Known as “sweet bell peppers” in the United States, capsicum are a luscious and highly nutritious vegetable that have a unique place in the history of medicine and our understanding of food (more of that later in the healing section).
Capsicum are part of the Nightshade family and actually are from the same species that produces cayenne or chili peppers. They come in many colors including green, yellow, orange and red. The green capsicum can actually be immature, non-ripe versions of the other color varieties. To confuse the issue though, not all capsicum varieties start off green, and neither do green capsicum always mature into the other colors. While you can eat your capsicum at any stage of development, research has shown that the vitamin C and carotenoid content tends to increase while the capsicum is reaching its optimal ripeness. The added bonus of eating your capsicum when they are ripe is that they taste better too.
It was from capsicum that scientist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi was first able to isolate the compound vitamin C in usable quantities. For a long time it was known that citrus like oranges, lemons, and limes could prevent scurvy which is vitamin C deficiency. Of course, in tie early stages it was not known that vitamin C existed but just that citrus could prevent the dreadful symptoms of scurvy in sailors for example. By 1907 however, researchers Axel Holst and Alfred Frohlich, proposed the existence of “vitamin C", a substance that could be made by neither guinea pigs nor humans, and a lack of which led to scurvy. However, although orange juice and lemon juice have high levels of ascorbic acid (vitamin C). they contain sugars that make purification of vitamin C extremely difficult. So this ‘Vitamin C” remained unisolated until, in 1933. Szent Gyorqyi managed it, deriving enough ascorbic acid from paprika made from capsicum to make 1.5 kilograms. The rest is vitamin history. Vitamin C, however, is just the beginning of what capsicum has to offer.
Capsicum is not as well studied for its health benefits as its cousin chili, but it contains a treasure trove of nutrition. As mentioned, it is an excellent vitamin C source containing around I20mg per cup. Capsicum are also a fantastic source of artioxidant carotenoids and vitamin E. Ore cup of freshly sliced red bell pepper, for example, contains about 1.5 mg of beta-carotene. In addition to these conventional antioxidant vitamins, capsicum also contains a range of antioxidant nutrients including flavonoids, luteolin. quercetin, hesperidin, lutein, and zeaxanthin. In all capsicum is an antioxidant powerhouse and some of the antioxidants have shown specific benefits.
Lutein and zeaxanthin
Both lutein and zeaxanthin have shown a proven capacity to protect the retina of the eye. and to be helpful in preventing loss of vision due to age-related macular degeneration.
Luteolin is an antioxidant Flavonoid found amply supplied in capsicum but also occurs in celery, thyme and chamomile tea. It has been shown previously to be strongly anti- inflammatory as well as being antioxidant.
A recent study in BMC Gastroenterology has shown that it has anti-cancer properties as well.
Colon cancer is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in the world. What has been shown previously is that cancerous colon cells have elevated levels of a hormone known as insulin-like growth factor-2 (IGF-2) when compared to normal colon cells. These raised IGF-2 levels are thought to drive the uncontrolled cell division and cancer growth.
What this study found is that when exposed to luteolin cancerous colon cells stop secreting IGF- 2. Within two hours of applying luteolin to colon cancer cells these researchers found that there was also a drop in the number of receptors (IGF-1) to which IGF-2 attaches to exert its effects.
The net result is that luteolin shut down all signaling pathways within colon cells that are activated by IGF-1 in cancer. The researchers said that a fuller understanding of how luteolin works in the body may lead to the development of a chemopreventive agent. In the meantime, you can enjoy the fact that your organic capsicum are a taste and health sensation.
You have every reason to include capsicum in your organic garden. Not only is it
delicious and its yield high, but commercially grown capsicum are also among the “Dirty Dozen" list of foods that register consistently high levels of pesticide residue. Your organic capsicum is sure to taste twice as sweet to you, for the knowledge that it is pure and unadulterated
Grow Your Capsicum
When to plant: All year in tropical climates, but optimum germination rates are when temperatures reach above 23°C. Best planted in spring and summer in cooler areas after frosts have passed.
Specific needs: Known as heavy feeders so enrich soil with well rotted manure before planting. Good drainage essential and add some lime to help prevent blossom-end rot. Keep up regular watering when fruiting. Ensure good air circulation to prevent molds and mildew in the humidity. Try in pots.