little, but really most of the talk was about how to use the herbs that are easiest to find all over the world. It was a liberating way to think about it, freeing me from my apothecary. It was partly because of this influence that I became more and more interested in learning to think of the action I was looking for and then finding the herb to do that thing, rather than just linking the herb to the condition. I get a feeling of glee when I solve the puzzle that way.

So there I was in an airbnb in Amsterdam, far not only from my U.S. apothecary, but also from the miniature collection of herbs I’ve acquired in Berlin. I slashed my finger open while washing the breakfast dishes. I ran cold water on my gushing cut, and my mind raced trying to figure out what to do. I had no herbs, no bandaids, nothing. “I’ll just do nothing,” I thought. And then I turned my head and looked at the small collection of kitchen staples. Olive oil, black pepper, salt and EUREKA!

I’d used cayenne before to stop bleeding, maybe paprika would work as a hemostat too? I let my finger air dry and then packed the wound with this bargain-brand paprika and instantly the bleeding stopped and the pain disappeared. I’d always thought the pain caused by the cayenne itself was necessary to get the pain-relieving affects, but this did it too, and without the initial torture. Huh, interesting. Beyond the relief I felt in my finger, though, there was the elation of having solved a puzzle. I’m a real McGyver, I am! It’s all well and good to make a cool formula from obscure, exotic herbs in a well-stocked apothecary, but what really makes me proud of myself is using my knowledge to make something from nothing.

Back in Berlin, the cut healed up quickly and without incident. I’d worn myself out having fun in Amsterdam, though, and it was catching up with me. My throat hurt. I gargled with salt water and felt better. When I woke up in the morning, though, my head was full of snot. I ate my garlic, inhaled lavender-scented steam, I napped. Finally, I hit a breaking point. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I need to clear out my head! I looked at my tiny collection of herbs, a couple purchased here in Berlin and a few remaining from the stash I brought with me: chamomile, yarrow, artemisia. I sighed. When congested sinuses make me feel too stupid to think for myself, I read over my own handout on colds and flus. Nothing. I’d already done it all. Then, I turned to 7Song’s excellent colds and flus handout. Decongestants, hmmmm… Cayenne?

I stirred a couple of spoonfuls of cayenne into a cup of hot water. I was a little scared. A memory came back – a fellow student I admired when I was in college, in the coffeeshop, sniffling. She was stirring several spoonfuls of tabasco into a cup of hot water and drinking it down. She said her mother always gave her cayenne when she had a headcold. If she could do it, so could I. I steeled myself and drank it down. To my surprise, it didn’t burn. Just as painkillers don’t make me high when I’m actually in pain, it was as if the cayenne was too busy working on my headcold to bother to make my mouth burn.

It came on gradually, but within 10 minutes or so I could breathe through my nose. Wow! How did I not know this? It really is just like one of those people you see around but don’t bother to really get to know. They are often far more awesome than you ever suspected!

Leave a Reply