Chilli (Solanaceae)

The family of chilli peppers comes in an amazing variety of colours and flavours. These include the mild flavoured members such as sweet bell peppers and extend to the fiery jalapeno and the blazing hot habaneros. There are several species all belonging to the capsicum genus. Chillies belong to the solanaceae family along with their cousins potatoes, eggplants and tomatoes.  

They have enjoyed a respectable reputation among food and spices throughout history. They are now an essential part of cuisines of Asia, Africa, Americas and some parts of Europe

Of the world’s population a large 75% use chillies in their cooking regularly. In many third world countries chilli is relied on as the main flavouring of their dishes. Cayenne pepper is a very popular way to consume chillies. It is dried chillies that have been ground into a very hot powder.

In general all chillies will grow through from green, to yellow, to orange and then to red.


Chillies come in many shapes, sizes and flavours, they can be hot, sweet, fruity, earthy, smoky and floral. As with capsicums, the red tends to be the sweetest form.

A general rule with chilli is the larger the fruit, the milder the taste, this however is not always the case. The pungency in a chilli is cause by the chemical capsaicin. The hotter the chilli, the more capsaicin it contains.

When you remove the seeds and inner membrane of the fruit, much of the heat is taken out.


Chilli, when cut, has a strong peppery aroma, you can smell the heat as the capsaicin is released.


Chilli is used in cuisines across the world and is at home in marinades, pasta, stir fries, dressings, curries and noodles. It marries beautifully with basil, coriander, parsley, garlic, mint, oregano, rosemary, lemongrass and thyme.


Propagation is by seeds that are best planted in spring or early summer roughly 15-20⁰C. Grow in a sunny spot in the garden or in a large pot if cold nights are likely, than you can move the pots to a protected area during frost.

Cut off young tips to encourage the plant to become bushy. Feed and water the plant regularly.

After chillies are picked they will not ripen any further, if you pick a yellow chilli it will not ripen into a red chilli.

It has been found that growing chilli in between other plants can cut aphids by 40-90%.

The flowers on the chilli plant are built to self-pollinate. If you want to collect seed of a chilli plant that is not mixed with any other strain of chilli, plants should not be within 200 metres of each other, or plants should be covered with a fine net or shade cloth.

The chilli fruit that comes from initial flowers is generally found to be brighter in colour, and larger.

Pollen retains its viability for 8-10 days when temperature is roughly 20-22⁰C.

Harvesting of chillies varies between varieties from 60 days to 150 days from planting.


Many years ago chilli was used in the mouth as a natural anaesthetic.

Chillies had a large place in the cookery and medicine of the Aztecs and Incas. The oldest known use from the chilli family dates from 7000BC in the caves near Tamaulipas.

In 1492 Christopher Columbus arrived in Hispaniola to discover the use of chilli was wide spread, he recorded that their variety was much bitier than he had encountered and that they used it in majority of their meals. It was referred to as ‘axi’.

Japanese Samarai used to eat chilli to combat the fear in the fight. They'd eat it prior to make themselves feel invincible. People who do Karate still often eat chilli before a fight.


Consuming chilli is a natural energiser; it purifies the blood and stimulates the circulatory system, giving the body more energy. Cayenne has been used for restoring gland functions so is useful in helping with glandular fever.

If you suffer hay fever, drink a cup of hot water with a pinch of cayenne pepper. Chilli has been used as a remedy for alcoholism. People with hypertension should avoid chillies as it is one of the greatest herbal stimulants. Chillies, in particular cayenne lowers the amount of fibrins which cause blood clotting, causing heart attacks and strokes.

It is suggested that if you put cayenne in warm water and drink at the initial stages of a heart attack it will stop it. There is a Hungarian proverb that says, “give a dying man paprika pepper and he will live, as death cannot stand too much paprika.’ Eating capsaicin causes perceptions of pain in the brain causing a release in endorphins, blocking the pain and causing a feeling of euphoria.

Facts about Chilli

Young leaves of the chilli plant can be eaten and offer up a very pungent aroma.

Chilli based paints have been shown to stop barnacles growing on the bottoms of boats.

Chillies aid in the digestion of proteins so should be consumed in the same meal as high amounts of protein, otherwise if consumed in low protein dishes it can cause an upset stomach.

When handling chilli ensure that hands are washed well with soap to avoid any eye irritation.

Common Questions

Does chilli help you lose weight?

Chilli can help curve cravings for fat, oils and salts. So in that sense it does help mend unhealthy eating. Studies have also found that eating chilli with higher fat meals can help burn the calories faster, this of course has to be followed with exercise though.

Can chilli burn your skin?

Having chilli on your skin can cause an irritation in sensitive or exposed skin. It however does not cause burn in the way we classically think about it.

Will chilli plants survive the winter?

If they will survive depends on your climate. If it regularly frosts it is unlikely that they will survive outside, however if you’ve planted your chilli in a pot that can be transported inside there should be no problem