Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Peppermint Is The Spice of Life...

Did you know there are about 25 different species of mint? Peppermint is a natural hybrid cross between watermint and spearmint and it is by far one of my favorite things in life. It’s my favorite mint because it has the boldest flavor, rich and cooling with a subtle hint of pepper, and a powerful note of chlorophyll. Other mints such as spearmint are more subtle and mild tasting, though possibly more ‘cooling’ as well. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved the taste of peppermint. As a kid it was all about peppermint candy, and then as a young adult it became more about peppermint tea. Mint of any kind is not something I generally use much in my cooking unless I’m cooking something Middle Eastern, but I do drink vats of peppermint tea regularly! I have always preferred herbal infusions to actual tea, and peppermint is by far my favorite. Some people use it only when they have an upset stomach, or are feeling nauseous and while I do use it for medicinal purposes as well, I really don’t need any excuse to enjoy a hot, steaming mug of peppermint. I love it’s soothing flavor, it’s refreshing aftertaste, it’s calming properties and of course it’s great for what ails your stomach. Regardless of whether I’m feeling sick or in perfect health I’ll drink peppermint tea any day of the year, sometimes in mass quantity.


Mint is an ancient herb that’s been used since antiquity for it’s culinary, medicinal and aromatic properties. Though it’s now cultivated everywhere Mint’s origins lie in Europe, where it is honored in Greek Myth. As the story goes Mint was originally a nymph named Minthe who was so infatuated with Hades, that she wanted to seduce him. Hades who felt a rather mutual affection for the nymph may have gone for it too if not for his wife Persephone, who quickly intervened and out of jealousy and spite transformed Minthe into a plant. Though Hades was upset, he could not undo the spell, and so instead he decided to impart Minthe with the pungently sweet smell characteristic of mint, so that when she was walked upon in the garden her aroma would be a delight to the senses and she would not be utterly forgotten.

Interestingly it’s because of Mint’s characteristic smell that it’s become one of the more popular perfuming herbs throughout history. All around the world from Europe to India to the Middle East Mint has been used as a strewing herb to clear the air both in temples and in homes. Over the centuries mint has also come to symbolize hospitality, in ancient Greece mint leaves were rubbed over the dining tables to welcome guests, and in the Middle East mint tea is still offered to guests upon arrival. Mint was also commonly used in funerary rites in ancient Greece. It was even used medicinally by Native Americans before the arrival of European Settlers. Some archeological studies have dated it’s use back 10,000 years, which is pretty neat.

Health Benefits 

Peppermint has a long tradition of medicinal use and has been commonly used to soothe upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bloating, indigestion and irritable bowel. An Italian study published in 2007 reported that 75% of patients who took peppermint oil capsuels for four weeks had major reductions in IBS symptoms compared with just 38% of those who just took a placebo. A similar 2010 study conducted in Iran found similar results, and a 2011 study showed that peppermint acts through a specific anti-pain channel called TRPM8 to reduce pain sensing fibers.

Additionally the German Commission E found that peppermint oil as well as peppermint leaf can be used internally as an antispasmodic in the upper gastrointestinal tract and bile ducts to treat IBS, catarrh of the respiratory tract, and inflammation of the oral mucosa. While externally peppermint oil has been used for myalgia and neuralgia. According to the German Commission E, Peppermint oil may also act as a carminative, cholagogue, antibacterial and secretolytic and has a cooling action.

Of course Peppermint may benefit more then just your gastrointestinal tract. Some resent studies have discovered that Perillyl alcohol - a phytonutrient plentiful in peppermint oil - has been shown to stop the growth of pancreatic, mammary, and liver tumors in animal studies. It has also been shown to protect against cancer formation in the colon, skin, and lungs.  However these results have not yet been equally matched by human studies.

Peppermint oil has also been found to be antimicrobial which means it stops the growth of many different kinds of bacteria as well as inhibit the growth of certain types of fungus.

Peppermint contains the substance rosmarinic acid, which has several actions that are beneficial in asthma. Extracts of peppermint have also been shown to help relieve the nasal symptoms of colds related to allergy. Rosmarinic acid also has antioxidant abilities to neutralize free radicals and has been shown to block the productions of pro-inflammatory chemicals.

Some studies have even suggested that the aroma of Peppermint can increase memory and alertness.

On another note studies have also shown Peppermint to be a rich source of traditional nutrients such as manganese, copper, and vitamin C.

Preparation - 

As I’ve said my favorite way to enjoy Peppermint is through a nice mug of tea. However if peppermint tea isn’t your thing you can simply minced the fresh leaves and add them into salads - the flavor of mint works particularly well with grain salads such as tabbouleh. You can use it in soups particularly Vietnamese or Asian soups - like Pho - or Middle Eastern Soups or Tagine’s. You can add it to fruit soups, raw soups, or cold summer soups for a bit of additional flavor and it’s cooling properties. It tastes great minced and mixed with fresh ripe tomatoes in a tomato salad or try it in gazpacho. It’s great tossed with fried or grilled cubes of eggplant, or try it in a homemade non-dairy yogurt sauce. Add it to fruit salad, pair it with fennel and oranges, throw it into smoothies or turn it into a dessert! Mint Chocolate pudding anyone?

However you decide to try it, just try it. Get creative and let me know what kind of combinations you come up with, I’d love to hear all about it.

May your life be rich in spice and as always Happy and Healthy Eating to you!

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