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Black Pepper as Herb and Spice - Piper nigrum. Cultivation and propagation.


Black pepper has always been a valuable trading commodity from times gone by. In the 18th Century, Venice and Genoa depended on its trade. Native to southern India and Sri Lanka, introduced and cultivated in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil and in many other tropical regions.

Black Pepper is a perennial climber, growing to 20ft tall with a strong woody stem with heart shaped veined dark green leaves. It has drooping spikes of white flowers followed by long clusters of round green fruits or berries - peppercorns - and as they mature they turn red. Commercially it is grown up stout pole frameworks or single poles.

For general culinary and condiment use, the Peppercorns are picked at various stages of maturity, and processed as below.

Black Pepper Seeds - Piper NigrumBlack Pepper is produced from the whole fruits just as they start to go red and then dried. After drying they are baked to form the black peppercorns - then ground to make Black Pepper.

Green Pepper is produced from the unripe green fruit, which is then dried - but not baked.

White Pepper also produced in the same way and picked when the maturity is right but not fully ripe..

It would have to be grown in a heated green house or conservatory here in UK – but who knows what the future holds with global warming! They can make for unusual - if slightly large - houseplants. The distinct pepper aroma is not unpleasant. It is normally grown in tropical areas including most of Asia, with regional differences as to the varieties planted.

 Propagation of Black Pepper - White Pepper - Piper nigrum.

Pepper plants need several years’ growth before they will be mature enough to fruit. Sow the seeds or offsets from an established plant, plant in rich soil with plenty of water, in a humid atmosphere and a shady position. Far better to sow the seeds in a greenhouse that can be gently heated over-winter - otherwise sow in heated propagator.

They can also be propagated from semi-ripe cuttings in late summer. In the UK they are best grown indoors - being frost tender.

Medicinal

Black pepper is a pungent, stimulating digestive, which relieves flatulence. Its fruits are valued for a range of properties; it is used for coughs and colds, breathing, heart problems, colic, diabetes and piles. It can also be mixed into a paste and used to treat boils and hair loss, it is even said that a mixture of black pepper and honey is a remedy of night blindness.

Patients in a coma have been given black pepper as an inhalation. Black pepper can even be chewed to reduce throat inflammation.
 

Culinary

Black pepper can be used for many dishes, but is mainly used as a condiment and flavouring. White pepper is mainly used at the table, but black, red and green can be added to soups, stews, salads, cheeses and to enhance many vegetables especially when roasting. Try crushing mixed whole peppers and rolling goats cheese in them, this crunchy topping and creamy centre is superb when served with warm bread.

Problems with Piper nigrum - Black or White Pepper.

These Peppers do not suffer from the normal range of sap suckers. Maybe a little to spicy! However, they can be lost from a fungal root rot that happens especially with young plants - and also at the seedling stage. Regular sprays of a general fungicide will help to keep such rots at bay.

Flea beetles are sometimes a problem.



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