India's ancient spice, black gold - pepper

Black Pepper, en.wikipedid.ord
Pepper is used  as part of cooking - seasoning and often paired with salt -  in almost  all countries  and, as a matter of fact, there is no house on this planet that does not have salt and pepper shakers. It is one of the most common spices added to cuisines around the world. It is the chemical peperine that causes spiciness and adds zest to the taste of food. 
Pepper not only improves the taste of food, but it also has definite medicinal value. "A few grains of black pepper a day will make your heart stronger", is the slogan I frequently hear whenever I step into the local market  here where the traders sell local medical stuff called Nattu Marunthu (country medicine) that does not have side effects as the Allopathic medicines have.
Black pepper.
Black Pepper, one of the oldest spices in the world  has been associated with Indian cooking since 2000 BC.  Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, cultivated for its fruit, which is usually dried and  commonly used as a spice and seasoning. When dried, the fruit is known as a peppercorn.  The pepper plant is a perennial woody vine growing up to 4 meters (13 ft) in height on supporting trees, poles, or trellises.  It is widely grown in soil that is neither too dry nor susceptible to flooding, moist, well-drained and rich in organic matter. The vines do not grow well over an altitude of 900 m (3,000 ft) above sea level.The word"pepper" has its roots in the Dravidian word  for long pepper, pippali which later became peperi (Greek), then to piper (Latin). The present word pepper is a derivative of old English word pipor.

The Malabar Coast (presently the state of Kerala) is still the major producer of pepper. The history of black pepper in India dates back to the prehistoric times.  Frequently  referred to as "black gold" in ancient India, on account of its demand and trade value mainly due to its high  trade value,  the Zamorin ruler of Malabar coast had a flourishing  trade center for export of pepper and other spices in Kerala. The main mercantile traders were Arabs and people from Middle East. Portuguese arrived on the coastal Malabar in May, 1498 under Vasco de Gama  and thus began spice trade between Malabar and Europe in 1500s.

Kerala accounts for about 90% of India's total pepper production and pepper is also grown in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.  India is  one of the leading producers of Black pepper  in the world. Besides Kochi, Nagpur, Indore and Delhi are major centers for black pepper.  The cultivation of pepper began in Java, Sunda, Sumatra, Madagascar, Malaysia, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, by the 16th century.

It was  during the medieval period, black pepper was  introduced in   Europe, Middle East and North Africa from its native place. Pepper is a valuable spice because it has high medicinal values and is a major ingredient in the preparation of many  traditional  Ayurvedic and Siddha medicine. To some extent, the system of Unani medicine has found pepper to be useful to cure certain ailments. Pepper is used to cure a host of many health problems such as indigestion, pain in the joints, liver problems, lung disease, oral abscesses, sunburn, tooth decay, toothaches,  insect bites constipation, diarrhea,  heart disease, hernia, hoarseness.  The black pepper essential oil, produced through the process of  steam distillation  of  the  dried  and  crushed  black peppercorns,  is considered as anti-septic, analgesic, digestive, anti-catarrhal, and diuretic. Black pepper is also bactericidal and aphrodisiac and expectorant. It is believed to improve stamina and alertness.

Pepper is found useful to treat eye problems;  piperine  found in pepper can  increase absorption of selenium, vitamin B and beta-carotene, and also other nutrients.