Chili pepper


Capsicum Chili pepper.

Chilies at the green grocer Genus: Capsicum.

Species: annuum, chinense, frutescens, baccatum and pubescens (these are the domesticated varieties). 


Common Name: Chili pepper, chile pepper, chilli pepper or chilli.

Etymology: Capsicum: From the latin word ‘capsa’ meaning small box (capsule). annuum: Annual, chinense: from China, frutescens: From Latin word frutescō meaning “I send forth shoots”, baccatum: berry-like and pubescens: downy.

History: Chilies originated in Mesoamerica a region between North and South America and have been part of the human diet since around 7500 BC. Archaeologists trace their gradual domestication back to 5000 BC in the Tehuacán valley of Mexico. Aztec and Mayan people used chilies to flavour foods, fumigate their houses and cure illnesses. In 1492 while travelling to the new world in search of a trade route to Asia and peppercorn (a valuable commodity at this time, so much so it was even used as a currency) Christopher Columbus encountered (in the Caribbean) chilies and brought them back to Spain. He named them peppers because they were hot tasting like black and white pepper. They were grown in Spanish and Portuguese monasteries who used them as a cheap substitute for expensive black peppercorn. From Portugal they rapidly spread to Asia (they feature heavily in the Goan region of India which was a Portuguese colony) then from India to central Asia, Turkey, Hungry and other parts of the world by extensive trade routes. Interesting facts; Vindaloo is an Indian version of a Portuguese dish and Paprika the Hungarian national spice uses Chilies as part of its sun dried powder. In North America although in close proximity to Mesoamerica it appears that chilies did not become popular via Mexico but from West Africa during the period of African slavery in America. As chilies were such a large part of African diet, slave traders brought large quantities to the gardens of plantations for use in kitchen.

10 Uses of Chilies: Chili’s contain a large list of chemical compounds that help prevent disease and promote health. They contain capsaicin which has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and has anti-diabetic properties. They are a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A and flavonoids like β-carotene, α-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin. They also have minerals such as potassium, manganese, iron, and magnesium and B-complex group of vitamins such as niacin, pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin and thiamin (vitamin B-1) making them a brilliant antioxidant, pro-inflammatory and protector against free radicals. They also have many other other applications, some of which I have listed below.

  • Beverages (non-alcoholic & alcoholic).
  • Crop defense.
  • Insecticide. 1 and 1/2 teaspoons to 1 litre of water with 2 drops of detergent.
  • Laundry use. Half teaspoon in the wash can prevent colours bleeding and prevent fading.
  • Numerous food applications.
  • Plant in the garden or in a pot. Interesting to look at with their variety of coloured fruit.
  • Pepper spray, non lethal weapon against attacking humans and animals.
  • Sauces and powders (mild to Hot).
  • Sinus spray. This is actually used commercially.
  • Toothache. A little pepper rubbed on the painful area will provide some relief.
Chilies Habanero.

Basic description: Multi branched perennial growing (in cultivated varieties to 75cm tall. Chili’s are deep rooted and can develop tap roots up to 1 metre.  The leaves are simple and alternate and elliptical to lanceolate. The small white or purple bell shaped flowers are born on the axils of plant often with 5 lobes that contain 5 bluish stamens. The fruits come in a variety of shapes and sizes and ripen to green, yellow, orange, red, or purple. These fruit range in heat so significantly that there is actual index called the Scoville Heat Units (SHU). This scale was developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912 to measure the heat level (capsaicinoid content) in peppers and ranges from 0 SHU-16,000,000 SHU which is pure capsaicin. To give you an idea of the intensity here is a few examples below.

