The holiday season is a time when many plants are given as gifts. One unique plant that has become more common is the Christmas Pepper, Capsicum annuum, plant. These plants have multi colored small peppers hanging off of dark green foliage. This recent addition to the holiday plant gift list comes in many different species. One thing you need to know about this plant is you need to treat the fruit with respect since the Capsicum species are considered "hot peppers."
The compound found in these peppers that causing irritation is Capsaicin. Capsaicin also gives the pepper their pungent odor besides causing the skin irritation that is commonly associated with the processing or consumption of hot peppers. The severity of the irritation depends on how much capsaicin is actually in the pepper and how long it is in contact with the skin. Symptoms that are common with hot pepper exposures include burning pain, redness and irritation of the skin. Blistering is not common but can occur after prolonged exposure to capsaicin.
There are several treatments recommended for hot pepper irritation. If you have handled these hot peppers you should wash their hands well with water and soap. Washing in alcohol is recommended as the capsaicin resin is more easily dissolved by alcohol. Then once you have used alcohol, rewash your hand in warm soapy water. The most effective treatment seems to be the soaking of the affected area in chilled vegetable oil for at least one hour. Relief is not accomplished by just applying the oil to the affected area; it must be completely immersed in the chilled vegetable oil. Soaking the affected area in a solution of half vinegar and half water for 30 minutes is also recommended. The chilled vegetable oil treatment seems to be the most effective. The best treatment is prevention, so when handling these hot peppers wear gloves.
Make sure you keep children and pets away from these hot peppers. The Christmas pepper is an annual so once the peppers drop off the plant you should discard it.
Tom Walker is director of the Mifflin-Juniata Penn State Extension Service.