- Cubeb Pepper
- Java Pepper
- Tailed Cubebs
- Tailed Pepper
Cubeb (botanical name Piper cubeba) is a member of the genus Piper and the plant is cultivated for its edible fruits as well as the essential oil obtained from them. Cubeb is mainly cultivated in Java and Sumatra and, therefore, it is also known as Java pepper. The fruits of this herb are collected just before they ripen and dried painstakingly.
Commercially available cubebs comprise dried out berries whose appearance is akin to that of black pepper. However, the cubebs are sold with their stalks attached – for instance, the “tails”. When dried, the pericap of the fruit becomes wrinkled and its color may vary from somewhat greyish-brown to complete black. The seed of this herb is white, firm and oily. While the smell of cubeb is portrayed as pleasing and fragrant, its flavour is described as acrid, overpowering, somewhat bitter and lasting. It is said that the flavour of the fruits of this herb is akin to that of allspice (also known as Jamaica pepper) or something similar to a cross between black pepper (botanical name Piper nigrum) and allspice.
The Arabs, who traded with Europe, were the first to introduce cubeb to continent. They carried this tropical shrub via India. The plant derives its name from the Arabic term kabāba, whose origin is unknown, through the Old French word quibibes. In alchemical writings, cubeb is referred to by the herb’s Arabic name. John Parkinson writes in his book “Theatrum Botanicum” that sometime around 1640, the ruler of Portugal had imposed a ban on selling cubeb with a view to encourage the sale and use of black pepper. However, cubeb made resurgence, albeit for a brief period, in Europe during the 19th century and was especially used for therapeutic purposes. Since then, this shrub disappeared from the markets in Europe. Nevertheless, people in the West still use cubeb in the form of a flavouring agent for cigarettes and gins, while in Indonesia it is used for seasoning food.
Cubeb fruits or berries are of the similar size of peppercorns and they are borne by a perennially growing climbing vine. As cubeb berries are sold together with their dry stalks, they are sometimes also referred to as “Tailed Pepper.” The smell and taste of cubeb berries is akin to that of peppercorns, but with a tinge of allspice. This species in mostly grown in Indonesia and, hence, it is also known as the Java pepper, derived from the former name of the country. In addition to Java and Sumatra, cubeb berries are also extremely well-liked by people in China and the Middle East. There was a time when cubeb berries were also popular in Europe, but they are seldom used by people in this continent now.
While cubebs have been mostly substituted by black pepper for culinary purposes, some people continue to use them to add essence to cigarettes, incense and liquors like vodka and gin.
Cubeb berries excellently complement vegetables, meats and even cheeses. When used as a substitute for pepper, it adds some aromatic flavour to these foods and when used in place of allspice, cubeb berries add some heat to the preparations. These berries are more flavourful when they are ground fresh and whole. However, when ground, they lose their essential oil very rapidly. The cubeb berries are considered to be a special item owing to their spicy flavour with a tinge of bitterness as well as the aroma of camphor.
Dried, unripe berries.
It is said that cubeb berries possess a number of therapeutic qualities. These berries are believed to possess aphrodisiac properties and also help in treating problems related to infertility. They have also been employed to treat conditions like fever, demonic possession, oral and dental conditions, bad breath, chronic bronchitis and infections. During the Middle Ages, alchemists had a special preference for cubeb berries.
People in China mainly use cubeb berries for therapeutic purposes. Brews prepared with cubeb berries are widely used in the form of aphrodisiacs. In China, there are several stories regarding the use of cubeb berries in the form of a sexual stimulant as well as a fertility aid. Cubeb berries enclose a number of volatile oils, which emit a camphorous fragrance. Possibly these oils are responsible for the berries’ potential in the form of a medication for pulmonary problems. Cubeb cigarettes were manufactured till the close of World War II and they were prescribed as a remedy for hay fever as well as asthma. It is also interesting to note that several love potions contain cubeb berries, in the form of a stimulant as well as aid to treat problems related to the urinary tract and the prostate gland. The medicinal attributes of cubeb berries are still reputed for their ability to combat problems related to infertility.
Many people still use cubeb berries in the form of a diuretic for augmented urine flow and well as alleviate problems related to water retention. These berries are also used for treating intestinal infections by specific parasites – a condition known as amoebic dysentery. There are several others who use the cubeb berries for treating gas formation in the intestines, gonorrhea and even cancer. Some people also consume these berries for loosening mucus.
Cubeb berries are quick stimulants and their contents spread fast throughout the body, particularly affecting the bladder and the kidneys. These berries are mainly used to treat gleet (thin, dark discharges from wounds) and semi-acute gonorrhea. However, you should be careful not to use these berries when these conditions or others are in the inflammatory phase. As cubeb berries have a warming action, they are also employed for treating atonic dyspepsia (a malady of the digestive system). However, these berries are most frequently used in the form of a stomach tonic along with other true tonics.
