Black Pepper endemic to western ghats of Kerala

Black pepper seed germination

Black Pepper and Long Pepper belong to Piperaceae family.

Black Pepper which is also known as (Kurumulaku in Malayalam – Kali Mirch in Hindi – Marich in Sanskrit) is cultivated for its fruit. Which is normally dried and used as a spice, medicine and seasoning.

Black Pepper flowers and tender leaves in June
Pepper flowers and tender leaves of Panniyur vine

Black pepper is endemic to western ghats of Kerala. Since centuries India is a source of high quality pepper specially the Malabar variety.
Pepper was a prized spice during the ancient times, and also was used instead of currency. It is still known as “The king of Spices” and “black Gold”.

Medicinal and general Health benefits of Black Pepper

  • It is good for indigestion, constipation, oral health and other minor and major stomach illness.
  • Ayurvedic eye drops have a combination of sting-less bee honey and black pepper.
  • It is very effective in treating mild form of fever and cough.
  • Marichyadi tailam is used for many skin diseases. Hair conditioner can be prepared at home by burning the matured pepper vine under burning coal(Not under fire just heat is required). Once the vine is little charred and oozing liquid. Remove the outer peal and soak in water and rub it well to release the juice and use it as a conditioner and for general well being of scalp. It should also help keep lice away.
  • Black pepper helps to open obstruction in different channels of body. Its is described as pramati in ayurvedic text.
  • It can be used with turmeric to reduce cancerous cell growth. Piperine found in black pepper and Curcumin in turmeric are clinically proven to suppresses cytokines produced by cancerous cells. This reduces the harmful activities of cancerous cells and their growth into tumors. Pepper also has anti-carcinogen, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.

Malabar, Tellicherry and some other forgotten Black Pepper of Kerala

Black Pepper

Normal form of dried pepper. There are many variety available under black pepper in today’s market. However traditionally Malabar was famous and it still leads the market for its quality. Rest are all new plantation in different parts of the world.

Malabar Peppercorns

This variety is found in Malabar area. This is also sometimes referred as original pepper variety originating from the malabar coast.

Tellicherry Bold Peppercorns

Tellicherry Bold Peppercorns are large in size as compared to other black pepper because of the many factors including soil, climatic condition and berry are harvested when color reaches from green to yellow, orange and ultimately red and after harvested its graded. Flavor is complex and aromatic. Also it is mostly derived from karimunda and Balankotta vine.

Tellicherry Special Extra Bold Peppercorns

This is also locally know as Elephant pepper, Uthirankota and know as Vadakkan (Bolt mani) in Coorg. It is very big in size even in dried form. However it is not easy to locate this vine any longer. Very few farmers have preserved this vine. It is hot and contains lot of volatile oil. It is very expensive because of the quantity derived from the vine.

Long pepper

15 cm long Panniyur pepper spike

This is also known as pippali/thippali in India. long pepper has more spice content and was used widely before black pepper and choli peppers. It is widely used in ayurvedic medicines. long peppercorn fruit spikes protrude upwards whereas black pepper will be pointing downwards. It also doesn’t have peppercorns embedded on the surface of the fruit like black pepper. Ancient texts say black pepper originated from long pepper.

White pepper

Fully ripe pepper extracted after washing off the peel in running water or soaked in water for few days, large scale dealers would have a modern approach. White pepper can be achieved when green matured peppercorns turn yellow and ultimately red.

Red pepper

Red peppercorns are fully ripened berries that are bright red in color when they are picked. This has very short shelf life. This again can be preserved and sold. Generally during this phase pepper outer skin is very sweet. This is when birds attack black pepper and when the birds excrete the pepper corns it was used as white pepper, natural process.

Green pepper

It is a latest trend. Peppercorns are picked long before maturing and are air-dried, freeze-dried, pickled or preserved in brine.

Normally all the Malabar peppercorns in the current market are from karimunda and its sub species and Panniyur the popular hybrid vine.

