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According to Mabberley (2008), this family of tropical shrubs, lianes or epiphytes, herbs or small trees comprises 2750 species in 6 genera. More recent treatments (Stevens 2001-2013a) recognise 3615 species in 5 genera. The principal genera are Piper L. [about 2000 spp.] and Peperomia Ruiz & Pav. [about 1600 spp.].

The genus Peperomia Ruiz & Pav. was formerly classified in its own family, namely the Peperomiaceae (Willis 1973).

[Summary yet to be added]

Peperomia Ruiz & Pav.

About 1600 species have been described from tropical and subtropical regions, especially from America (Mabberley 2008).

Hjorth (1968) recorded two positive patch test reactions to species of this genus. In 21 consecutive cases, negative reactions were recorded. Strong irritancy therefore appears to be unlikely.

Peperomia pellucida Kunth
[syns Micropiper pellucidum Miq., Peperomia concinna A.Dietr., Peperomia translucens Trel., Piper pellucidum L., etc.]
Clearweed, Man-To-Man, Pepper Elder, Rat-Ear, Shiny Bush, Silverbush

An individual who pulled this plant (which has a strong, mustard-like odour) suffered asthma-like symptoms (Morton 1969).

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Piper aduncum L.
[syns Artanthe adunca Miq., Artanthe elongata Miq., Peperomia elongata Kunth, Piper angustifolium Ruiz & Pav., Piper elongatum Vahl, Steffensia elongata Kunth, etc.]
Matico, Spiked Pepper, Wild Pepper, Matico-Pfeffer

This species provides the crude drug known as Herba Matico. Externally, the leaves have been used for arresting hemorrhages from wounds, leech-bites, etc; the downy part of the leaf is said to be the most active part. They have also been applied to ulcers (Felter & Lloyd 1898). Preparations of the leaves, which are astringent, have been recommended for treating haemorrhoids (Remington et al. 1918, Wren 1975).

Piper bantamense Blume

This and some other Piper spp. are rubefacient and are used as counter-irritants (Burkill 1935).

Piper betle L.
Betel Pepper

The leaf is chewed with the betel nut (Areca).

Piper cubeba L.f.
[syn. Cubeba officinalis Raf.]
Java Pepper, Cubebs

The dried unripe fruit forms the condiment, cubebs. Oil of cubeb derived from the plant is used in cosmetics (Greenberg and Lester 1954).

Piper excelsum G.Forst.
[syns Macropiper excelsum Miq., Methysticum excelsum A.Lyons]

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Piper guineense Schumach. & Thonn.
West African Black Pepper, Ashanti Pepper

The berries were brought from Liberia to Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries but they do not appear to have been accepted as a substitute for Piper nigrum L., a pepper which is more aromatic (Dalziel 1937). The dried black berries (Dalziel 1937) and the seeds (Irvine 1961) are used for counter-irritant purposes.

Piper methysticum G.Forst.
Kawa, Yangona

The powdered root of this plant, prepared so as to form a beverage, is drunk on festive occasions among the Polynesians and Fijians. Over-indulgence induces a state of exhilaration with loss of power in the legs. Chronic addiction induces a marked coarsening and roughening of the skin, with wasting and debility (Cilento 1944).

Piper nigrum L.

To obtain black pepper, the berries are picked before they are fully ripe; they turn black and shrivel when dried. To obtain white pepper, the berries are allowed to ripen before harvesting and the outer shell is removed leaving a greyish-white kernel (Collins 1969).

The fruit has a rubefacient effect (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962) and is irritant to the nose and eyes (Burkill 1935). Ground pepper applied to the skin causes severe pain and redness and sometimes vesication (White 1887). Dilute "white pepper oil" was observed to produce three positive patch test reactions in 406 persons investigated for hand eczema (Agrup 1969).


  • Agrup G (1969) Hand eczema and other hand dermatoses in South Sweden. Acta Dermato-Venereologica 49(Suppl 61): 1-91
  • Burkill IH (1935) A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula, Vols 1 & 2. London: Crown Agents [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Cilento, R. (1944) Some Poisonous Plants, Sea and Land Animals of Australia and New Guinea. Brisbane. W.R. Smith and Patterson Pty. Ltd
  • Collins, M. (1969) Spices of the World Cook Book. Baltimore, Maryland. McCormick.
  • Dalziel JM (1937) The Useful Plants of West Tropical Africa. Being an appendix to The Flora of West Tropical Africa by J. Hutchinson and J.M. Dalziel. London: Crown Agents for the Colonies [WorldCat]
  • Felter HW, Lloyd JU (1898) King's American Dispensatory, 18th edn; 3rd revn, I & II. Cincinnati: Ohio Valley [WorldCat] [url]
  • Greenberg LA, Lester D (1954) Handbook of Cosmetic Materials. Their properties, uses, and toxic and dermatologic actions. With a bibliography of over 2,500 titles. New York: Interscience Publishers [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Hjorth N (1968) Personal communication to Mitchell JC. In: Mitchell J, Rook A (1979). Vancouver: Greengrass, p. 511 [WorldCat]
  • Irvine FR (1961) Woody Plants of Ghana. With special reference to their uses. London: Oxford University Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Mabberley DJ (2008) Mabberley's Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of plants, their classification and uses, 3rd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Morton JF (1969) Some ornamental plants excreting respiratory irritants. Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society 82: 415-421 [url] [url-2]
  • Remington JP, Wood HC, Sadtler SP, LaWall CH, Kraemer H, Anderson JF (Eds) (1918) The Dispensatory of the United States of America. 20th edn. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Stevens PF (2001-2013a) Angiosperm Phylogeny Website. Piperales. [online article]: http://www.mobot.org/mobot/research/apweb/; accessed January 2013 [url]
  • Watt JM, Breyer-Brandwijk MG (1962) The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern and Eastern Africa. Being an account of their medicinal and other uses, chemical composition, pharmacological effects and toxicology in man and animal, 2nd edn. Edinburgh: E & S Livingstone [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • White JC (1887) Dermatitis Venenata: an account of the action of external irritants upon the skin. Boston: Cupples and Hurd [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Willis JC (1973) A Dictionary of the Flowering Plants and Ferns, 8th edn. (Revised by Airy Shaw HK). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Wren RC (1975) Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. (Re-edited and enlarged by Wren RW). Bradford, Devon: Health Science Press [WorldCat] [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • [ + 2 further references not yet included in database]

Richard J. Schmidt

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