Wonders of PIppali
by Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma), M.B., B.S. (Lond.)
Among the most celebrated Ayurvedic herbs is Pippali, renowned for its benefits for the lungs but valuable in many other capacities too. Literature on Pippali can be found in both classical texts and contemporary peer reviewed journals. Pippali can be used in four capacities—as a culinary spice of rare distinction, as a home remedy, as a powerful medicinal herb and as a catalyst to potentiate the action of other herbs and drugs.
Pippali (piper longum) is indigenous to India and Sri Lanka, although a very similar plant is found in Indonesia. A member of the family piperacae, Pippali is a perennial aromatic shrub. The flowers of Pippali grow in spikes, which are harvested and dried to form the Long Pepper. The root, Pippali Moola, is also a valuable herb widely mentioned in classical texts. It is important to note that, unlike cayenne pepper, and despite common misunderstanding, Pippali is not in the nightshade family and is perfectly acceptable to those who are unable to tolerate nightshades.
Pippali has as pungent rasa and sweet vipak. Its virya is anushnashita—neither hot nor cold, a fact the renders it invaluable for pitta. It contains volatile oil, alkaloids piperin and piperlonguminine, terpenoids and N-isobutyl deca-trans-2-trans-4-dienamide, a waxy alkaloid.
Pippali regulates sroto—agni of pranavahasrotas, the respiratory tract. It acts as a bronchodilator, decongestant, expectorant, and lung rejuvenative. In annavahasrotas, the digestive tract, it also has powerful actions as carminative and deepan (agni kindler). Pippali kindles bhutagni in the liver, improving liver function, and is a metabolic stimulant, aiding the thermogenic response by increasing the level of thyroid hormone.
As a culinary spice, Pippali has been celebrated for its unique combination of pungent and sweet. It was an essential ingredient in Roman cooking and is used to this day in the cuisine of Morocco and Ethiopia, where it is an ingredient in berebere, a masala mix. Although its use in Indian cuisine has been replaced by the much harsher cayenne pepper introduced by the Portuguese, it is still used in certain traditional pickles.
As a home remedy, Pippali should be in every winter medicine cabinet. As always, choice of anupan will determine which aspect of the action of Pippali will predominate. A pinch of Pippali in aloe vera gel will immediately relieve bronchospasm in an episode of bronchitis or severe cough. The same recipe can also be used before meals to help with intolerance to fats. In asthma, a quarter teaspoon of Pippali can be mixed in a teaspoon of honey and taken three times daily after meals. For hyperacidity, a quarter teaspoon of Pippali can be mixed with a half teaspoon of rock candy and a half cup of room temperature milk. A pinch of Pippali with a teaspoon of crushed rock candy is a good home remedy for hoarseness of the voice.
To enhance prana, a quarter teaspoon of Pippali can be mixed in ghee and taken in the morning. As a rejuvenative home remedy in chronic fatigue, a quarter teaspoon of Pippali can be taken daily with gritamadhu (a combination of ghee and honey) (1). As a carminative, a quarter teaspoon Pippali can be combined with a pinch of hing and a teaspoon of ghee and taken after meals. In haemorrhoids, make a Pippali yoghurt drink. Combine two tablespoons of yoghurt, a cup of pure water and a pinch of Pippali, blend together and drink after lunch and dinner. In obesity, combine a pinch of Pippali with a teaspoon of honey and drink in the mornings followed by hot water, for enhanced thyroid function and fat burning.
In chronic cough, asthma and low agni, Pippali milk can be used. Make a medicated milk by adding a quarter cup of water to a cup of milk. Add a pinch of Pippali and cook back down to one cup. Pippali is safe to use in pregnancy in small amounts. For asthma in pregnancy, a small amount of Pippali can be taken, mixed in ghee. A medicated ghee can also be made with Pippali, cooking a decoction of Pippali into ghee until all the water is absorbed. This is an excellent remedy for healing lungs that have been damaged by smoking.
As a medicinal herb, Pippali can be used to heal and rejuvenate pranavahasrotas. It is an excellent addition to any spring rejuvenative formula. As a powerful herb, it should be used in smaller proportions in the formula. It combines well with Punarnava in formulas for pranavahasrotas (respiratory conditions), with Shankhapushpi for chronic liver disease, with Ashwagandha in fatigue conditions and with Guggulu in rheumatoid arthritis. It is also of value in anti-parasitical formulas.
In bronchial asthma, the famous Vardaman Pippali Rasayana can be used as described in detail in Charak Samhita. An increasing amount of Pippali is taken each day; with milk. Amounts of Pippali and their rate of increase are determined by the strength of the patient. Once a peak is reached the amount of Pippali is slowly reduced each day (2). Meanwhile, a strict diet is followed. For Westerners, tolerance of Pippali is lower. It is best to find the point at which Pippali will cause hyperacidity, lower the dose to below that level, continue at that level for a week and then slowly reduce the amount.
