This red hot spice was "discovered" on the northern coast of South America by a physician sailing with Columbus. Cayenne has been used as a painkiller, digestive tonic and flavor enhancer ever since. A member of the Capsicum species, cayenne is a central ingredient in Mexican, Indian, Asian and Cajun cuisine. It's related to the bell pepper and the hot peppers that produce chili powder.

The active ingredient in cayenne is capsaicin, an oily, irritating chemical that is often used in police pepper sprays (avoid getting it in your eyes!). When applied to the skin, capsaicin can be a potent painkiller because it hinders the transmission of pain impulses from special nerve endings to the brain. Regular application of capsaicin cream or ointment can relieve pain from arthritis, shingles, diabetic nerve damage and even surgical scars. It may also reduce the itching associated with psoriasis, and can improve the cold sensation in the extremities from Raynaud's disease.

Cayenne, taken as a tea, tablet, capsule or fresh pepper form, can also help stimulate digestion. It increases blood circulation in the stomach and bowel and bolsters the secretion of digestive juices. It can help relieve gas and ulcers, and may also be used as a gargle to relieve a sore throat.

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