Peppermint

Peppermint is popularly added to foods and beverages for a reason: the herb has exceptional nutritional and medicinal value, treating headaches, sore throats, indigestion, and more

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)Peppermint
  • Scientific nameMentha x piperita
  • Geographic distributionEurope, Northamerica
  • Plant typeHerb
  • Native regionEurope
  • Main producer(s)United States of America
  • Main Economic UseFood industry
Peppermint

When first described by Carl Linnaeus in 1753, peppermint was thought to be a distinct, indigenous plant native to Europe at large. It was later discovered that the herb is a naturally-occurring hybrid that results from spearmint and watermint, and it can be found wherever its parent species grow together. This herb is valued for its extensive culinary and medicinal applications.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAntimicrobial, Antispasmodic
  • Key constituentsMenthol
  • Ways to useCapsules, Hot infusions/tisanes, Liquid extracts, Food, Freshly ground, Powder, Essential oil
  • Medicinal rating(3) Reasonably useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Peppermint

Throughout its long history, peppermint has been used many ways thanks to its antispasmodic and antimicrobial properties. Peppermint is traditionally used for:

  • Treating certain infections. Peppermint antimicrobial action inhibits the growth of virus, bacteria and fungus.
  • Reducing spasms. Menthol is thought to relax the body, relieving muscle spasms and tension.

Peppermint is also commonly used for:

  • Treating IBS and other stomach issues. Peppermint relaxes gastrointestinal issues, calming irritable bowels.
  • Relieving oral pain. Menthol in peppermint reacts with cold receptors in the mouth, cooling it and relieving pain.
  • Soothing itchy skin. Similar to relieving oral pain, menthol can stimulate cooling in the body, which can relieve pain and itch.

Although peppermint is not particularly known for having substantial micronutrient levels, its leaves contain small amounts of calcium and potassium, as well as vitamins A (retinol) and C (ascorbic acid).

How It Works

The main compound in peppermint is menthol, which comprises about 30 - 40% of the plant's essential oil and interacts with cold receptors in the body, providing a "fresh" feel.

Its menthone and rosmarinic acid content are also thought to be therapeutic, in addition to its several flavonoids. All these compounds are thought to be responsible for the antispasmodic and antibacterial properties of peppermint.

PEPPERMINT OIL RELAXES GASTROINTESTINAL TISSUE, RELIEVING INFLAMMATION AND IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME (IBS).

Peppermint Side Effects

For most people, ingesting fresh peppermint or using its essential oil is generally regarded as safe. However, it can occasionally cause some adverse reactions, including heartburn, headaches, and mouth sores.

Cautions

Peppermint consumption should be avoided if a person is suffering from diarrhea or other digestive conditions that involve insufficient hydrochloric acid production.

How to Consume Peppermint

Quick Facts (How to Consume)
  • Edible partsLeaves
  • Edible usesFlavoring, Sweetener
  • TasteSweet, Pungent

Eating more peppermint is a quick and simple way to treat, manage, and prevent many health worries. However, to make the best of its benefits, it is recommendable to consume it in medicinal forms.

Remedies

Main preparations: capsules, essential oil, infusion

  • Peppermint capsules
    Peppermint capsules offer a high content of menthol and methyl salicylate. They are usually recommended for IBS pain and spams. Its active components relax stomach muscles and sooth the intestinal tract.
  • Peppermint essential oil
    This formulation can be rubbed on temples, forehead, back of the neck, and over sinuses to relieve pressure and headaches. It can also be dropped in small amounts into a cup of tea to help digestion, as well as to relieve constipation, fever and infections. Peppermint oil can also be directly apply to treat skin lesions, such as cold sores and acne.
  • Peppermint infusion
    Peppermint leaves can be easily found fresh, as well as dried and in the form of tea bags. It is usually drank as a hot infusion to reap its digestive and antispasmodic benefits.

Foods

Main ways: Fresh, crushed, liquid extract

Peppermint is very popular in the kitchen, where its leaves are used both as a garnish and as an ingredient in lemonade, desserts, savory stews, and much more. Its liquid extract is a common baking essential, particularly in Western cultures, where peppermint goods are often associated with the holidays. Although it is used mostly for flavoring, peppermint culinary applications also bring its antispasmodic and mouth refreshing benefits.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySupermarkets, Big online retailers, Specialized health stores, Online herb stores

Fresh or dried peppermint leaves, as well as peppermint extract, can be found in most grocery stores and supermarkets throughout the year, though in certain regions, fresh varieties may be in easier to find in mid to late summer, when the plant's flowers are in bloom and the leaves are ripe for picking. Peppermint oil is a little harder to find, but many specialized health stores carry it.

Peppermint supplements, in tablet and oil forms, can be found in many health stores as well as through online retailers. They contain the same kinds of nutrients as the herb itself, but it's worth noting these supplements are neither regulated nor approved by the FDA; rather, they are regarded as dietary supplements. Different brands contain different concentrations, so it's important to read instruction labels before ingestion.

