Sweet or spicy, the chili pepper is a garden favorite. The plant originally hails from South America, in the region now known as Bolivia. While we are familiar with peppers of all shapes and sizes, the original chili peppers were much smaller than the peppers we are used to today.
A Brief History of Chili Peppers
It’s likely that chili peppers first migrated from their native habitat thanks in part to birds. They would consume the ripened fruits and then disperse their seeds as they flew to other areas.
One interesting note: Birds are not affected by capsaicin, the chemical that gives peppers their heat. Therefore, they have no problem snacking on they tasty chilis in the wild.
Chili peppers have been a staple ingredient in indigenous diet for thousands of years. But they didn’t find their way into the cuisines of the world until the Spanish brought peppers back to Europe sometime in the 1500s.
Since then, peppers have been developed into hundreds of different varieties. These include sweet bell, jalapeno, poblano and cayenne.
Read more: Grow, pick and enjoy peppers in your garden!
Some Like It Hot
Most chili peppers are spicy. Their level of heat is measured by what is known as Scoville Units.
The sweetest peppers register as a ‘0’ on the Scoville scale. The world’s hottest pepper, the Carolina Reaper, has been measured at more than 2 million Scoville heat units!
Peppers’ Purpose in the Apothecary
Peppers are a useful kitchen ingredient, adding flavor and spice to many dishes. But they are also valuable to the herbalist for their medicinal benefits.
The same capsaicin that gives a chili its heat is also harnessed by the herbalist to craft pain relieving topical ointments. These can bring relief from joint pain, inflammation and sore, achy muscles.
Growing Tips for Peppers
Growing peppers in your garden is pretty simple. But there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure a successful harvest.
- Be sure to plant your pepper seeds early. Peppers need a long season to mature. So plant to start your seeds indoors, under lights, around six to eight weeks before your last expected frost date.
- The addition of a heat mat under your planted seeds will also speed up germination. Pepper seeds perform best at temperatures around 75 degrees F.
Transplant your peppers into a full-sun area of your garden once they have established at least two sets of true leaves. Also make sure any risk of frost has passed.
Seed Saving for Peppers
Once you find a pepper variety that you enjoy enough to want to grow again next season, I always recommend saving your seeds from your harvest to replant next year. Select fruits from the best performing, healthiest plants. Once the peppers are ripe—a very important note—simply cut them open and remove the seeds.
Peppers tend to change color to signal their ripeness. This is often a change from green to red, but this may differ depending on the specific variety you are growing.
Place the seeds out onto a paper plate to dry for around five to 10 days. Make sure to label the plate with the variety name so you don’t forget!
Once the seeds are well-dried, package them up in a coin envelope or small baggies and store them in a cool, dark place until next year.
Chili peppers are so much fun with all of their different colors, sizes shapes and flavors. They are easy to grow, useful in the kitchen as well as the apothecary. There’s no reason not to enjoy chili peppers in your garden every year!