Pippali, more commonly known as “Long pepper” or Piper longum, is a fruit to highlight during this cold, wet season. The plant is an aromatic, slender, climbing, creeping shrub with perennial woody roots. Pippali has jointed stems, ovate and cordate leaves, and ovoid berries ranging from one to two inches in length. Interestingly, the cylindrical flower spikes arise during or just after rain, and are unisexual. The male spikes tend to be larger and greenish-yellow, whereas the female spikes are shorter, thicker, and yellow. When dried, the berries are greenish black in color. Piper longum is native to the Indo-Malayasian region, and flourishes in hot, tropical climates.1,2 It is a member of the piperaceae family; its close relative is black pepper, which might be more familiar to those in the Western World. Like black pepper, long pepper has longstanding use in both cuisine and medicine.
In the field of medicine, long pepper is considered to be rejuvenating for the lungs and stimulating to the digestive tract. Ayurveda has revered it for its pungent, heating, and sweet qualities; hence, making it a perfect fit for this season. With its sweet and heating qualities, it is known to pacify both vata and kapha doshas while it increases pitta dosha. Caution should be made in inflammatory states, to avoid excess aggravation of inflammation i.e. increasing pitta. Ancient Ayurvedic wisdom also regards pippali as a powerful rasayana herb, one that promotes longevity, while also serving to purify and soothe the body. As such, this herb has widespread uses in respiratory, liver, digestive, metabolic, parasitic, and malignant conditions serving to stimulate areas that are weakened. When combined with black pepper and dry ginger, the three together make up the famous combination of trikatu, or three peppers. Ayurveda has used this formulation for stimulating agni, the internal digestive fire, and to burn off ama, or toxins, while enhancing the assimilation of food due to its ability to increase bio-availability. Research has validated the immunomodulatory properties of pippali, potential antioxidant capability against free radical-induced oxidative damage, as well as ability to decrease lipid peroxide levels and maintain glutathione levels.
Piper longum’s immunomodulatoary properties have been evaluated in mice with a well-known Ayurvedic formulation, Pippali Rasayana, representing increased immune stimulation with increases in macrophages against Giardia lamba, as seen by increased MMI and phagocytic activity.4,5 The use of the essential oil has shown anti-bacterial action against Bacillus subtilis via its constituent piperlongumine, while its piperine constituent was effective against Staphylococcus aureus.6,7 Further anti-asthmatic potential has been validated in a study using an extract of piper longum fruit in milk, providing a reduction in passive cutaneous anaphylaxis in rats while protecting guinea pigs against bronchospasm induced by antigens.
Pippali is a wonderful herb for digestion and lung health. It is a must have for an effective herbal medicinary.
-  Mehra P and Puri H. Pharmacognostic studies on Piplamul. XXXII, Indian J. harm, 19070; 32:184.
-  Kapoor L. Handbook of Ayurvedic Medicinal Plants, (CRC Press), 264-265.
-  Natarajan KS, Narasimhan M, Shanmugasundaram KR, Shanmugasundaram ER. Antioxidant activity of a salt/spice/herbal mixture against free radical induction. J Ethnopharmacol 2006;105:76-83.
-  Tripathi DM, Gupta N, Lakshmi V, Saxena KC, Agrawal AK. Antigiardial and immunostimulatroy effect of Piper longum on giardiasis due to Giarda lamba. Phytother Res 1999;13:561-5.
-  Agarwal AK, Singh M, Gupta N, et al. “Management of giardiasis by an immunomodulatory herbal drug ‘Pipplo Rasayana,’ Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 1994, 44(3):143.
-  Singh RH, Khosa KL, and Upadhyaya BB, “Anti-bacterial activity of some Ayurvedic drugs,” Journal of Research into Indian Medicine, 1974, 9(2):65.
-  Kumar A, Khan IA, Koul S, Koul JL, Taneja SC, et al, Novel structural analogues of piperine as inhibitors of the NorA effluc pump of Staphylococcus aureus. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2008 Jun;61(6):1270-6.
-  Dhanukar SA, Zha A, and Karandikar SM, “Antiallergic activity of Piper longum,” Indian Journal of Pharmacology, 1981, 13:122.