For this week’s installment of TBT, we are going to look at a black pepper and oil earache remedy from a 1954 North Greenfield Community Club cookbook. At the time of publication, the North Greenfield Community Club was located on Newell Pond Road in Greenfield, Massachusetts. It appears that the North Greenfield Community Club no longer exists and street-view maps are insufficient to determine if the building still stands. Sadly, this means I cannot share a more modern image for contrast.
Listed under Various Remedies, the North Greenfield Community Club members suggest a popular home remedy: “A pinch of pepper rolled in cotton and saturated in oil will stop an earache.”
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) shares some similarities to hot peppers, which provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Research by Liu, Yadev, Aggarwal, and Nair (2010) found that “black pepper and its constituents like hot pepper, exhibit anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anticancer activities” (p. 1253). At least anecdotally, black pepper reduces pain. It is somewhat reasonable to conclude that if the pain results from inflammation and black pepper reduces inflammation, that there may be pain relief from the use of black pepper. However, I was unable to locate any reliable sources for this claim. WebMD (not my preferred resource) also suggests that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that black pepper provides pain relief.
Oil type is unspecified in this recipe and is likely common, easily available vegetable oil*. Oil would soften earwax, so that could be helpful if an abundance of earwax was trapping bacteria in the ear canal. However, it is likely that in this application, oil functions as a carrier for the powdery black pepper. You certainly would not want to have dry pepper bits stuck in your ear!
Cotton plays a less glamorous role in the recipe, but it is important. It functions to both contain the black pepper from slipping into the ear canal. It also keeps the preparation in place for the duration of treatment. Finally, it keeps the ear warm and prevents additional irritants from aggravating an already sensitive ear.
As a home remedy, it seems that this may be somewhat effective barring any alternative. However, there are more standard treatments for ear pain that are more reliable, including over the counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. It is also advisable to call your physician.
Have you tried this remedy before? Have you ever used a home remedy to treat a condition? Leave your thoughts and comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!
References & Additional Reading:
Liu, Y., Yadev, V., Aggarwal, B., & Nair, M. (2010, August). Inhibitory effects of black pepper (Piper nigrum) extracts and compounds on human tumor cell proliferation, cyclooxygenase enzymes, lipid peroxidation and nuclear transcription factor-kappa-B. National Product Communications, 5(8), 1253-7. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20839630
*This link goes to a YouTube video of a 1950’s advertisement for Wesson Oil. Use of this link is for informational purposes only and does not suggest an endorsement of the product or the YouTube account.