Is Cayenne Pepper an Herb or Spice?

I recently received a very rude email from someone who came upon this website.

He or she criticized me saying that I am ill informed and deliberately misleading as I call cayenne an herb when it's a spice.

So let's discuss that now. Yes, certainly cayenne is a spice that is self-evident.

And, to food preparation professionals, it is thought of as solely a spice. In its strictest definition, it is a spice.

I also refer to it as such in this very website when I mentioned that to the world, cayenne pepper is simply a nondescript spice found at your local grocer's spice rack to be used only for cooking purposes.

Specifically, here is where I wrote about that. On the page, Nutrition Profile of Cayenne Pepper, I specifically say cayenne is "...this remarkable herb or spice." Furthermore, in the description section for the page, Cayenne Pepper and Migraines, I wrote, "...Cayenne Pepper is not just a great spice used in culinary dishes but it actually is a medicinal herb that has a whole host of benefits including helping eliminate migraines."


I also wrote on the page, What is Cayenne Pepper, "The peppers or fruit are dried and ground, or pulped and baked into cakes, which are then finely ground and then sifted to make the powdered spice."

These verification points aside, I call cayenne a medicinal herb or herb throughout this site and in my videos as that is the context from which I am writing for I write from an alternative health option perspective.

Plus, many herbalists, naturopathic doctors and master herbalists call cayenne an herb, including Kurt R. King, M.H., Dr. Richard Schulze, John Heinerman, Ph.D., David Christopher, M.H., and the famed herbalist Dr. John R. Christopher.

Dr. Christopher literally wrote the book on medicinal herbs and is one of the seminal figures in Thomsonian medicinal herbology and alternative health. This is what he says in his book, School of Natural Healing:

"Cayenne is a medicinal and nutritional herb. It is the purest and most certain stimulant. This herb is a great food for the circulatory system in that it feeds the necessaryred cayenne pepper powder elements into the cell structure of the arteries, veins, and capillaries..." (Pg. 407).

Furthermore, in his book, The Health Benefits of Cayenne, John Heinerman, Ph.D. said, "This extraordinary therapeutic herb, used by healers for thousands of years, can fortify your health armory against a multitude of ills" (front matter).

He also says, "This is an herb with apparently contradictory action" (pg. 7).

Yes, in his book Heinerman consistently refers to cayenne as an herb, meaning a medicinal herb. Yet on the cover of the book, Heinerman entitled his work, "The Health Benefits of Cayenne: The Amazing Spice and its Curative Powers in Colds, Circulatory and Digestive Problems, Respiratory Ills, Infections and More."

What gives? 

Clearly, Heinerman, a Ph.D., recognizes its nomenclature as a spice, which many do, myself included. The interchange of terms is not deceptive, it's simply not precise.

In the strictest dictionary definition, cayenne certainly qualifies as a spice as it is made from the fruit flesh of red hot chili peppers. It is a spice.

However, within the field of medicinal herbals and within the alternative health community, cayenne is universally called an herb, or a medicinal herb, as you can see from the preceding paragraphs.

To alternative health enthusiasts, it is widely accepted and termed an herb, even though technically, it should be called a spice.

To non-alternative health enthusiasts, it is generally seen as a culinary spice only, which is part of the confusion.

Email I Received

This email is what inspired me to write this webpage; here is the email in its entirety.

"I saw your cayenne pepper site and was astonished to see you refer to it as an 'herb.' That you're portraying yourself as an 'expert' and don't even know the correct terminology after 'years of study' is laughable. A simple Internet search (herb vs spice) served up:
Herbs are obtained from the leaves of herbaceous (non-woody) plants. They are used for savory purposes in cooking and some have medicinal value. Herbs often are used in larger amounts than spices. Herbs originated from temperate climates such as Italy, France, and England. Herb also is a word used to define any herbaceous plant that dies down at the end of the growing season and may not refer to its culinary value at all. Spices are obtained from roots, flowers, fruits, seeds or bark. Spices are native to warm tropical climates and can be woody or herbaceous plants. Spices often are more potent and stronger flavored than herbs; as a result they typically are used in smaller amounts. Some spices are used not only to add taste, but also as a preservative.
So, cayenne, being derived from the fruit of the pepper plant, could be considered a spice but it is definitely not an herb."

Here was my response:

Cayenne pepper is widely regarded under the umbrella term 'medicinal herb' and naturopathic doctors or master herbalists like Dr. John R. Christopher, Kurt King, M.H., Dr. Richard Schulze and many others refer to it as such. Yes, it's certainly a spice. That is without dispute. But within the alternative health world, it's referred to as a medicinal herb or herb for short.  Isn't what it can do more important than lambasting me over a trivial [point as to whether] you consider its taxonomic nomenclature as an herb or a spice? In the medicinal herbal world, cayenne though specifically a spice, is constantly referred to as an herb and as a medicinal herb.

