Among the remedies which the early physicians of our school considered highly valuable, was capsicum. As a local stimulant to the gastrointestinal tract, it is of great service but is not appreciated by the present practitioners. One of the old physicians years ago made the following statements concerning this remedy which, although true, are new to most of us. We have overlooked many of these facts. He said:
"Capsicum is in my opinion the purest stimulant in the materia medica. It possesses the properties of ergot and nux vomica combined. It is a pure stimulant to the ganglionic system of nerves and acts on unstriped muscular tissue. It increases arterial tension by stimulating the vasomotor centre. It is at the same time a sedative and stimulant to the stomach and intestines: one action is on the mucous membrane, the other on the unstriped muscular tissue, and the third on the glands of these organs.
Its action is both direct and reflex. Capsicum increases peristaltic action by stimulating the filaments of the sympathetic and the unstriped muscular fibres of the intestines. In this way it cures chronic constipation. I have cured many severe cases of this trouble, the atonic, with infusion of capsicum. I know of no medicament that can be any more relied upon in atonic dyspepsia caused by catarrh of the stomach and duodenum, than infusion of capsicum. Its action is direct on the catarrhal mucous membrane and glands, and on the nerve endings within the mucous membrane, acting on them as a tonic stimulant and thus controlling the secretion of these glands. It contracts the arterioles of the mucous membrane in virtue of its action on unstriped muscular tissue. In all probability it acts on the local vaso-motor mechanism of the parts, stimulating them to a greater functional activity, by virtue of which the nutrition of these structures is enhanced.
In some cases of adynamic fever and inflammation, capsicum is the remedy to wake up the latent energies of the ganglionic nervous system, and to keep the forces of organic life joggling on until the crisis is passed. It slows the heart and firms the pulse and strengthens the respiratory centers, a failure of which is often a slow, yet certain decline toward the grave. In delirium tremens we have seen a very strong tea of capsicum steady the shattered nervous system, stop the delirium and restore the appetite.
In all cholera and cholera morbus formulae, capsicum holds a conspicuous place. The old Eclectics used it freely and liberally in the treatment of cholera with remarkable success. They gave it by the mouth and by the rectum. It was surprising how rapidly it brought many apparently hopeless cases out of the jaws of death. In the congestion of the pelvic organs of women, capsicum tea restores the equilibrium of the circulation and removes the pathological state.
Nothing in my experience is equal to a half pint of capsicum tea drunk hot to break up a cold. It stops rigors removes the aching from the bones and restores the patient to health. It is the best of remedies to be given after an emetic, to break up a coming acute inflammation on an attack of fever.
The old fashioned No. 6 is a wonderfully good medicament. The third preparation of lobelia, composed of capsicum, lobelia, and ladies' slipper root, as used by Thompson, is the most perfect antispasmodic and relaxant we have. We have reduced strangulated hernia while the patient was fully under its influence, and have cured cases of intussusception with it.
Capsicum tea has cured uterine hemorrhages—postpartum and other kinds, when other medicaments have failed. It was the main element in all the gargles the old Eclectics used for throat affections of all forms of scarlet fever, and with unbounded success. We have seen it applied to indolent ulcers in infusion, with immediate good results. Capsicum tea seldom fails to cure bilious colic.
When your fever patient is very low, pulse weak and quick, first sound of heart hardly audible, delirious, sordes on the teeth and on mucous membranes, remember capsicum. Externally it is a most valuable agent for the cure of boils and painful swellings, using the strong tincture painted on the parts. A cloth wrung out of a hot infusion of capsicum and applied to the swollen breast of a parturient woman seldom fails to abort a threatened suppuration of the gland, at the same time she drinks the capsicum tea. A strong tincture painted over neuralgic spots often cures the case. We have seen purulent ophthalmia cured by dropping No. 6 into the suppurating eyes. The effect was excellent and the cure rapid.
However, do not forget it, capsicum and lobelia go together. I recall a desperate epidemic of puerperal fever that swept through a neighborhood many years ago. The disease followed the practice of every doctor. All the regulars lost every case they had, the eclectics cured nearly every case they had if they relied on capsicum, lobelia and bay-berry.
The above statements were written 38 years ago by a physician who had been in practice 40 years. At the present time we have so many improved remedies, and our patients so dislike to take nauseating and "hot" remedies that we have largely dropped capsicum from our list, notwithstanding the old doctors' statements are true in the main.
A French writer, Cheron, made some valuable observations concerning the use of capsicum some years ago. He found that it was of special service in hemorrhoids. He then conducted a large number of physiological experiments which convinced him that it had a special action on the vascular system and on organs very rich in blood vessels, such as the pelvic organs, and the brain.
Our own observations have convinced us that it exercises a remedial influence upon the conditions above described when influenced by disease or when there is atony or a plethoric or dilated and weakened state of the walls of these vessels.
Cheron claimed that it acted like ergot on the nonstriated muscular fibres of these vessels, either directly or through the vaso-motor system. He found it to be well received by the stomach, as on that organ and on the intestinal tract it exercised a directly tonic influence. He gave it in the form of pills, from two to four grains before each meal. If fluid preparations were given they were diluted and given more frequently.
Dr. Starrett, of Elgin, Ill., recently dead, told me in 1890 that he had confirmed conclusions very similar but he gave the remedy in much larger doses. He depended on it for piles when there was atonicity and extreme sluggishness of the capillary circulation in the lower bowel.
Ellingwood's Therapeutist, Vol. 2, 1908, was edited by Finley Ellingwood M.D.