Guest blog by: Sophie
Hello everyone, the travelling botanist is finally back and today I’m doing a special for Plant Fascination Day. I thought I’d talk about something a little closer to home and how you can grow it yourself fairly easy, so without further ado, today’s awesome plant is peppers!
Peppers, like any fruit or vegetable, are something we see on a daily basis in our supermarkets, greengrocers and the like. Thanks to the thousands of years of cultivation of 5 species of Capsicum, the Latin genus name for peppers, they have been integrated into many different cuisines across the globe and become a staple in quick and easy meals such as stir-fry and salads.
There are several possible origins of the name Capsicum, given to describe peppers. The Latin, meaning box, is thought to describe the peppers themselves which we consume whereas the Greek word translates to “to gulp”. “Pepper” itself is thought to come from black pepper, due to the similar “heat” that comes from them although black pepper (Piper Nigrum) isn’t actually related to the peppers we’re talking about today!
Originating from the Americas and migrating across the world as a result of the Columbian Exchange, it took over three centuries for Europeans to accept tomatoes, peppers and chilli peppers due to their resemblance with our native nightshade which at its best is known to cause vomiting and diarrhoea and at its worst, death. Nowadays the mild bell peppers we eat stem from a variety developed in Hungary during the 1920s.
Of the ~27 species of Capsicum, only 5 are cultivated; C. annum, C. baccatum, C. chinense, C. frutescens and C. pubescens with annum being the most highly cultivated and chinense producing the hottest peppers. C. annum is also probably the better known of the Capsicum species due to the bell peppers, jalapeños, New Mexico chile, and cayenne peppers originating from this species. Unlike the name “annum” suggests these plants are not annuals but are instead perennials albeit being highly susceptible to even the slightest frost – so if you plan on growing them yourself remember to keep them warm during winter! They are relatively easy to grow even in our miserable climate, providing they get enough sun (20-29° is where they’re their happiest), and are able to self-pollinate in the absence of insects (although we all know this just makes fruiting plants produce bigger, better edibles) making them a fun and rewarding project to start in early spring and watch through summer!
For those pepper connoisseurs, I’m sure aware there’s a distinct difference between the mild bell pepper and the feisty hot chilli peppers, and I’m not talking about their shape either. Capsaicin, part of the capsaicinoid family, is the chemical responsible for that “heat” you feel whenever you eat something containing chilli peppers. This is because Capsaicin is actually an irritant to mammals, like you and I, and has evolved to be a deterrent, despite those of us that seem to be on a quest for the hottest chillies around. The seeds themselves do not contain Capsaicin, instead, it is most concentrated in the internal white, spongey part known as the “pith” which the seeds are attached to. Smaller quantities of Capsaicin are found in the rest of the pepper. Capsaicinoids aren’t just used in cooking – they have also been found to help manage pain in small doses in the form of topical creams or patches however they have also been implemented riot control agents for their irritant properties.
However! On to the more fun stuff! All you need to grow your own pepper plants are a pepper (one you’re preferably going to eat and not just throw away), some soil, a reusable pot and a sunny windowsill or balcony to put your pot out on. Now I say pepper rather than store bought seeds because you’re able to get SO many seeds from the pepper which would otherwise be going to waste, and they work just as well as the ones from Wilkos. Scrape out the seeds carefully and pop a few about 1cm deep in the pot, you’ll want it to be around 10cm so you have enough space to scoop them out later when they get bigger, ensure the soil is damp but not soaking and just keep an eye on it over the next few weeks. They typically take a while to get going so don’t get disheartened. You’ll see below in the photos that they don’t take long once they do germinate!
Have fun and happy planting!!