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Herb profiles: Peppermint

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Used in everything from candy to toothpaste to natural pesticides, peppermint contains a host of compounds that benefit human health in a number of different ways.

Health Benefits of Peppermint

The peppermint plant is actually a wild hybrid cross between the watermint and the spearmint plant. Although indigenous to Mediterranean regions, peppermint has spread to every region of the globe. Peppermint can be found growing wild in moist, low-lying areas. Its fast-growing, spreading habit is so prolific that it is considered to be an invasive weed by many. However, the lowly peppermint plant contains a great deal of nutritional value.

For starters, fresh peppermint contains high concentrations of vitamins A and C. In addition, peppermint is a rich source of several minerals including calcium copper, iron, potassium, and selenium.

Peppermint has a soothing, calming effect on body tissues. Therefore, it is used to treat stress-related stomach conditions and to ease the aches, pains, and discomfort associated with flu symptoms. The high concentrations of menthol in peppermint help break up phlegm and provide relief from upper respiratory irritation. It is also a common ingredient used in topical chest rubs.

The research on the compounds contained in peppermint reaches further than colds and the flu. In fact, a compound in peppermint – perillyl alcohol – has been isolated and found to stop the growth of pancreatic and liver tumors in animal subjects. More research is being done to see if the same results can be produced in humans.

Preparing Peppermint

Peppermint tea is a wonderful way to incorporate the health benefits of the peppermint plant. Simply wash about one quarter cup of fresh leaves and crush them slightly to release their oil. Cover with boiling water and let steep for a few minutes. Strain the leaves. Add honey and lemon, if desired. Drink peppermint tea hot or cold. As an alternative, peppermint leaves can be added to green salads, fish and chicken dishes, and vegetable dishes.

Peppermint is far more than an after dinner breath-freshener. It has many known health benefits and with further research, more benefits are sure to be revealed.

References: Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.

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