Herbs Of The Year:
1995 Fennel
1996 Monarda
1997 Thyme
1998 Mint
1999 Lavender
2000 Rosemary
2001 Sage
2002 Echinacea
2003 Basil
2004 Garlic
2005 Oregano and Marjoram
2006 Scented Geraniums
2007 Lemon Balm
2008 Calendula
2009 Bay Laurel
2010 Dill
2011 Horseradish
2012 Rose
2013 Elderberry
2014 Artemisias
2015 Savory
2016 Peppers Caspicum ssp.
2017 Coriander/Cilantro 

                 Coriandrum sativum
2018  Hissop  Agastache ssp.
2019  Hops Humulus ssp.
2020 Rubus ssp. (Blackberries,

                  Raspberries et al.)

And The Herb Of The Year Is:    Peppers

The International Herb Association has named 2016 the year of the Pepper!  The genus Capsicum contains all of those beautiful species of chili peppers that grow so well here in Texas.  Capsicum is a member of the same family of plants as the tomato, eggplant, potato and paprika.  This is not the same family as black pepper and the Capsicum chili peppers are not to be confused with black pepper or Piper nigrum which is native to India.
The chili pepper, Capsicum, is native to this hemisphere and was first cultivated by the peoples of Central and South America around 7,000 BC.  The plant is an herbaceous fruit that has been used to flavor foods, used as currency, and used medicinally throughout its long history.  It was considered to be a sacred plant in Mesoamerica.

The chili pepper contains a chemical known as capsaicin which gives the different varieties of the chili pepper its distinctive pungency.  The pungency or the spicy heat level is measured by “Scoville Units”.  To give you an idea of the range, the bell pepper is rated at 0 because it contains no capsaicin.  Others are:
         Poblano pepper rating at 1,000-2,000 units
        Ancho Chili Pepper also rates at 1,000 – 2,000 units
        Jalapeno 2,500 – 5,000
        Chipotle 5,000 – 10,000
        Cayenne comes in at 30, 000 – 50,000 units
         Pequin 40,000- 58,000
         Ghost Pepper 1,020,000 - 1,578,000
        Carolina Reaper 2,200,000

Capsaicinoids are not soluble in water.  So if you overindulge in a fiery hot pepper, instead of going for the water bottle, reach for milk or ice cream.  The casein in milk will react with the capsaicin in the pepper to relieve the burn.  The paradox of the chili pepper is that the capsaicin’s ability to cause pain is also useful in alleviating pain.  For this reason chili peppers have been used medicinally to relieve toothaches and pain from osteoarthritis and shingles as well as nerve pain associated with diabetes and HIV.  Some have used peppers for treating hay fever and sinus infections, fever, alcoholism, poor circulation and digestive issues.  Peppers are not recommended to be used medicinally on children or pregnant women.  So the next time you look for a cream or ointment to relieve pain, look for the ingredient "capsicin" and you will know it as "pepper".

Peppers are easy to grow; the fruit comes in all colors, shapes and sizes.  Plant them in the spring and they will fruit in the summer.  Do not pull up the plant in the heat of the summer, but continue to water it and it will bear twice as much fruit in the fall.

To learn more about the chili pepper, go to the Chili Pepper Institute sponsored by New Mexico State University.

The International Herb Association established National Herb Week in 1991 and every year since 1995 they have chosen an Herb Of The Year.  The Herb Of The Year is based on it being outstanding in 2 of 3 categories:  Medicinal, Culinary or Decorative. 

 The original use of herbs was for medicine.  In ancient Egypt, China, Greece and Assyria the treatment of diseases was performed by the use of herbs and spices either ingested or used as a poultice.  That herbal knowledge has carried forward over the generations; and today in our western society and  we are looking to the past to remember what our grandmothers did for curing their households.  The culinary side of herbs has just as rich a history.  There is no substitute for clipping a handful of basil, mint, cilantro,  or thyme from your garden to add flavor and freshness to your dinner table. 

What Is An Herb?  According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, an herb is defined as a "(1) seed plant that lacks woody tissue and dies to the ground at the end of a growing season.  (2) A plant or plant part valued for medicinal or savory qualities"
The value of the plant can be in its leaves, stems, seeds or root.  They are valued and harvested for their flavor, healthful qualities, fragrance or dye.  Examples such as mint, oregano, cilantro and basil are harvested for their leaves which we primarily use in our kitchens.

Spices are the woody parts or seeds of herbaceous plants. Examples are caraway, fennel, sesame, black pepper and cinnamon.