Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a branching perennial herb of Mediterranean origin. It is actually a natural hybrid between watermint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). In addition to peppermint and spearmint, other plants in the Mentha genus include apple mint, orange mint, watermint, curly mint, and Corsican mint. Mint belongs to the family of Lamiaceae, along with basil, beebalm, giant hyssop, ground ivy, lavender, marjoram, oregano, perilla, rosemary, sage, savory, skullcap, thyme, and wild bergamot. The family also (surprisingly) includes chia, and (even more surprisingly) coleus and teak.
Mint was named after the mythological Greek nymph Minthes, who got involved in a love triangle with Pluto, the god of the underworld. Proserpine, Pluto’s wife, turned Minthes into an herb that would be forever trampled under people’s feet. To keep people treading on her forever, Proserpine gave Minthes a fresh fragrance.
Mint has been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 1000 BC and has been part of Chinese medicine even longer. The early Romans believed eating mint would increase intelligence. Biblical references to mint suggest it was of such high value as to be used as tithes by the Pharisees along with anise and cumin. (Matthew xxiii, 23)
Mint was introduced to England by the Romans. The scent of mint was supposed to stop people from losing their tempers, and royal ambassadors carried mint sprigs in their pockets. It was also used to sweeten the smell of medieval buildings. In the 14th century, early versions of mint toothpaste were used for whitening teeth. Mint is mentioned by John Gardiner in Feate of Gardening in 1440. Feate is perhaps the earliest horticultural work in the English language and was written in verse.
William Turner (1508 – 1568), who was known as the Father of British Botany, believed that mint was good for ‘ye stomack’ and was pleasant in sauces. John Gerarde (1545 – 1611/12) wrote that mint’s “smelle rejoyceth the heart of man.” Nicholas Culpeper (1616 – 1654), a physician-astrologer who fought in the English Civil War, used mint to treat over 40 different ailments, but warned that mint should never be given to a wounded man because it will prevent his wound from healing.
Mint has played an important role in the American tradition. While the Native Americans were using mint even before the arrival of the European settlers, the early colonists brought this prized herb with them from Europe because they had long used it for its therapeutic properties, as well as for the delicious hot tea made from its leaves.
Peppermint was first described in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus from specimens that had been collected in England; he treated it as a species, but it is now universally agreed to be a hybrid.
Peppermint is packed with numerous health-benefiting vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. The total antioxidant strength (ORAC score) of fresh peppermint is 13978 µmol TE/100 grams. The leaves contain many essential volatile oils like menthol, menthone, menthol acetate. Peppermint leaves have large amounts of menthol: 40% compared to the 0.5% in spearmint. Besides menthol, other important chemical components of peppermint are α-pinene, β-pinene, carvone, cineole, linalool, limonene, myrcene, and caryophyllene. These compounds in peppermint help relieve fatigue and stress. Perillyl alcohol in peppermint slows the growth of liver and possibly other tumors by interfering with the division of cancer cells, and it induces the cells to self-destruct.
- Relieve digestive troubles: Peppermint oil, perhaps due to its menthol content, can relax smooth muscles around the intestines by blocking calcium channels at cell receptor levels, reducing colon spasms and relieving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including indigestion, and dyspepsia.
- Fight cancer: Perillyl alcohol is a monoterpene phytochemical in peppermint oil that may stop the growth of pancreatic, breast, and liver tumors. It may also protect against cancer formation in your colon, skin, and lungs. In addition, peppermint is an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A, the latter in the form of carotenoids, including beta-carotene. Both vitamin C and beta-carotene may decreasing your risk for colorectal cancer. Vitamin C is the main water-soluble antioxidant your body needs to decrease levels of free radicals that can cause damage to cells, and may reduce your risk for colon cancer. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids may decrease your risks of developing both colon cancer and rectal cancer. Carotenoids also increase cell differentiation and protect your cells against carcinogenic chemicals that could damage DNA. Vitamin A may help to decrease colon cancer risk by preventing excessive colon cell proliferation and tumor formation.
- Fight infection: Peppermint oil also stops the growth of certain types of fungus and many bacteria, including Helicobacter pylori, Salmonella enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
- Relieve breathing problems: Peppermint contains rosmarinic acid, which can relieve symptoms of asthma because it can fight free radicals and inflammation, and promote the production of prostacyclins that keep your airways open for easy breathing. Peppermint extracts can also help relieve the nasal symptoms of colds and allergies. Menthol, menthone, and menthol acetate in peppermint affect cold-sensitive receptors in your mouth, and throat, causing a natural cooling sensation when you inhale it. That’s why mint is often used in cough and cold remedies like syrups, lozenges, and nasal inhalers.
- Kill pain: The menthol in peppermint also affects cold-sensitive receptors in your skin, causing a natural cooling sensation when you apply it to your skin. Menthol is also an analgesic (painkiller), local anesthetic, and counter-irritant. It has been used in the preparation of topical muscle relaxants and analgesics.
- Fight bad breath: Peppermint makes your breath smell fresh, which is why it’s often used in toothpaste and mouthwash, as well as breath mints and gum.
Peppermint is low in calories (about 70 calories per 100 grams) and contains zero cholesterol. Peppermint is high in vitamin A (4248 IUs or 85% of DV), iron (63.5% of DV), vitamin C, manganese, copper, folate, calcium, fiber, riboflavin, and magnesium.
Nutrients in 100 grams of Fresh Peppermint
|vitamin A||4248 IU||85.0%|
|vitamin C||31.8 mg||53.0%|
|vitamin B6||0.129 mg||10.0%|
|pantothenic acid||0.338 mg||6.5%|
Peppermint can be grown in pots or as garden herb. Harvest the leaves just before the flowering stage for culinary uses. The whole plant may be used to distill essential oils.
Fresh peppermint leaves are available all year. Whenever possible, buy fresh mint over the dried form of the herb as it is superior in flavor and richer in nutrients. Choose peppermint leaves that are fresh and bright green with a peppermint scent. Avoid wilted, yellow leaves or stems that have begun to flower. At home, wash the leaves in clean running water, pat dry, and store in a damp towel in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for use within a few days.
Dried peppermint is often used to prepare tea or other drinks. To dry, spread mint leaves on surface and let dry in the shade.
Just as with other dried herbs, whenever you purchase dried mint, try to buy one that is organically grown since this will ensure you that it is free from pesticide residues and has not been irradiated. Store dried peppermint in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark, dry place, where it will keep fresh for about nine to twelve months.
To use peppermint:
- Chop fresh leaves into salad:
- Prepare peppermint sauce by grinding fresh peppermint leaves with soy yogurt, cumin, and little salt
- Use it to flavor frozen deserts, jams, cakes, and jelly
- Brew into peppermint tea to soothe your stomach and your nerves
- Toss cubes of cooked eggplant with chopped peppermint leaves, soy yogurt, garlic, and cayenne
- Add chopped peppermint leaves to gazpacho or other soups that feature tomatoes as the freshness of the mint complements the sweet acidity of tomatoes very well.
- Add a small amount, chopped or ground, to cooked recipes at the last moment in order to retain its flavor and taste.
- Use fresh peppermint as a garnish.
This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.
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