Unripe Panniyur pepper corn

Karimunda, Uthirankota, Arakkulam, Munda, Kottanadan, Aimpiriyan, Neelamundi, Narayakkodi, Kuthiravally, Balankotta, Kalluvally, cheriakondy, are some of the popular variety of vine during olden times.

When and How to Plant Black Pepper

Traditionally pepper is planted in Thiruvathira Njattuvela which normally occurs during mid of June month every year, There are 27 njattuvela in a year Sun calendar

shoots of black pepper spreading on near by trees
Black pepper new shoots spreading on nearby trees

In 2013 Thiruvathira Njattuvela starts from 21st june and will continue till July 4th. During this 14 days you can plant anything. You can cut any mature stem of a plant and plant it in soil. It will surely catch up and fruit next year.

Basically Njattuvela are suns position. (So this should apply for all parts of India(especially western ghats) but people with no rains it will be difficult I believe)

365 days of the year are divided into groups of fourteen days called Njattuvela. Therefore there are 27 Njattuvelas in a year. In thiruvathira njattuvela it rains non-stop. However it will have equal amounts of sun light(during this time rain will be heavy and sometimes it will drizzle).
Only few Malayalam calendars give this information. But you can remember it. It mostly comes during mid of June month each year.

This is the best time to plant Pepper(Traditionally in Kerala farmers planted pepper only during this time). You can plant anything but when planting vegetables seeds you will need to keep it elevated about ground level or else seeds will get damaged in water logged soil (however it is not ideal to plant vegetable seeds now because heavy spells are waiting a head) Vegetables have to be planted a little head of time.
Now don’t run after nurseries for pepper vine. You should be able to locate a vine some where in your locality. Just look for new shoots under the vine spread on the ground with roots. Cut them and plant it.

Just make sure you plant pepper to the north side of the trees. This is because during summer months Sun is on the south side and strong sun light will damage the vine. This is very important to keep your vine in good condition.

Prepare the new planting location 3 days prior to planting. So the soil is set. For centuries farmers have been planting pepper during thiruvathira njattuvela as pepper needs lots of water and cool climate. It cannot tolerate heat, leaves wither off.

During august month new shoots spreads from the bottom area of pepper wine. Farmers rolled the new wine on a stick or in a small basket. So it is easy to cut and plant in new location during thiruvathira njattuvela, if left in the soil roots will spread and transplanting will be a little difficult.

Pepper vines benefit from vertical growth – not horizontal.

This is because rain drops get the pollen from the top pepper spikes(flowers) till the bottom pepper spikes. Only then good pollination happens.

Also pepper tends to climb much faster on rough barks than on smoother ones. On poles and pendal it may not be able to grip on.

You can make bush pepper buy cutting the extreme top head of the vine and plant it in flower pot. This acts like a bush rather a vine and you can get pepper throughout the year provided you water the whole bush from top when it flowers(I believe morning dew should also help).

Propagation of Black Pepper with Seeds

Most people say Black Pepper never germinates from seeds. If that is the case then why is the vine struggling hard to produce seeds. This is because she can spread her species, so it will germinate but not all seeds will germinate.

Propagation of black pepper is usually done by cuttings and not by seed, it is much easier and reliable. You can also attempt to sow seeds provided you do not get the pepper balls from super market because the ones that are on shelves are processed and they will not germinate.
Also peppercorns are not allowed to ripen on the vine. they are harvest much before that so again germination gets effected.
Look for farmers who can source you good ripe seeds.
We boil the peppercorns in water just after harvesting and sun dry it for 3 days. This increases the shelf life and colour of black pepper.

Below image is of peppercorns germinated while still holding the peppercorn cap.

Black pepper seed germination
Black pepper germinated through Seeds

What is the Right Time to Harvest Black Pepper

Pepper is harvested just after Makar Sankraanti. As mentioned earlier pepper cannot tolerate heat. one week after makar sankranti that is mid january, you will notice pepper corns turning yellow and ultimately red(It is because sun starts northward journey Uttarayana, this lasts for 6 months). Pepper should be harvested immediately or else corns will start falling on the ground, black drongo and other birds love eating it.

