Spicy Bits

Breakfast of Champions

The snow outside inspired me to cook with peppers. I just finished a zesty dinner of huevos rancheros which consisted of 2 tortillas covered with spinach, fried eggs straight from the chicken, garlic stuffed olives and a small mountain of hot salsa. I am very full and my nose is running like mad. This is exactly the effect I was going for.

Spicy food is perfect for chilly winter days like today. Peppers are chock full of a compound called capsaicin. Simply put, the more capsaicin the cayenne pepper has, the hotter it tastes. When this compound comes into contact with the lovely mucus membrane known as the tongue, our mouth ignites and we grab for a frosty mug of beer to cut the flames. Any pepper lover worth his mouth callouses knows that water will only spread the burn of cayenne.

The burn is only part of the story with cayenne. Cayenne is among a handful of herbs that cut pain. Cayenne, turmeric and ginger all deplete the neuropeptide called substance P that triggers the pain sensation between nerve cells and the brain. These herbs also decrease inflammation. This is why capsaicin is included in muscle rubs and dermal patches.

Winter plays havoc on my system. My arthritis worsens. My back aches. My muscles throb with pain. Even as I am writing this blog post, I can feel the tension between my shoulder blades relax. The sharp knot at the top of my spine is unraveling. Those winter blues don’t have much chance against cayenne’s red heat.

Did I mention that my nose was running? Any one who has taken a bite of hot pepper knows that a runny nose and watery eyes are natural reactions. The active constituent in cayenne is a trigger on our membranes to expel mucus. That includes draining our sinuses and shooing the crud in our throats. Sound familiar?

In the Willamette Valley in winter, the tree pollen is gaining momentum. Cedars, junipers, oak, ash, pine and birches are all doing their level best to breed. That translates into a heavy pollen count on a clear day. When the sun comes out, so do Oregonians (like myself) that are starved for sunlight. We stand in outside, blinking at shiny, vaguely familiar, disc in the sky. We stretch our arms dramatically and draw in a hefty lungful of air.

“Hello pollen. Welcome to my nasal passages. Please enjoy your stay.”

Winters in Oregon can be brutal. Between the allergies, the arthritis and the general aches and pains; lies one miserable little herbalist. Cayenne is key to forgiveness for Willamette Valley’s woes. Nothing makes forgiveness go down easier than hot plate of spicy food. Huevos rancheros, any one?

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