Cubeb Oil is an Ancient Spice of Life.
There is a growing trend today that is leaning more towards natural solutions to common ailments. People are seeking answers for everything from coughs and colds to dysentery and many other conditions. The problem in the past has been with retail and pharmaceutical medication offerings. The reason behind the problem lies with the numerous and potentially dangerous side effects, allergic reactions, and/or drug interactions that may accompany those medications. So large is the problem, that the potential adverse reactions and precautions often read like a book for many man-made medications. While pharmaceutical medications may cure or help one condition, they have the potential to cause several others in their wake. Some of these secondary conditions can be serious, or even fatal. This creates more of a trade off than a solution, and one that we typically don’t want. Where is the balance?
Here enters the natural herbs and spices that have been used for centuries and sometimes millenia. These are the plant products that our ancestors had to rely on, and they worked for many common ailments of their day as well as ours.
Once forgotten natural remedies are making a comeback. We are realizing ways to improve our overall health without the riskier effects of common chemical-laden medications. That doesn’t mean that pharmaceuticals don’t have a time and a place. However, for minor illnesses and to live a healthier lifestyle, why not try a natural solution instead?
There are many herbs and spices to choose from, depending on your need and intention. With popular and common herbs like lavender, tea tree oil, eucalyptus and others, who can go wrong, right? However, let us not forget that there are some little known, rare varieties that also make great natural medicinal oils as well. The essential oil of cubebs is one such example.
Cubebs is a spice originally from Java and Sumatra and has similar qualities to pepper and allspice. In fact, some consider it a cross between the two spices. As a result, it has many culinary uses. At one point, it was used as a black pepper replacement altogether. The problem with that came around 1640 when the king of Portugal banned it. The reason was to promote the sale of black pepper instead. Trade and use of cubebs resurged throughout Europe and even the United States during the 19th century for a period. Now, you rarely hear of it. However, its many uses and benefits have not been forgotten altogether and can still be enjoyed today.
What is Cubeb Oil?
Oil of cubebs is derived from the cubebs plant, which primarily grows in Java and Sumatra. For this reason, cubebs are known by many names. Cubeb (Piper cubeba), also known as Java pepper, or tailed pepper, or shital chini / kabab chini in Hindi is a plant in genus Piper, cultivated for its fruit and essential oil. The fruit are gathered before they are ripe, and carefully dried. Commercial cubebs consist of the dried berries, similar in appearance to black pepper, but with stalks attached – the “tails” in “tailed pepper”. The dried pericarp is wrinkled, and its color ranges from grayish-brown to black. The seed is hard, white, and oily. The odor of cubebs is described as agreeable and aromatic, and the taste as pungent, acrid, slightly bitter and persistent. It has been described as tasting like allspice, or like a cross between allspice and black pepper.
History of Essential Cubeb Oil
The medicinal uses of essential cubeb oil goes way back in history. Its use has been documented as early as the 4th century BC by Aristotle’s successor, Theophrastus. While Theophrastus taught his students various topics, his specialty was botany. He even wrote what later became a 10-volume book on the subject called “Historia Plantarum.” This was later translated to “Enquiry into Plants.” Nine of these volumes survive today and are available in paperback and hardback English versions. The importance of this written work is that it does indeed include a cubeb essential oil elixir called komakon, which is similar to the Javanese word for cubebs, kumukus.
Few of us consider the practice of magic and mysticism as a truly historic science. However, alchemy was a science that delved into this arena. While alchemy itself doesn’t directly relate to cubeb oil, the time period does. Cubeb essential oil was used for its many benefits when alchemy was common practice. Yet, it doesn’t end there. Modern Hoodoo and witchcraft practitioners still occasionally incorporate cubeb berries into their craft.
Oil of cubebs was often traded along the trade route to India, China, and throughout Europe. While Cubeb essential oil is rarely heard of today, it is still around and in use.
Nine Uses for Essential Cubeb Oil
There are many uses for oil of cubebs, below are nine common ways to gain some of its numerous benefits.
- Flavoring Agent for Gin and Cigarettes
The benefits of cubeb oil were once crafted into medicinal cigarettes to be used to aid with respiratory illnesses such as asthma, chronic pharyngitis, and hay fever. One popular brand that was still offered during the World War II era, was “Marshall’s Prepared Cubeb Cigarettes.” In 2000, essential oil of cubebs was included in the list of ingredients found in cigarettes, published by the Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Cigarettes weren’t the only things that cubeb essential oil was used to flavor. Gins were also a popular area. One in particular, Bombay Sapphire gin, is flavored with botanicals including essential oil of cubebs as well as grains of paradise. The brand was launched in 1987, but its maker claims that it was based on a secret recipe dating back to 1761. Pertsovka, a dark brown Russian pepper vodka with a burning taste, is prepared from infusion of oil of cubebs and capsicum peppers.
- Food Flavoring
Europeans during the Middle Ages valued essential cubeb oil as a culinary spice. They often seasoned their meats and sauces with it. However, it also has other culinary uses.