Let me quote to you from School of Natural Healing, pg. 407. "Cayenne is a medicinal and nutritional herb. It is the purest and most certain stimulant. This herb is a great food for the circulatory system in that it feeds the necessary elements into the cell structure of the arteries..."

(Reference: Christopher, John R. (1976).  School of natural healing. Provo, Utah: BiWorld Publishers, Inc.)

This was written by the foremost medicinal herbalist and naturopathic doctor in America at the time of the writing. (He died in 1983.) This reference book is an encyclopedic reference 653 pages long that covers all topics of herbs, their purpose and function and much, much more. It is a standard reference for medicinal herb enthusiasts.

Lastly, I've never portrayed myself as an expert. I put myself out there with my face with the few videos I've created and a picture of me is plainly seen of me on the about page. I'm trying to hide nothing. Plus, I say in the videos and on the pages themselves that I'm not a doctor and not licensed to dispense medical advice. I say over and over again that my personal experiences are what inspired me to do a website on cayenne pepper.

I didn't even do any keyword research or niche research when I created my site. I did it out of my enthusiasm for cayenne as I've personally seen it do many incredible things for my own health and for others. I also get emails every week from people who tell me how remarkable cayenne is. I will soon be putting up a cayenne testimonial page showing parts of emails from people who allow me to do it showcasing their experiences with cayenne. These emails come unbidden and voluntarily from people all over the world.

Here's a tip for you: instead of being a jerk, which is easy to do in the faceless environment of the Internet, why didn't you just email me and and nicely question why I refer to it as an herb instead of a spice? Why not try to be basically decent and nice instead of assuming the worst of me and my motives?

I stand by my assertions.

Have a good day,

I hope that sheds more light on why I refer to cayenne as an herb when it's actually a spice. In the medicinal herb and alternative health world, to those in the know, to those enthusiasts in the Thomsonian herbalist tradition, and to medicinal herb enthisiasts, cayenne is called and known as an herb.

Studies conducted literally all over the world laud its health benefits and discuss its scientific nuances and it is almost always referred to as an herb, meaning a medicinal herb.

My Motive For Creating This Site

As I wrote in the email above, I started this site not to make money although it is solvent now. I started it as I have personally seen such amazing therapeutic health benefits for myself and others.

In fact, as I wrote in the email above, I get weekly emails from people who see my cayenne videos on YouTube and who read through this site praising cayenne.

I've received emails from people talking about how it has cleared up circulation problems, healed persistent hemorrhoid problems, lowered cholesterol and healed an ulcer. cayenne pepper

I've received unsolicited emails from people from all over the world including the US, Canada, Ireland, Iceland, England, Germany, Jamaica, Bangladesh, India and Australia.

I won't lie that I want the site to do well. As mentioned the site is solvent financially. It pays for itself, in other words. Plus, I only have one -- just one -- page where there are affiliate links (although there are ads throughout the site obviously).

On that page, I discuss why I chose to endorse one particular company selling cayenne pepper powder.

The scores of people who email me know I don't ever try to sell them anything either. I always tell people buy it at your local health food store or at one of the preferred online sites I recommend without forwarding an affiliate link.

Why? Because I've had people email asking me which cayenne pepper powder I recommend.

I researched a goodly number of different company's cayenne products and am convinced as to the quality of one of them. (I now buy my personal cayenne powder from them and only them.)

Anyone who does internet marketing knows how suicidal it can potentially be to put up a site without doing any keyword or niche research but that is exactly what I did.

That notwithstanding, this site has become successful in terms of daily traffic. Believe me, I'm not against making money.

I put up this site for the right reasons. I stand by that.


People write me to about the remarkable health benefits of cayenne pepper weekly and it's gratifying. I think people can see or sense that I'm sincere and that has been why this site has been doing well with traffic.

My motive has been to help people and to share my enthusiasm for cayenne. That has always been the thesis of this site: I've wanted to share my enthusiasm for cayenne and medicinal herbs. Period.

These emails that I receive come unexpectedly and are not solicited so I really appreciate them. Rude people coming across one's path on the faceless environment of the Internet is inevitable, I believe, for one can't expect to please everyone.

The internet is great but one of its drawbacks is that people's natural tendency toward courtesy is sometimes thrown out the window like the person who inspired this page.

Abraham Lincoln was right when he said that the quickest way to failure was to try to please everyone.

I've tried to have my site appeal to people who are interested in alternative health and medicinal herbs but obviously I haven't pleased everyone. So be it.

Lastly, if you're interested in supplementing or experimenting with cayenne, you can get more information about buying good quality cayenne at this article within this site. Or, alternatively, you could view a more comprehensive price list here.

I hope this article has helped disabuse or to clarify why I refer to cayenne as an herb when it's a spice as well as stating my motives for creating this website.

Christopher, John R. (1976). School of natural healing. Provo, Utah: BiWorld Publishers, Inc.
Culpepper, Nicholas. Complete herbal.
Heinerman, John. (1997). The health benefits of cayenne. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, Inc.