Five Little Peppers and How They Grew

| 6/20/2016 4:08:00 PM

Tags: herbs, peppers, cooking, Karen O'Brien, Mendon, MA, Green Woman's Garden,

KarenEach year, the International Herb Association nominates an Herb of the Year™ as a way of focusing attention on either an underused or unknown herb. This year, Capsicum has been chosen as the 2016 Herb of the Year™, as it is not only used for culinary purposes, but also for medicinal use, as an ornamental, and as a pest deterrent. The main types of peppers are:

Capsicum annuum – most peppers we know, bells, pimentoes, jalapenos, etc.
Capsicum baccatum – aji types
Capsicum pubescens – rocoto
Capsicum chinese – habaneros
Capsicum frutescens - tabasco

Peppers are a New World plant, originating somewhere in South America. Christopher Columbus, searching for a route to the Spice Islands, stumbled on these plants accidentally. He was seeking pepper, or Piper nigrum, and found the native people called Arawak using a plant they called aga or aji as a seasoning for their root vegetable age, or yam, as we know it today. This flavor was hot and pungent and reminded Columbus of pepper, and so it was named. Thus began the plant's exodus to many other lands, as seeds and pods were distributed around the world. Five species had already been domesticated by the time of his arrival, and it's hard to believe that so many cultures have embraced it as their own. Africa, Italy, India, Thailand, and China are a few of the countries with which peppers are associated.

Variegated foliage of Fish pepper

Many tropical locales use hot peppers, and with good reason. Hot peppers are considered “yin” and bring heat to surface capillaries, where it dissipates, resulting in a cooling sensation. It is said that in Mexico, because of a devoted consumption of fiery peppers, a man who unfortunately perishes in the desert will never be devoured by vultures, because the peppers cause their bodies to be too hot and spicy to eat!

I find hot peppers enjoyable to grow and use. My favorites are Fish, a variegated pepper; Hinklehatz, a German variety that grows extremely well and prolifically for me; and Bulgarian Carrot, whose neon orange color adds a nice touch to salsas and gazpacho. As to sweet peppers, I love Aconcagua, whose tall plants yield an abundant crop of 7- to 9-inch-long, thin-walled peppers that ripen in my zone.

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