Black Pepper is one of the oldest spices in the world. The history of black pepper in India dates back to the prehistoric times. Black pepper was referred to as "black gold" in ancient India, mainly due to its high value as a trade good. It was even used as a form of commodity money. Black pepper has been used in different ways in India, since ancient times. Evidences are there that it has been associated with Indian cooking since 2000 BC. The primary cultivation of Pepper in India was done in the Malabar Coast (presently the state of Kerala).
In the ancient period, black pepper was frequently traded from the Malabar Coast to Middle East, through the Arabian Sea. During the medieval period, black pepper travelled to Europe, Middle East and North Africa from its native place, India. It also started to be cultivated in Java, Sunda, Sumatra, Madagascar, Malaysia, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, by the 16th century.
Several usages of black pepper have been found, since the ancient period. Black pepper was used extensively in various remedies in the traditional treatment methods like Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani in India. It was used largely for curing the illnesses like constipation, diarrhoea, earache, gangrene, heart disease, hernia, hoarseness, indigestion, insect bites, insomnia, joint pain, liver problems, lung disease, oral abscesses, sunburn, tooth decay, toothaches, etc. Apart from these, pepper was used to treat eye problems, as well, often by applying salves or poultices made with pepper directly to the eye. It has also been found that piperine can significantly increase absorption of selenium, vitamin B and beta-carotene, and also other nutrients. The Buddhist Samannaphala Sutta also has mentioned about pepper being used as a medicine, during that period. In fact, pepper was one of the few medicines that a monk was allowed to carry, at that time.
Besides medicinal usages, Black Pepper was also used for serving other purposes in ancient India. The black pepper essential oil was used extensively in ancient times and is utilised in different ways in modern India, as well. The oil is produced from the steam distillation of the dried and crushed black peppercorns and is considered as anti-septic, analgesic, digestive, anti-catarrhal, and diuretic. The oil is also considered as a stimulant, bactericidal, expectorant and a tonic. Black pepper is used as a mental stimulant and helps to increase stamina and aid alertness. It can be used to help increase concentration and prevent memory loss, as well. Black pepper has earned reputation as an aphrodisiac. It has been used for maintaining stamina in long journeys. It has also been proved that inhalation of the vapour of black pepper extract, can lessen smoking withdrawal symptoms, as well.
Black pepper is cultivated quite extensively throughout India, now-a-days. However, the maximum cultivation is done in the southern Indian states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Kerala accounts for about 90% of India`s total pepper production. Places like Kochi, Sulthan Bathery in Kerala are the primary markets for black pepper in India. The other places like Nagpur, Indore and Delhi have also developed as the major up country markets for pepper, recently. India is considered one of the leading producers of Black pepper worldwide at present. It produces a major portion of world`s total black pepper production, every year. Black pepper is also an integral part of India`s industrial scenario, as India earns a huge amount of foreign currency by exporting black pepper worldwide. In fact, black pepper is counted amongst the largest contributors to India`s spice industry.