- Candied confectionaries
- Vinegar infusions
- Savory seasoning
- Pastry markouts
- Spice combinations
The idea of a microscopic creature living and thriving within you is enough to creep most people out. Yet, when it comes to parasitic worms, that is exactly what is happening. One such worm, Schistosoma mansoni, is a tropical worm. It is commonly found in 54 different countries. Most of these center around the tropics such as Africa, Madagascar, and the Caribbean among others, and often where poor sanitation is found. S. Mansoni are one of the most widespread human parasitic worm infections around that can wreak havoc on the body. The good news is that the benefits of cubeb oil have been tested and found to efficiently kill these microscopic invaders.
- Dental Diseases
Cubeb oil uses also receive a special mention in both the highly-held Ayurvedic encyclopedias, the Charaka Samhita and the Sushruta Samhita as an oral cleanser and as an aid for dental problems. The essential oil of Cubebs have natural antiseptic, antimicrobial and astringent properties that assist in killing the harmful organisms in the mouth causing halitosis or bad breath, bleeding gums, plaque and cavities. Mix 1 drop of Cubeb oil in a cup of warm water and use it as a gargle for relieving all kinds of dental and oral infections.
Cubeb essential oil is pungent, slightly camphorous, with a touch of nutmeg or allspice. Many herbal and ayurvedic websites tout that cubeb oil uses are effective against coughs and to relieve the symptoms of bronchitis. The reason may be attributed to the slightly camphorous nature of this tropical spice. Camphor qualities, by themselves, work by stimulating nerve endings for pain receptors. This, in turn, can relieve the pain and itchiness we often associate with coughs and throat irritations.
We don’t commonly associate spices with our sex lives. However, in the case of essential cubeb oil, perhaps we should. Unani physicians use a paste of the spice’s berries as folk medicine in the Middle East and parts of Africa. The paste is applied “externally on male and female genitals.” The idea behind it is to intensify sexual pleasure. Due to this attributed property, cubebs were called “Habb-ul-Uruus“.
Cubeb oil uses also have diuretic properties that help in discharging the toxic substances from the body known as ama, which is nothing but the remains of improper digestion which slowly turns toxic. These toxic remains along with salt deposits, uric acid, cholesterol and fat can lead to numerous medical conditions including kidney problems and heart diseases.
One of the many benefits of cubeb oil is that it acts as a stimulant in the body promoting proper functioning of the system. Its diuretic properties increase the quantity and frequency of urination and helps to cleanse the system.
Flatulence is embarrassing and sometimes painful. While there are retail remedies available, they don’t always work. Even when they do, the product ingredient list reads like stereo assembly instructions written in a foreign language. In the case of cubeb oil, however, this is different. The spice is an all natural anti-gas alternative. Oil of cubebs possess a carminative effect to aid in the relief of flatulence. Herbs or spices containing a carminative effect work to dispel painful gas and bloating. If you tend to experience chronic flatulence, you should consider following up with your healthcare provider.
- Other Uses
As with other medicinal herbs and spices, the benefits of cubeb oil also have unconventional uses. Cubebs are sometimes used to adulterate the essential oil of patchouli, which requires caution for patchouli users. Cubeb berries are used in love-drawing magic spells by practitioners of hoodoo, an African-American form of folk magic.
In 2000, the well-known Japanese cosmetics company Shiseido patented formulas of anti-aging products made from several herbs including cubebs.
In 2001, the Switzerland-based company Firmenich patented cubebol, a compound found in cubeb essential oil, as a cooling and refreshing agent. The patent describes application of cubebol as a refreshing agent in various products, ranging from chewing gum to sorbet, drink, toothpaste, and gelatin-based confectionery.
One of the interesting benefits of cubeb oil mentioned is the use of the spice against gonorrhea. There is little information available that details this particular use, or its effectiveness. Yet, many resources quote it as a benefit of cubebs oil.
Despite all of the benefits of cubeb oil, some precautions are necessary. Cubebs are a rare spice and, thus, little is known about them. They have not undergone extensive study like more popular spices and herbs. Due to the insufficient information the following people should avoid cubebs and their oil:
- Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Those suffering from kidney disease
Essential oil of cubebs can also irritate the stomach and intestines. For this reason, if you already have problems with these areas, you should avoid cubeb oil as well. Likewise, check with your doctor or pharmacist before beginning any herbal supplement. Some herbs and spices can interact with certain kinds of prescription medication. Due to the nature of cubebs, it is not recommended for those taking antacids or medications that decrease stomach acid.
Another thing to keep in mind is that cubeb oil uses, as with other essential oils, can irritate the skin of some people. For this reason, it is best mixed with another agent such as oil or water for example.
Essential cubeb oil is nature-born and ready to fulfill your common health needs. All too often, when a common ailment grabs hold of us, we tend to reach for convenience such as whatever the local supermarket happens to have on hand. Man-made cough drops, syrups, antacids, and other medications are readily available at retail outlets. These medications all have two things in common:
- Chemical ingredients with names few can properly pronounce,
- A slew of side effects and adverse reaction warnings.
While the prices of these products may at first seem enticing, this is usually short lived. Natural oil of cubebs is, in the long run, more cost-effective. Think of all of the cubeb oil uses that can be had from one little bottle. Unlike many of its pharmaceutical counterparts, the essential oil of cubebs is nature’s way to relieve many common health complaints naturally and effectively.