It is believed that cubeb berries possess antiseptic, diuretic, carminative, stimulant (tonic) and expectorant properties. It has been found that these berries are useful in alleviating symptoms related to chronic bronchitis. In addition, they are also employed to treat digestive disorders and are considered to be effectual for curing dysentery. Cubeb berries are also known to have a local invigorating action on the mucous membranes that form the lining of the respiratory and urinary tracts. Often, these berries have been used for treating problems related to the reproductive system and also employed to cure conditions like cystitis, urethritis, leucorrhea as well as infections of the prostate gland. The oil extracted from cubeb berries is said to be effective in combating the virus responsible for influenza as well as Bacillus typhosus. As their flavour is bitter and astringent, cubeb berries are excellent stimulants for the different organs of our body.
Occasionally, some unscrupulous businessmen use the essential oil from cubeb berries to contaminate patchouli essential oil. Therefore, people using patchouli oil need to be cautious while purchasing the product. On the other hand, sometimes cubeb is also adulterated by mixing common pepper (botanical name Piper caninum) and Piper baccatum (also called “climbing pepper of Java”).
People who practice the African-American folk magic form called hoodoo often use cubeb berries for drawing magic spells, especially in the instance of love.
A year later, in 2001, Firmenich, a reputed Swiss company, patented cubebol, a chemical compound present in the essential oil obtained from cubeb berries, which is used in the form of a refreshing and cooling agent. The patent obtained by the company says that cubebol is used in the form of a refreshing agent in a variety of products, ranging from gelatin-based confectioneries to chewing gum, drinks, sorbets and even toothpaste.
In the medieval period ((from 500 A.D. to about 1350 A.D.), cubeb was a very important spice. Grounded cubeb berries were used for garnishing meat and also in sauces. A recipe from the Middle Ages shows that people often used cubebs to make a sauce called sauce sarcenes, which also comprised almond milk and various other spices. When used in the form of an aromatic confectionery, often people candied cubeb berries and consumed them as a whole. During the 14th century, people in Poland infused cumin, cubeb and garlic in vinegar to prepare ocet kubebowy, which was used to marinate meat. In fact, even now people can use cubeb to augment the taste of delectable soups.
Arab spice merchants are also credited with introducing cubeb to Africa. In Morocco, cubeb is widely used for preparing relishing dishes as well as pastries, such as markouts, small diamonds of semolina along with dates and honey. Occasionally, cubeb also features in the list of elements for the renowned spice mixture called Ras el hanout. Cubeb is also used frequently and extensively in the Indonesian curries (locally called gulés).
Cubeb oil is also used in the form of a flavouring ingredient in various foods.
Habitat and cultivation
Cubebs are indigenous to Java and Sumatra (currently known as Indonesia) and they were introduced to Europe by Arab spice traders via India. The berries of this herb are used for culinary as well as therapeutic purposes.
This plant thrives excellently in areas having partial shade. In its native land, cubeb is usually found growing close to bushes, as these places do not receive too much sunlight and the temperatures also do not drop below 35°F. Cubebs grow most excellently in soils that are fertile and have a proper drainage system.
Cubebs are generally propagated by their seeds, ideally sown indoors prior to the last anticipated frost in your region. When the seedlings grow sufficiently large for handling, they need to be transplanted into bigger containers. In addition, cubebs can also be propagated by means of root division and stem cuttings.
Chemical analysis of the dried cubeb berries has revealed that they contain 10 percent essential oil comprising sesquiterpenes (α-cubebene, β-cubebene, copaene, caryophyllene, δ-cadinene, cubebol and germacrene) and α-thujene, carene, sabinene 50%, 1,8 cineol and 1,4 cineol). As far as the mass is concerned monoterpenes dominate, but actually sesquiterpenes are vital because they impart cubeb fruits their typical flavour.
Cubeb berries have a pungent flavor and this is due to the present of a chemical compound known as lignane cubebin (2 percent) as well as several other compounds, including clusin, dihydrocubebin, dihydroclusin and hinokinin.
You may prepare a cubeb berry tincture by macerating four ounces of the berries with one quart of watered down alcohol. You may use this tincture in dosage of half drachm or more. Sometimes, the fluid extract is also prepared by treating one pound of the berry powder in a close percolator using ether till one quart has percolated and extracting 1.5 pint of the ether, while evaporating the remains simultaneously. The end product or resultant is a greenish or brownish oleoresin. You may take anything between 5 and 15 drops of it and consume it along with sugar.
But always remember that you cannot treat all natural products to be safe and their dosage can be very important. Therefore, you should always ensure that you are following the pertinent instructions printed on the product labels. In addition, you also need to check with your physician, pharmacist or a competent healthcare provider before you start using the remedies.
Side effects and cautions
It has been found that cubebs are mainly safe for use by majority of the people, especially when they are taken orally. But it is believed that taking large doses of formulations containing cubeb berries causes headache and light-headedness. Probably, these side effects are owing to the increased cerebral circulation.
Since cubebs have the potential to cause gastrointestinal tract irritation, it is suggested that people enduring stomach problems or disorders related to the intestines should avoid them. Similarly, people suffering from nephritis (kidney ailments) should never use cubebs.
Collection and harvesting
Usually, the cubeb fruits are collected just before they ripen. Subsequently, they are dried out painstakingly.