Fresh or dried peppermint leaves, as well as peppermint extract, can be found in most grocery stores and supermarkets.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cycleAnnual
  • Harvested partsLeaves
  • Light requirementsFull sun, Partial shade
  • SoilMedium (loam), Well-drained
  • Soil pH5.6 – 6.0 (Moderately acidic), 6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
  • Growing habitatCool temperate regions, Temperate climates, Humid regions
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones4a (From −34.4 °C (−30 °F) to −31.7 °C (−25 °F)), 4b (From −31.7 °C (−25 °F) to −28.9 °C (−20 °F)), 5a (From −28.9 °C (−20 °F) to −26.1 °C (−15 °F)), 5b (From −26.1 °C (−15 °F) to −23.3 °C (−10 °F)), 6a (From −23.3 °C (−10 °F) to −20.6 °C (−5 °F)), 6b (From −20.6 °C (−5 °F) to −17.8 °C (0 °F)), 7a (From −17.8 °C (0 °F) to −15 °C (5 °F)), 7b (From −15 °C (5 °F) to −12.2 °C (10 °F)), 8a (From −12.2 °C (10 °F) to −9.4 °C (15 °F)), 8b (From −9.4 °C (15 °F) to −6.7 °C (20 °F)), 9a (From −6.7 °C (20 °F) to −3.9 °C (25 °F)), 9b (From −3.9 °C (25 °F) to −1.1 °C (30 °F))
  • Propagation techniquesCuttings, Divisions
  • Potential insect pestsMites, Nematodes
  • Potential diseasesVerticillium wilt

Peppermint is native to Europe, but it is widely cultivated in North America, where it is found in damp areas, from Nova Scotia to Minnesota, and south to Florida, and Tennessee. With a resilient root system and flexible sunlight requirements, peppermint is a favorite among gardeners for its easy cultivation. Its showy and fragrant flowers attract bees and butterflies.

Growing Guidelines

  • Peppermint grows best in well-drained, fertile, loamy soils in full sun to partial shade. Soil pH should be kept within the range of 5.5 - 7.0.
  • It is often grown in containers to prevent rapid spreading, but when grown in the ground, plants should be placed about 20 inches (50 cm) apart.
  • This perennial grows best when it receives its requisite one inch (2.5 cm) of water a week for proper development.
  • It needs a light mulch to retain moisture and keep leaves clean.
  • Peppermint doesn't bear seeds. To propagate, the plant commonly spreads from its rhizomous roots, which can form new shoots if separated from the main stem.
  • Harvesting is best from mid to late summer, or when temperatures hover between 60 - 80°F (16 - 26°C).
  • The stem should be cut about one inch (2.5 cm) from the ground just before the plant flowers. Peppermint can be harvested two to three times in a single growing season.
  • As well as other mints, a number of diseases can affect peppermint, and insects, weeds, and nematodes also can cause problems.

Additional Information

Plant Biology

Peppermint is a small perennial, 3 - 4 feet (91 - 122 cm) high. The square stems are usually reddish - purple and smooth, erect and branching. The leaves are from one to two inches (30 -61 cm) long, about half as wide, pointed, and with sharply toothed margins.

Peppermint flowers are purple - pinkish and appear in the summer months, from July to September. The small purplish blossoms are placed in circles around the stem, forming thick, blunt spikes. Herbaceous and rhizomatous, its fleshy roots spread widely.

  • Classification
    Peppermint, scientifically called Mentha piperita, is merely one of approximately 7,000 fellow species of the Lamiaceae or mint family, which is known for being composed mainly of aromatic flowering shrubs. It is fast-growing and quick-spreading, similar to other varieties of mint.
  • Varieties and subspecies of peppermint
    Peppermint (M. piperita) is thought to be a natural hybrid between spearmint (M. spicata) and water mint (M. aquatica). This plant is generally sterile and produces no seeds - therefore, no known subspecies exist. Despite its stunted reproduction, vegetative growth has been so effective that it is now considered an invasive species in Australia, New Zealand, the Galapagos Islands, and the U.S.

Historical Information

Archaeological research has been able to document the human use of peppermint as far back as 1,000 BCE, since dried leaves of this plant have been found in Egyptian pyramids from the same era. Peppermint's Latin name, Mentha piperita, comes from the Greek Mintha, the name of a nymph thought to have metamorphosed into the plant, and the Latin piper, meaning pepper.

Roman society was fond of the peppermint, choosing to cultivate it for both ornamental and medicinal purposes. Thanks to its easy adaptability to different climates, it started spreading throughout Europe first, was then brought East with the spice trade routes, and later traveled to North America with British settlers in early colonial times.

Economic Data

Peppermint is currently one of the most economically important aromatic and medicinal crops produced in the U.S., which is currently the world largest producer. The state of Oregon alone generates roughly 2.1 million pounds of the herb worth $48 million USD annually. The leaves and oil alike are used in both herbal medicine and food products. Parts of southern Europe and central Asia also produce peppermint, though their markets are smaller.

Other Uses of Peppermint

  • For toothpaste. Thanks to a fresh scent that leaves the mouth feeling clean, peppermint is one of the most popular flavors of toothpaste available.
  • For flavoring medications. Some pharmaceutical drugs that don't use peppermint as an active ingredient sometimes employ its flavor to make the taste more palatable to consumers.
  • For insect repellents. Peppermint is a natural mosquito repellent and its active ingredients can be found in many commercial repellents.
  • For perfumes and cosmetics. Peppermint essential oil is integrated as a fragrance into soaps and cosmetics.

Bibliography