I got the idea for this salve from James Duke's The Green Pharmacy. In a section on arthritis, here's what Duke has to say about red pepper or cayenne:
Red Pepper (Capsicum, various species)
Red pepper causes some pain on the tongue, but ironically, it interferes with pain perception elsewhere around the body. The pain relieving chemical in red pepper, capsaicin, triggers the body to release endorphins, nature's own opiates. Red pepper also contains aspirin-like compounds known as salicylates.
You can make a red pepper tea by mixing red pepper into water, but it would be a whole lot more pleasurable to have your red pepper cooked in a variety of spicy dishes. for a quick hit, try a splash of hot pepper sauce in tomato juice.
Compounds in red papper can also help relieve arthritis when you apply the herb to the skin. Researchers have discovered that you'll get significant pain relief if you apply capsaicin cream directly to painful arthritis joints four times daily. In one study of this treatment, the capsaicin cream reduced RA pain by more than half. Osteoarthritis pain was reduced by about one-third.
Capsaicin creams are generally believed safe and effective for arthritis. Look for capsaicin in the ingredient list of over the counter pain creams such as Zostrix or Capzasin-P or ask your doctor for a prescription capsaicin product. If you use a capsaicin cream, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterward. You don't want to get it in your eyes. Also, since some people are quite sensitive to this compound, you should test it on a small area of skin to make sure that it's okay for you to use before using it on a larger area. If it seems to irritate your skin, discontinue use.
Well, I check the pharmacy prices for Capzasin-P and it was about $14 for a tube of it. That's too steep for me, so I decided to make some at home. I also decided to add tumeric to the salve, as tumeric is a terrific anti-inflammatory herb. I used lard as a base for the salve, since one of my favorite medicine women recommends it--that's Kiva Rose at Medicine Woman's Roots. You can read her blog on the Simplest Salve Ever here.
I put about 10 tablespoons of lard into my little salve-making pan and heated it to low on the stove. When the lard had liquidfied, I added 2 heaping tablespoons of powdered cayenne (I had just ground up one of my cayenne ristras earlier) and one heaping tablespoon of tumeric. I let it cook on low for about an hour, then strained it and poured it into little jars. Voila, cayenne-tumeric salve. I then gave two of the jars away to friends who also have trouble with painful joints. One of them is Fred, who suffers badly from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and the other is Kathy who has the same knobs growing on her thumbs that I do on mine. They both find the salve helpful with the pain, but it doesn't make the arthritis go away entirely. It doesn't with me either, but the salve is useful to have when the ol' thumbs get achy.
I don't know if the growing, painful knobs on my thumbs is RA or what. I will probably get it looked at some time or another by a medical doctor, see if they can tell me what it is. At any rate, the salve is easy to make and you probably have all the ingredients you need in your kitchen, so give it a try. If you do, please let me know if the salve works for you. I'm very interested in finding what works for folks.
Duke also suggestes simply adding powdered red pepper to any white hand lotion you have around, add enough to make the lotion pink or reddish and apply a little to your skin. When I apply the salve to my skin, it doesn't sting--I thought it would, but it doesn't. The tumeric and pepper make the salve a reddish-orange and the reddish-orange stains your skin a bit. But hey, it's worth it to make the pain die down a bit.
By the way, I am always looking for little jars--baby food jar size. If any of you have a bunch you wouldn't mind getting rid of, I'd gladly swap you some nice sassafrass roots or other dried herbs I have that you might want. Feel free to email me for any bartering you might want to do--my email addy is firstname.lastname@example.org.