Ornamental peppers are beautiful, flashy and colorful. And though they aren’t for the fainthearted palate, yes, ornamental peppers are just as edible as the chilies or bell peppers you buy at the store.
If you are contemplating growing ornamental peppers in your garden or having them occupy a sunny spot on your patio or windowsill, you’ll find that they are very appealing to the eye with the various green, purple, red, yellow which add appealing zest!
In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about ornamental peppers you can eat and how to make a success of cultivating them.
What are ornamental peppers?
Ornamental peppers are varieties of pepper (Capsicum) that are grown for their appealing appearance rather than primarily for food.
These are the chili plants you will find in garden centres or nurseries rather than in the vegetable aisle of the supermarket.
With over 4000 chili varieties in existence, a significant proportion of these hot berries are appreciated for their curious shapes and vivid colors.
Thousands of years of cultivation and trade across the world has familiarised most cultures with chilies, with ornamental cultivation being a relatively recent interest.
You will find ornamentals liberally distributed among the five main species of chili:
- Capsicum annuum
- Capsicum baccatum
- Capsicum chinense
- Capsicum frutescens
- Capsicum pubescens
Ornamental peppers are easily recognised by the vibrant colours they give
From flame red, Bolivian rainbow, through to a deep, dark, chocolatey brown, ornamental peppers know how to put on a show!
The pods differ wildly in size, shape, and hue making them unique gifts that add cheer to any environment. They are at their best in the summer months when they flower and start to produce their bold fruits.
The bushy leaves and small pale flowers of ornamental chilies are unassuming, but once they start to fruit the explosion of color will definitely take centre stage in your garden.
Ornamental peppers are also a treat for the culinary adventurous gardener
Are you someone that has to order extra chilli oil when you order a Chinese takeaway? Or do you add hot pepper sauce to every meal?
Ornamental chillies will certainly pique the interest of the gardener with a tongue for heat, and you may be curious to try these vivid peppers.
Ornamental peppers are cultivated for their visuals rather than their flavour
The ornamental varieties we share below are all 100% edible, but it is important to remember that the ornamental chilli varieties have been developed for their looks rather than their palatability.
The chilli varieties that are commonly eaten have far more distinctive flavour and utility in cooking, but what ornamentals lack in taste dimension they bring in heat.
If you pick and eat many ornamental chili varieties, you are likely to encounter A LOT of heat!
Now, you may have come across hot chilli peppers like the famous scotch bonnet or jalapeno peppers to name a few but, how about ornamental peppers?
Chilli peppers have their own rating scale devised in the 19th century by the American pharmacist Wilbur Scoville. Scoville units provide a measure of the hotness of chilli pepper.
Let’s compare some everyday peppers to ornamental peppers:
- Bell pepper: 0 to 100 Scoville heat units
- Jalapeno pepper: up to 10,000 Scoville heat units
- Cayenne pepper: 30,000 Scoville heat units
Now here is the heat you experience with some ornamental pepper varieties:
- Black pearl pepper: up to 30,000 Scoville heat units
- Bolivian rainbow pepper: up to 50,000 Scoville heat units
- Prairie fire pepper: up to 80,000
- Thai hot ornamental pepper: 100,000 Scoville heat units
Ornamental peppers can be unknown quantities so handle them with care
The heat of these peppers is their primary contribution to taste, meaning you need to be careful when growing these peppers around children and animals who may get a very nasty surprise if they taste them.
Like most peppers, ornamental pepper varieties should not be consumed on their own ideally, but be eaten with caution.
The level of heat produced by individual plants can be unpredictable. The fiery taste is due to the presence of capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers. Concentrations of this capsaicin can build up and make plants hotter than expected.
What varieties of ornamental peppers can I grow?
- Chilly Chili – These family friendly peppers aren’t particularly hot and come in vivid yellow and red colours. They are long and extend from the tops of plants.
- Black Pearl – Like the name, they are beautiful, round and have a deep midnight purple foliage.
- Aurora Bears – These ripen from various different colours such as green, purple and orange. They give plants that ‘rainbow feel’.
- Bolivian Rainbow – Another beautiful colourful variety that crop very spicy peppers resembling Christmas lights in your yard.
- Sangria – These are beautiful mild variety with a confetti of yellows, whites, oranges, red and purples!
- NuMex Easter – These produce such pretty pastel-like peppers with medium heat if you want to try them.
Put your ornamental cropping pepper plant to good use with this flavourful hot pepper sauce!
This quick and easy recipe is great for enjoying the intensity of ornamental peppers.
Spicy Ornamental Hot Pepper Sauce – great for dipping or if you are REALLY brave, for marinating meats (chicken, beef, fish or lamb would be ideal):
– X4 ornamental peppers
– 1 whole lemon
– White wine vinegar
– Crushed garlic
– A glass bottle
Heat the vinegar for 3 minutes. After heating, let the vinegar cool down. Wearing cooking gloves, chop the peppers finely then add to the glass bottle.
Squeeze a whole lemon in the glass then add the garlic. Add one large tablespoon of ketchup for flavour, then the vinegar and stir. You can keep this condiment in the fridge.
This recipe will go great as an extra dipping sauce, a marinade or add it to rice dishes.
Cultivating ornamental peppers
When growing these delicious peppers, it is important to make sure that they are not planted too early.
In general, you will find that you can only buy plants at garden centres before there is decent enough weather for them to be planted.
Bright and sunny summer days are the perfect weather to start planting your ornamental peppers.
Warmth and sunlight are an ornamental peppers best friend
Ornamental peppers prefer to be sitting in a position where they can enjoy 7-8 hours of sunlight a day. Ensure that where you decide to plant your peppers, that you provide at least an inch of water a week.
The ambient temperature should be around 23 degrees Celsius (73.4 degrees Fahrenheit) compatible with the climate in May to August in the UK (USDA zone 9).
Decent soils give you a long cropping season with a vibrant display
Make sure that the soil used is loamy and rich, which will encourage vigorous growth. If you are growing peppers in a pot, an all purpose potting mix is ideal.
These plants appreciate great drainage.
Now you have learned the spicy secrets of these beautiful peppers. They are a beautiful addition to any garden and can add some authentic heat to your plate.
Choose to plant and enjoy the ornamental pepper varieties you can handle!