Peppermint is thought to have originated in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean. In the Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian medical text dating to 1550 BC, mint is listed as calming to stomach pains. Mint was so valued in Egypt that it was used as a form of currency. In the Bible Jesus tells the Pharisees:
“Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.” (Luke 11:42)
Peppermint comes from the mint plant (there are about 25 different species of mint), and is actually a natural hybrid cross between water mint and spearmint. It is a perennial plant growing to 30–90 cm (12–35 in) tall, with smooth stems. The leaves are from 4–9 cm (1.6–3.5 in) long and 1.5–4 cm (0.59–1.57 in) broad, dark green with reddish veins. The leaves and stems are usually slightly fuzzy. And the flowers are purple. Peppermint is a fast-growing plant; once it sprouts, it spreads very quickly and it generally grows best in moist, shaded locations, and expands by underground rhizomes.
Peppermint is a good source of manganese, copper, and vitamin C.
For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Peppermint
Why adding peppermint to your natural medicine chest is a great idea. Let’s take a look:
Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever) – Extracts from peppermint leaves may inhibit histamine release, which suggests it may help alleviate hay fever symptoms.
Asthma – Peppermint contains rosmarinic acid (also found in rosemary), which may help to reduce inflammation-causing chemicals in people with asthma.
Colonic Spasm and Gas – Peppermint oil is an effective alternative to drugs for reducing colonic spasms. It may also relax the muscles of your intestines, allowing gas to pass and easing abdominal pain. Try peppermint oil or leaves added to tea for gas relief.
Dental Cavities and Bad Breath – Peppermint oil extract has been shown to be a superior mouthwash then the commercial kind in inhibiting the formation of biofilm formations linked to dental cavities. Powdered peppermint leaves have also been used historically to freshen breath and whiten teeth; you can even add a drop or two directly to your toothpaste.
Hair and Skin – Try blending peppermint oil into your shampoo, body-wash or body lotion. It has antiseptic and antibacterial properties that can help cool your skin and remove dandruff (and lice) from your scalp.
Headache – Peppermint oil may help relieve tension headache pain. For headache pain, try dabbing a few drops on your wrist or sprinkling a few drops on a cloth, then inhaling the aroma. You can also massage the oil directly onto your temples and forehead.
Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1 – Peppermint has been shown to help inhibit drug-resistant herpes simplex virus type 1.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – Peppermint oil capsules have been described as “the first choice medicine” in IBS patients, as it safely helps alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. Research has shown that it is effective in children and adults alike.
Memory Problems – The aroma of peppermint has been shown to enhance memory and increase alertness.
Muscle Pain – Peppermint may help to relieve muscle spasms and pain. Try massaging its essential oil onto sore muscles or adding it to your bath water for muscle pain relief.
Respiratory Benefits – Peppermint oil acts as an expectorant and decongestant, and may help clear your respiratory tract. Use peppermint essential oil as a rub on your chest or inhale it through a vaporizer to help clear nasal congestion and relieve cough and cold symptoms.
Stress – Peppermint oil is cooling and energizing. Add a few drops to your bath, or dap a few drops directly on your body then get into the tub, for near-instant stress relief. You can also put the oil into a diffuser for a stress-relieving aroma.
Upset Stomach and Indigestion – If you have an upset stomach, try drinking a small glass of water with a few drops of peppermint oil added.
Deter Mice – Place cotton balls with peppermint in areas around your home where mice like to congregate. Mice do not like peppermint (and by the way, neither do raccoons).
Repel Spiders and Ants – Place peppermint oil on a cotton ball and place in areas where you find spiders and ants. Better yet, make a peppermint bug spray. Add 4-5 drops of peppermint essential oil to water in a spray bottle. This also works to get rid of aphids in the garden.
Tick Removal – Soak some peppermint oil on a Q-tip then dab on the tick. Wait for the tick to withdraw its head and then remove it.
SELECTION AND STORAGE
Fresh and dried peppermint leaves are available in the market year around. Whenever possible, buy fresh mint over the dried form since it is superior in flavor and rich in phyto-nutrients, vital vitamins and anti-oxidants. Fresh mint should feature vibrant green color leaves, and firm stems. They should be free from molds, dark spots, or yellow discoloration.
Just as with other dried herbs, whenever you purchase dried mint, try to buy one that is grown under organic cultivation since this will ensure you that it is free from pesticide residues and has not been irradiated.
Fresh mint leaves should be stored inside the refrigerator. Wrap it in a slightly dampened paper towel and place it in a plastic bag. Dried mint can be kept fresh for few months when stored in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark, and dry place.
HOW TO ENJOY
Peppermint should be washed thoroughly in the water in order to remove sand, and dirt and to rid off any residual pesticides. In order to keep the fragrance and aromatic flavor intact, mint is generally used just before preparing recipes.
Mint leaves used extensively in the preparation of herbal tea.
As a flavoring base in ice cream and other confectionery.
Along with parsley and coriander leaves, mint leaves can be used as a garnish.
Mint has also been used in the preparation of chutney, soups, and sauces.
Freshly chopped mint leaves can be a great addition to green salad.
- Edris AE, Farrag ES. Antifungal activity of peppermint and sweet basil essential oils and their major aroma constituents on some plant pathogenic fungi from the vapor phase. Nahrung 2003 Apr; 47(2):117-21. 2003.
- Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986. 1986. PMID:15210.
- Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York. 1996.
- Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988. 1988. PMID:15220.