Next you will need to remove all the impurities from the pepper. Then boil water and add all the pepper corns with out the spike in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Let the pepper drain and then sun dry for coming 4 days if sunlight is good. This makes pepper look more dark in color and freshness stays for a long time to come. If all the procedure is followed correctly then dried pepper corns can be stored for 3 years with out getting damaged

Black pepper sun dried and stored in gunny bag
Dried black pepper stored in gunny sack

Speciality of thiruvathira njattuvela is it rains non stop for the 14 days. However if on the first day of thiruvathira njattuvela if it doesn’t rain and sunshines then for the next 14 days it will not rain non stop. That is where pepper production drops(there are other factors as well) because pepper pollination depends on rain drops and not bees, insects or wind.
When the first rains falls ie by mid May in Kerala, pepper starts to produce new leaves and by start of june it starts to flower. So when thiruvathira njattuvela comes flowers are almost ready for pollination. If this process hampers, production reduces drastically.

Black Pepper flowers and tender leaves in June
Pepper flowers and tender leaves of Panniyur vine

When peppercorns start to appear and are small in size, insects suck the juice. This is when all the pepper gets contaminated. Copper sulphate and other chemical is sprayed to the corns. If left unattended depending on the soil health corns will get damaged and their will be no weight. It is locally called as pollu kurumulaku, it means all the juice and content has been drained off and just the outer skin will be left.

Bordeaux mixture (copper sulphate plus lime) is the first resort used by any pepper farmer, for that matter all fruits and vegetables are sprayed with Bordeaux mixture. It is considered a organic compound and is widely used by organic farmers.

Copper sulphate is also used by meat traders to increase instant weight in cattle. When high dose is forcefully fed to cattle. Instant kidney failure occurs causing 15 to 20 litres of water getting stored in the cattle, ultimately increasing the weight.

Copper sulphate (mani chittam in Malayalam) is also used by farmers in small doses to bring cows in heat for insemination if they have been dry for a long time.

This proves copper sulphate also has something to do with urinary system. Current generation is consuming large dose of copper sulphate; Can this be the reason even small kids who have not even reached puberty are involved in sexual activity?

Copper sulphate is highly toxic. It can cause kidney failure, coma, severe intra-vascular haemolysis, haepatotoxicity.

It is nature’s law every living being should get their share of food. So by spraying chemical you are creating a imbalance in your farm. Modern farming is creating excess of food. Which ultimately gets wasted. scavengers, Insects and micro organism eat away waste food and grains stored in the granaries. So nature is anyways feeding all its creature. Because of greed humans create misery in their life.

Proverb in Hindi – Daane daane pe likha hai khane wale ka naam (every grain has the name of the person who is going to eat it). Fate has already decided who will eat the particular grain and we cannot change it.

Credits & References

  • Sun calendar / Njattuvela –

13 Replies to “Black Pepper endemic to western ghats of Kerala”

  1. Such an informative piece. I found a plant that looks like a pepper plant. Could I send you a picture you could confirm? I live in Pune.

    Thank you. please do send it. Take care

  2. I would love to get the red peppercorns seeds that are untreated I would like to try and grow peppercorn here in the U.K. Do you have any available?

  3. I would love to grow a pepper plant but here in the UK the seeds are all treated. I am growing piper betel successfully but this was from a cutting. Would it be possible to get untreated viable pepper seeds from you, it would be very much appreciated, thank you

    I can definitely share some, However I won’t be able to send it to the UK.
    If you have some one to pickup from Indian I can do that. just pay me courier charges. 🙂

    Authorities destroyed seeds I guess. And courier charges are way too high.

  4. Hello,

    I live in mysore/bangalore and it is impossible to search for bush pepper saplings here. can you help me on this please?

    Thanks a lot

    1. I grow pepper vines in my estate. Bush pepper is not a variety by itself. It can be grown from any pepper plant. What you need to do is use a cutting of the branch for rooting.

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