Ah ... refreshing cool mint on a hot summer day. The rich aroma of peppermint wafting through the air is clean and invigorating. Peppermint is enjoyed throughout the world as a refreshing tea and, being the strongest of the mint family, it is easily recognized and loved for its potent flavor.
Peppermint was a part of the festivities for the ancient Greeks and Romans who would adorn themselves with peppermint crowns at feasts. It was used for flavoring in sauces and wine and for medicinal purposes. The early Egyptians cultivated peppermint and it is mentioned in the Icelandic pharmacopoeias of the thirteenth century. Although peppermint is grown all over the world, much of today’s peppermint and peppermint oil come from the US.
Peppermint’s healing properties are numerous for any season. Peppermint helps with dizziness and may prevent seasickness but is more commonly used for digestion, including soothing the stomach after a big meal. The menthol oil stimulates digestive enzymes, thereby assisting both the stomach and intestines. Peppermint has a carminative action which induces the expulsion of gas from the gastrointestinal tract. It tones the musculature of the intestines and initiates peristalsis. This makes peppermint valuable for diarrhea, dysentery, gas, vomiting and nausea. Try peppermint as an after dinner tea to aid with digestion and to refresh the palate.
Peppermint is a powerful antispasmodic and aids in relieving pain from the alimentary canal. A recipe for abdominal pain indicates boiling peppermint in milk and drinking while still hot. As a strong local anesthetic, peppermint is used topically for headaches, pains, muscular aches and rheumatism. Other topical applications include scratches, itching, bug bites, burns, shingles and ringworm. (Apply fresh bruised leaves or oil to the area.) In addition to peppermint being an anesthetic, it is also a powerful antiseptic which makes it excellent for toothaches.
Known for its diaphoretic qualities, peppermint raises internal heat to induce perspiration, thus cooling the body. The cooling action is a wonderful relief for those hot summer days and, more importantly, for relieving colds. The heating and cooling combination works well for both chills and fevers associated with colds. Inhalation of peppermint vapors is great for tough colds, laryngitis and chest complaints, such as bronchitis. Both the tea and inhalation help with stuffed up heads and dry coughs. (To make a peppermint vapor, add 5 to 10 drops of peppermint oil to 2 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Take the pot off the stove and cover your head with a large towel while leaning over the pot.)
Traditionally, peppermint tea has even been used for heart palpitations and is considered a vascular stimulant. It has been found to be useful for hysteria and nervous disorders, especially with the addition of wood betony in equal parts. For insomnia try 1 ounce peppermint herb, 1/2 ounce rue herb and 1/2 ounce wood betony. Steep 1 tablespoon in a tea cup for 20 minutes, strain, sweeten if desired and drink before going to bed.
Peppermint truly is a versatile herb which can be used any time of the year. With its refreshing taste and aroma, it is easy to take advantage of its numerous healing properties. Enjoy!
- Grieve, M. A Modern Herbal Vol. II. Dover Publications, 1982
- Millspaugh, C. American Medicinal Plants. Dover Publications, 1974.
- Hall, D. The Herb Tea Book, Keats Publishing, 1981.
- Santillo, H. Natural Healing With Herbs. Hohm Press, 1990.
From Summer 1996 Herbal Insights.
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