  • Bell Pepper 0 SHU.
  • Jalapeno 3,500-10,000 SHU.
  • Cayenne 30,000-50,000 SHU.
  • Habanero, Scotch bonnet, Birds eye 100,000-350,000 SHU.
  • Caroline Reaper 2,2000,000 SHU (Guinness book of records hottest chili 2017
Chili requirements & maintenance: pH (5.5-7) acid to neutral. They do best in loamy and well drained soil but will tolerate sandy and clay soils. They prefer a sunny warm position that is protected from wind with a good layer of mulch. In cooler conditions and particularly frost they will die back and reshoot in spring when the soil warms up again. In super hot conditions they may even need to be protected from the sun to prevent fruit scolding. Ensure if feeding the plant to avoid high nitrogen fertilizers that will encourage leaves and no fruit.
Harvesting time: Chilies don’t tend to fruit over the cooler months and seasons very depending on your temperature zone. Chilies are ready to harvest anywhere from green to red, the more they are picked the more fruit that they will be likely to produce.

Companion plants: 

  • Alliums (covers tomato smell from eating insects).
  • Basil (covers chili smell from eating insects and is said to boost flavour).
  • Carrots (attracts beneficial insects, shades out weeds providing living mulch).
  • Mint ((covers tomato smell from eating insects).
  • Oregano (covers tomato smell from eating insects).

Problem Solving without chemicals: 

  • Anthracnose: Fungus that lives in dead twigs, leaves and fruit and spread through the warmer months by splashing water. It causes small, light brown, circular spots that quickly get bigger. It becomes active when fruit is damaged or when it ripens. Prune out dead twigs and remove effected fruit from the tree. Leaf spot does not generally require treatment.
  • Bacterial wilt: Leaves pale, stunted and blackening of stems. Destroy plant and don’t use the same area for future plants.
  • Fruit Fly: In summer flies lay their eggs in small groups just beneath the skin of the fruit, larvae make their way to centre of fruit and destroy it. Fruit will be full of maggots and inedible. Burn and destroy all fruit or seal fruit in plastic bag and leave in the sun for several days. The ‘Cera Trap’ and ‘Eco-Naturalure are new and effective organic fruit fly baits.
  • Powdery mildew: Fungus spores that look like powder on plant, spread by water in damp humid conditions. Bicarbinate of soda (2 teaspoons per litre) with one drop of vegetable oil and one drop of liquid soap. Makes leaf alkaline inhibiting the generation of fungal spores and is a good preventative. Potassium bicarbonate, similar to baking soda is a contact fungicide that kills the powdery mildew spores quickly.
  • Tomato root-knot nematode: Small nematode to .5mm (cannot be seen by human eye because transparent and thin) that lives in light warm soils and causes plant to be slow growing and wilt easily, remove plant and practice crop rotation.
  • Whitefly: Tiny (3mm) white (nymphs are black) sap sucking insects that look like moths. They congregate on the bottoms of leaves and produce honey dew that black sooty mold grows on. Spray with soapy water, White oil, Neem oil or blast off with hose. Whitefly traps are also useful.

Growing Chili: There are 25 wild species of chilies and 5 domesticated. The domesticated species are Capsicum annuum (jalapeño, bell pepper, cherry, poblano), Capsicum chinense (has the habanero and scotch bonnet), Capsicum frutescens (Tabasco), Capsicum baccatum (South American ‘aji’s) and Capsicum pubescens (Rocoto’ and ‘Manzano) .Germinating and growing chilies in Australia is reasonably easy but check your local conditions for the right time of year for growing. Growing them in pots is a good idea as they can be transported to more favourable conditions throughout the year if necessary.


Chilies Bird's eye.
Bird’s eye

Sources of information:

  • Photography by Minako Howarth and Simon Schubert.
  • What Garden Pest and Disease is That by Judy McMaugh.
About Simon 98 Articles
Simon Schubert is a qualified Horticulturist who enjoys gardening and bush-walking. He has a keen interest in science, the natural world and particularly our environment. He would like to share his experiences and knowledge while learning better practices that will hopefully benefit the future for us all. Please join him on some fun adventures while learning about the life of plants and other interesting facts about our world.

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