PEPPER [BLACK] (Piper nigrum): Origin: native to southern India. Black pepper is the most widely traded spice globally, is indigenous to south India. A major source of black pepper in antiquity was the Malabar Coast where the peppercorns were traded as a source of “black gold.” While the geographical origins of this type of pepper may be there, most pepper originates today in Viet Nam. The term pepper originates with the south Indian term, pippali, and then shifts in Greek and Latin to piper – hence – the English word pepper. Throughout most of history there has been culinary and literary confusion between black pepper (Piper nigrum) and what is called “long pepper” (Piper longum). Ancient Greek and Roman accounts describe non-culinary uses of pepper. Dioscorides identified pepper mixed with ginger as a contraceptive, due to their presumed anti-fertility properties. The Greek physician, Galen, identified mixtures of black pepper, parsley, rue, and mandrake to secure abortions. Antiphane, the Greek comic poet, wrote in the 4th century BCE:
If a man goes to the market and brings home only pepper, they denounce him as a spy fit for the rack.
During Roman times pepper was imported into the Red Sea region from ports in India. Native to eastern tropical regions. Considered one of the oldest items in the global spice trade.
The Gerarde herbal contains only brief comments regarding pepper: it is a good medicine for the eyes and that pepper promotes urine flow and digestion.
The Culpeper herbal also has only few comments on pepper: pepper binds, expels wind [intestinal gas], quickens digestion when oppressed with cold, and heats the stomach. A medical aphorism regarding pepper was coined by Culpeper:
For the Tooth-ache …
Take the inner rind of an Elder-tree, and bruise it, and put thereto a little Pepper, and make it into balls, and hold them between the teeth that ache.
Used throughout much of human history as a medical ingredient to prevent: cholera, dysentery (bloody), leprosy, plague (Black Death), scarlet fever, smallpox, and typhus. So valuable was pepper as a spice that it sometimes was traded instead of currency and tribute paid by conquered cities on occasion was delivered in peppercorns.
(Summarized from: Gerarde, 1597, pp. 1356-1357; Culpeper, 1653, p. 248 and 397 Colin, 1962, p. 69; Lehner and Lehner, 1962, p. 119).
See also: http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/p/pepper24.html