Step aside, pilea - a new plant is making its way to plant-filled homes across the world. Despite its name bearing certain similarities, the plant in question - peperomia argyreia aka watermelon - has more in common to actual pepper than to one of our fave houseplants. And there are some striking traditional uses to be found, too.
About a thousand species of Peperomias have been described, mainly from tropical South America although a few can be found in Africa as well. The name of the genus (Piperaceae) comes from the Greek words "peperi" meaning pepper and "homoios" meaning resembling. The plants resemble, and are closely related to, true black pepper.
Peperomia argyreia aka watermelon is popular mainly because of its attractive foliage but does not have medicinal use itself. But it's really easy to maintain, prefers partial shade and watering is recommended once per week (roots tend to rot when overwatered).
As for traditional uses, the Peperomia genus contains several species from South America which are known for their medicinal properties. A Brazilian indigenous community, the Yanomami, uses the leaves of P. macrotachya and P. rotundifolia to treat cough and fever.
Another important species is P. obtusifolia used in several South American cultures. In the Guianas, it has been used traditionally to treat malaria and arthritis. The Wayapi in French Guiana crush the aerial parts into tampons on hypertrophied lesions caused by malaria. The Kubeo Indians of Columbia use the crushed leaves over painful arthritic joints. Its succulent leaves are also used as antiscorbutic, ie. preventing and curing scurvy. Interestingly enough, it has also been reported that in Africa, peperomias have been used traditionally for urinary problems and to lower high cholesterol.
So basically, getting a peperomia watermelon won't help you treat all those ailments, but at least it will help you realize how individual plants differ within one genus, and how amazing the world of plants really is.