1.1 What is a Sichuan pepper?
The Sichuan pepper (botanical name: Zanthoxylum simulans, also known as Sichuan peppercorn, Chinese coriander, Chinese-pepper, Chinese prickly-ash or flatspine prickly-ash; Chinese Pinyin: Hua Jiao, Simplified Chinese: 花椒), is a species of deciduous, flowering, fruit-bearing, spreading shrub or small tree in genus Zanthoxylum in the rue family, Rutaceae. The term Sichuan pepper can refer to the plant as well as the seed husk of the plant. The flowers are occuring in slender cymes, each flower about 4–5 mm diameter. The 3–4 mm berry has a rough reddish brown husk that splits open to release the black seeds from inside. The plant can grow up to 7 m tall. Native to China, habitats of Sichuan pepper include flatlands and mountainous regions (usually found from between 1,000 to 2,500 meters in elevation). Characteristics of Sichuan pepper include tolerance for drought and cold.
Other simplified Chinese names for Sichuan pepper include: 檓, 大椒, 秦椒, 蜀椒, 香椒, 大花椒, 椒目, 巴椒, 汉椒, 川椒, 南椒, 点椒.
1.2 How does Sichuan pepper taste?
Good Sichuan peppers (prepared) has a gritty, sandy texture with a flavor that is fragrant, unique, lemony, tingling, numbing, electric, vibrant and mildly astringent. The sensation of numbness felt by the tongue make it a lot different than pure hot.
1.3 How do I tell if my Sichuan pepper are ripe?
Sichuan peppers start to ripen when the husks of seeds turn bright pink or faint red. Most ripe Sichuan peppers are found in August and September, depending on the weather conditions.
1.4 Why did US ban import of Sichuan peppers?
Between 1968 to 2005, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) banned the import of Sichuan peppers in fear that a citrus canker may also be carried into the US. In 2005, the USDA and FDA removed the ban, but required that all imported Sichuan peppers go through thermal treatment, around 70 °C (158 °F), to ensure all canker bacteria are eliminated before importation.
1.5 How is Sichuan pepper used in traditional Chinese medicine?
The husk of Sichuan pepper is considered to have pungent and warm properties and to be associated with the spleen, stomach and kidney meridians. It is used as analgesic, intestinal worm killing drug and antipruritic in traditional Chinese medicine (CTM) and widely adopted in treating different diseases and health problems, such as chest pain and airway disorders.
2. Uses, Health Benefits of Sichuan Pepper & Medical Formulas
2.1 Relieve Pain
Though Sichuan peppers are known for their spice taste and numbness sensation, like other peppers, Sichuan pepper is a good source of analgesic substances that helps to relieve pain. Studies demonstrated that extract from Sichuan peppers can occupy and dominate the pain receptors that responds to damaging or potentially damaging stimuli by sending pain signals to the spinal cord and the brain. Therefore, intake of Sichuan peppers may help to prevent the nervous system from producing a feeling of discomfort or pain, or reduce the pain level felt. It is a great way of pain relief though it is not a fundamental cure for pain.
[CTM Formula] Red halloysite, dried ginger, Sichuan pepper (Chinese prickly ash), processed radix aconiti carmichaeli (附子), processed aconite and honey are to be made into pills for oral taking to treat chest pain radiating to the back.
[CTM Formula] Pills made with Oxalis corniculata and Chinese prickly ash can be kept in mouth to reduce gum swelling and relieve pain.
2.2 Increase Appetite
Some people may experience a loss of appetite after having an injury, major or minor (even a common cold). The more serious the injuries are, the longer it could take to get any appetite back thereafter. Also, some people want to gain weight by increasing the food intake. The simple addition of Sichuan peppercorns into food is an easy way to have one’s appetite stimulated.
2.3 Stop Chronic Inflammation
The inflammatory response (inflammation) occurs when tissues are affected by bacteria, trauma, toxins, heat, or any other damages. The impaired cells release chemicals including histamine, bradykinin, and prostaglandins, which make our blood vessels to leak fluid into the tissues, causing swelling. Common situations of inflammation includes lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, allergies and asthma. While short time inflammation is a natural body response, chronic and uncontrolled inflammation is root of various serious diseases and health problems, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and even metal problems like depression (clevelandclinic.org 2014). Studies have shown that Sichuan pepper contain capsaicin which serves as powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial and work for better balance bacteria in the gut and can help to stop or reduce chronic inflammation in our body.
2.4 Regulate Blood Pressure Level
High blood pressure together with high cholesterol (High LDL, low HDL), cigarette smoking, physical inactivity and obesity are believed to be the major conditions that contribute to an increased risk of sudden death (myocarditisfoundation.org 2017). Sichuan peppers contain various minerals, especially a high level of potassium which serve as a powerful antihypertensive by balancing out the negative effects of salt (high sodium consumption raises blood pressure). A number of studies have proved an inverse correlation between potassium intake and blood pressure, furthermore a low intake of potassium may lead to a higher risk of stroke. Thus, more intake of Sichuan peppers may help to regulate blood pressure level and reduce the chance of getting the deadly stroke.
2.5 Airway Disorders
[CTM Formula] Calcined and vinegar-quenched amethyst is to be pounded into powder and mixed with Sichuan pepper (Chinese prickly ash) for internal taking to treat lung and airway disorders.
2.6 Relieve Chest Numbness
[CTM Formula] Pills made with polygala tenuifolia, cinnamon, dried ginger, asarum, Sichuan pepper (Chinese prickly ash), processed radix aconiti carmichaeli and honey can be taken to treat numbness or tingling in the chest.
2.7 Increase Appetite
[CTM Formula] A decoction of ginseng, dried ginger, Chinese prickly ash and maltose syrup is taken orally to treat low appetite.
3. Contraindication, Side-effects & Cautions
Eating excessive Sichuan peppers can cause negative consequences.
The Ben Cao Medical Book (also known as Compendium of Materia Medica or Ben Cao Gang Mu; Chinese: 本草纲目) is the most famous and comprehensive medical book ever written in the history of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Compiled and written by Li Shi-zhen (1518~1593), a medical expert of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) over 27 years.
The Ben Cao Medical Book records and describes all the plants, animals, minerals, and other objects that were believed to have medicinal properties in TCM. The book reflects the pharmaceutical achievements and developments of East Asia before the 16th century. On the basis of his predecessors’ achievements in the pharmacological studies, Li contributed further by supplementing and rectifying many past mistakes and misconception in relate to nature of many medicinal substances and causes of various illnesses. Charles Darwin, originator of the biological theory of evolution, regards the book as the “ancient Chinese encyclopedia”.
Disclaimer: The Ben Cao Medical Book is translated by ChinaAbout.net. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of CTM knowledge and information from the research and experience from the author Li Shi-zhen. Kindly be alert that the CTM knowledge and ancient formulas given above are likely NOT medically proven and may contain misconceptions.
List of reference
myocarditisfoundation.org 2017 FAQ on Sudden Death and Myocarditis [online] Retrieved 21 August 2017. Link: https://www.myocarditisfoundation.org/research-and-grants/faqs/sudden-death-and-myocarditis/