Peppermint has been one of the popular herbs known since antiquity for its distinctive aroma and medicinal value. The herb has a characteristic refreshing cool breeze sensation on taste buds, palate and throat when eaten, and on nasal olfaction glands when inhaled. This unique quality of mint is because of the presence of menthol, an essential oil in its fresh leaves, and stem.
Botanically, the herb belongs to the Lamiaceae family, in the genus; Mentha, and botanically named as Mentha piperita. It is actually a natural hybrid-cross between water-mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (Mentha spicata).
|Mint herb||Mint leaves (close-up)|
Peppermint herb is originally native to Europe, and now-a-days cultivated in almost all the regions of the world. It grows well under shady conditions and feature lance-shaped purple-veined, dark-green leaves with serrated margins and purple color whirly-flowers.
In general, the mint plant is sterile; producing no seeds. However, its growth happens through vegetative reproduction, spreading laterally all along through its underground rhizomes. There exist more than 20 varieties of mint herbs with a wide range of color, fragrance, and flavor.
Mint composes numerous plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have been anti-oxidant, disease-preventing and health promoting properties. Total antioxidant strength (ORAC) of fresh peppermint herb is 13,978 µmol TE/100 g.
The mint herb contains no cholesterol; however, it is rich in essential oils, vitamins and dietary fiber, which helps to control blood cholesterol and blood pressure inside the human body.
The herb parts contain many essential volatile oils like menthol, menthone, menthol acetate. These compounds effect on cold-sensitive receptors in the skin, mouth and throat, the property which is responsible for the natural cooling-sensation that it initiates when inhaled, eaten, or applied on the skin.
The essential oil, menthol also has been analgesic (painkiller), local anesthetic and counter-irritant properties.
Research studies have also been suggested that the compounds in the peppermint relax intestinal wall and sphincter smooth muscles through blocking calcium channels at cell receptor levels. This property of mint has been exploited as an anti-spasmodic agent in the treatment of "irritable bowel syndrome" (IBS) and other colic pain disorders.
Peppermint-herb is an excellent source of minerals like potassium, calcium, iron, manganese and magnesium. 100 g fresh herb provides 569 mg of potassium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper works as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide-dismutase.
Further, it is rich in many antioxidant vitamins, including vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin-C and vitamin E. The leaves of mint also contain many important B-complex vitamins like folates, riboflavin and pyridoxine (vitamin B-6); and the herb is an excellent source of vitamin-K.
Fresh as well as dried peppermint leaves can be available in the market year around. Whenever possible, buy fresh mint over the dried form since it is superior in flavor and rich in phyto-nutrients, vital vitamins and anti-oxidants. Fresh mint should feature vibrant green color leaves, and firm stems. They should be free from molds, dark spots, or yellow discoloration.
Just as with other dried herbs, whenever you purchase dried mint, try to buy one that is grown under organic conditions since this will ensure you that it is free from pesticide residues and free from radiation.
Fresh mint leaves should be stored inside the refrigerator; place in a zip pouch or wrapped in a slightly dampened paper towel. Dried mint can be kept fresh for few months when stored in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark, and dry place.
As mentioned above, essential oils in the peppermint act on cold-sensitive receptors in the skin, mouth and throat; the property that is responsible for the well-known cooling sensation that it provokes when inhaled, eaten, or applied on the skin. This characteristic of mint can be employed in the preparation of cough/cold reliving remedies like syrups, lozenges and nasal inhalers.
Peppermint oil has analgesic, local anesthetic and counter-irritant properties. It has been used in the preparation of topical muscle relaxants, and analgesics.
It is also being used in oral hygiene products and bad-breath remedies like mouthwash, toothpaste, mouth and tongue-spray, and more generally as a food flavor agent; e.g. in chewing-gum, candy.
It is also being used in oral hygiene products and bad-breath remedies like mouthwash, toothpaste, mouth and tongue-spray, and more generally as a food flavor agent; for instance, in chewing gums, candy, etc. (Medical disclaimer).
Peppermint should be washed thoroughly in the water in order to remove sand, and dirt and to rid off any residual pesticides. In order to keep the fragrance and aromatic flavor intact, mint is generally added just before preparing recipes.
Mint leaves used extensively in the preparation of herbal tea, especially in the Middle-Eastern countries.
As a flavoring base in ice cream and other confectionery.
Mint has also been used in the preparation of chutney, soups, and sauces.
Freshly chopped mint leaves can be a great addition to green salad.
Individuals with gastro-esophageal reflex disease (GRD) are advised to limit peppermint use in their diet since the compounds in mint leaves may relaxes smooth muscles in the esophageal wall and sphincters by blocking calcium channels in them, which can aggravate their reflux condition. (Medical disclaimer).
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