There are a number of classical preparations featuring Pippali. These include Trikatu, Sitopaladi, Talisadi, Pippali Asavam and Pippali Prash. All these preparations make use of the powerful effects of Pippali on pranavahasrotas.
Recent research conforms the effectiveness of Pippali in a variety of situations. Several have shown immunostimulatory and antigiardial effects of Pippali (3). Pippali is similarly effective against entamoeba hystolytica. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Phytomedicine shows that Pippali inhibits liver fibrosis in animal studies. This provides support for the traditional use of Pippali in alcoholic liver disease and chronic hepatitis (4) A.K Agarwal et al demonstrated the protective effect of Pippali against gastric ulcers in rats. “The antiulcerogenic effect seemed to be due to the augmentation of mucin secretion and decreased cell shedding rather than offensive acid and pepsin secretion which however, were found to be increased by them.” (5). Pippali’s anti-inflammatory and analgaesic effects may be equal to that of Ibuprofen, according to one animal study (6). “This indicates that P. longum root has weak opioid but potent NSAID (non steroidal anti-inflammatory) type of analgesic activity”.
Another study demonstrated that Pippali is a useful anti-cancer agent. (7) “These results indicate the potential use of spices as anti-cancer agents as well as anti-tumour promoters.” This study is very interesting in highlighting the usefulness of Pipplai both to recovering smokers, at risk for lung cancer, and to those with Hepatitis C, at risk for liver cancer.
Finally, in addition to its powerful effects as a medicinal herb in its own right, Pippali is also valuable as a catalytic agent to potentiate the actions of other herbs or drugs. The most important classical example of this usage of Pippali is of course Chyavanprash. In this formulation, Pippali functions as a catalytic agent to enhance the rejuvenative, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and lung infection-fighting capabilities of Amlaki, the chief herb in Chyavanprash. Pippali has also been shown to enhance the effects of antibiotics. (8) In this study, Pippali was found to be a phytochemical potentiator of Ciprofloxacin against Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacterium which can cause a variety of diseases including lung infections. This study points to the usefulness of taking sitopaladi alongside an antibiotic in serious bacterial infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. It is important to note that in certain situations, the potentiating effect of Pippali may be dangerous in terms of herb-drug interactions. Neither Pippali nor black pepper should be used in individuals taking the beta blocker Propanalol, also known as Inderal, because piperine enhances the effects of this drug, with potentially dangerous consequences. It is also important to avoid Pippali when a patient is taking anti-coagulants.
Although Pippali is most famous for its rejuvenative impact on pranvahsrotas, ancient texts and contemporary studies point to wide-ranging effectiveness of Pippali in respiratory, liver, digestive, metabolic, parasitic and malignant conditions. In terms of Pippali’s usefulness in pravavahasrotas, anti-infective, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and rejuvenative effects all synergize to create outstanding effectiveness in infectious and degenerative lung and upper respiratory diseases.
- Chikitsasthan, Ch.1 v 32
- Chikitsasthan, Ch.1 v36-40
- Tripati et al Antigiardial and immunostimulatory effect of Piper longum on giardiasis due to Giardia lamblia. Phytother Res. 1999 Nov;13(7):561-5; Agarwal et al Management of giardiasis by a herbal drug 'Pippali Rasayana': a clinical study.
- Plant Products as Antimicrobial Agents. Marjorie Murphy Cowan, Department of Microbiology, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio 45056. Clin Microbiol Rev. 1999 October; 12(4): 564–582.
- J Ethnopharmacol. 1997 May; (3):233-6
- hytomedicine. 2006 Feb;13(3):196-8. Epub 2005 Jun 24. Inhibition of CCl4-induced liver fibrosis by Piper longum Linn. Christina AJ, Saraswathy GR, Robert SJ, Kothai R, Chidambaranathan N, Nalini G, Therasal RL. Department of Pharmacology, KM College of Pharmacy, Uthangudi, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India.)
- Indian J Exp Biol. 2000 Oct; 38(10):994-8.
- Indian J Exp Biol. 2003 Jun;41(6):649-51.
- Unnikrishnan MC, Kuttan R; Cancer Lett. 1990 May 15;51(1):85-9.
- Inshad Ali Khan, Zahid Mehmood Mirza, Ashwani Kumar, Vijeshwar Verma, and Ghulam Nabi Qazi, Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, February 2006, p. 810-812, Vol. 50, No. 2.
Alakananda Devi (Alakananda Ma) is director of Alandi Ayurvedic Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and principal teacher of Alandi School of Ayurveda, a traditional ayurvedic school and apprenticeship program. She can be reached at 303-786-7437 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.