Peppermint is a low lying herbaceous, rhizomonous perennial plant in the Lamiaceae family that is cultivated worldwide but originally indigenous to Europe. There are many varieties of peppermint available due to its easy cross-breeding, all with similar medicinal properties. Peppermint itself is a hybrid mint, being a cross between watermint and spearmint. Being a hybrid, it is often sterile, and rarely produces seeds, but grows quickly and easily by rhizome. The stems are smooth and square when cut as a cross section, and the rhizomonous roots are fleshy and spread very fast and easily with a tendency to overtake a garden, making it a good candidate for a container. It grows best in moist, shadier areas, and is often found growing besides streams and drainage ditches. The opposite ovate to lanceolate leaves are typically dark green with reddish brown veins, margins ranging from smooth to coarsely toothed. The summer blooming purple flowers have four-lobed corollas and grow in a whorl around the stem in blunt spikes. The leaves are typically collected before the flowers open, but can also be harvested year round. The entire plant is very aromatic, and the flowers are good food plants for honeybees.
Peppermint is a carminative, anti-spasmodic, aromatic, diaphoretic, anti-emetic, nervine, and analgesic. It’s shown to also have anti-viral, anti-parasitic, and anti-septic properties, helping to heal wounds, stomach parasites and ulcers. Peppermint’s volatile oil, menthol, has relaxing effects on the visceral muscles and stimulate bile and digestive juice excretion, making it one of the best carminative herbs available. It can reduce flatulence, poor digestion, intestinal cramps, and help with intestinal colic; it’s gentle properties and delicious flavor also make it suitable for children. The volatile oil also acts as a mild anesthetic on the intestinal walls, aiding with nausea and vomiting; similarly it can help ease nausea associated with morning and motion sickness. Menthol oil is also shown to help sooth coughs and bronchitis as well as congestion. It can help induce sweating, while promoting a cooling feeling, making it a great herb for fevers. Peppermint can ease insomnia, nervous headaches, anxiety, migraines, In aromatherapy, peppermint oil is invigorating, calming, and promotes mental alertness and concentration. Externally the oil is cooling and can be added to baths, salves or other products to refresh the skin, or cool and sooth itching skin. It is considered a stimulating yet cooling herb, and in Aryuvedic tradition clarifying, expanding, and a harmonizing herb in blends.
In Greek mythology, Pluto, the god of the underworld, fell in love with the nymph Minthe. When Persephone, Pluto’s goddess wife, found out, she transformed her in a fit of rage into a small, low lying plant. Pluto could not restore Minthe to her original form, so he bestowed a fragrant aroma upon her, and thus became the mint plant. Peppermint is a common flavoring ingredient in toothpaste, candies, liquors, mints, soaps, shampoos, mouthwashes, chewing gum, teas, and desserts worldwide. It’s been used for thousands of years in China, India, Greece, and Europe to promote digestion and treat stomach upset, pain, wounds, coughs, and headaches. It’s a popular sweet tea in the alcohol-free Middle East as well as in Northern Africa, an refreshing addition to fruit and vegetable salads especially in South East Asia, and can be found in medicinal, cosmetic, and culinary forms around the world.
One heaping teaspoon (or to taste) of the dried herb per cup of water, infused for 10 minutes, taken as often as needed, or a tincture of 1-2 ml three times daily. For colds and fevers, it combines well with boneset, elder, and yarrow. Do not ingest pure menthol oil, as it can be fatal.
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