Black pepper (Piper nigram) is a tropical vine that grows much like grapes. Its native home is Sri Lanka, South India and Burma. People around the world now grow this plant. The stems root easily and spread out. People know the dried fruit as peppercorn. It grows outside or inside in a clay pot. The plant has a strong scent. Gardeners can easily propagate black pepper plants from cuttings sixteen to twenty inches long.
Black pepper has small whitish flowers. Its leaves are long, compared to the flowers. The stems hold the fruit. The stem can hold up to thirty bunches of fruit berries. It can grow up to thirteen feet tall on surrounding trees, bushes or trellises. The flowers blossom in the summer. The fruits appear the next year.
The plant must have moist fertilized soil to grow properly. Dry leaves and manure make good fertilizers for the pepper plant. When growing in pots, use the three to seven gallon pots. Fertilize them one to two times a week with 15-15-15 fertilizer. These plants do not like direct sunlight. They do better in shady conditions. Places, without freezing temperatures, make good homes for pepper plants when grown outdoors under trees. They need stable temperatures around 65 F. They like humidity levels of 50% and higher. Bright sunlight increases the amount of growth to this plant. The warmer the temperature, the better they grow.
The plant will not produce fruit until the fourth year. During the first three years, the plant matures and grows strong. Growers must prune the plant back twice a year for shape and control. Once the plant produces fruit, it should continue for up to seven years.
The fruit is ready to pick when the first couple of berries turn red. The berries will become mushy and unusable if not picked early. Black pepper spice comes from unripe berries. To get the black powder known as pepper, the hard berries need to dry either by machine or in the sunlight. After drying, growers crush the berries to make the powder.
This plant has medicinal properties. Herbalists use it as a high blood pressure reducer. They add to soups and salads to help prevent it. It also was a sought after plant with traders. Traders came from many of the European countries in search of it. Traders used it the same way they used money. It was very valuable.
Piper unigram Linn is the company name for black pepper. The name refers to the whole berries.
Source: 1997, The Green Pharmacy, James A Duke