Peppermint has been one of the favorite herbs known since antiquity for its distinctive aroma and medicinal value. The herb has a unique, refreshing cool breeze sensation on taste buds, palate and throat when eaten, and on nasal olfaction glands when inhaled. This unique quality of mint herb 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 cross hybrid between the water mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (Mentha spicata).
|Mint herb||Mint leaves (close-up)|
Peppermint herb is originally native to Europe and nowadays cultivated in almost all the regions of the world. It grows well under shady conditions and features 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 many plant-derived chemical compounds that are known to have been antioxidant, 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 refreshing, cooling sensation that it initiates when inhaled, eaten, or applied to 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 work as cofactors for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Further, it is rich in many antioxidant vitamins, including vitamin-A, β- carotene, vitamin-C, and vitamin-E. The leaves of mint also contain many essential 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. Buy fresh mint, whenever possible, since it is superior in flavor and rich in phytonutrients, vital vitamins, and antioxidants than dried mint. Fresh mint should feature vibrant green leaves and firm stems. They should be free from dirt, molds, dark spots, or yellow discoloration.
Just as with other dried herbs, whenever you purchase dried mint, try to buy the one raised in organic farms to ensure that it is free from pesticide residues and 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 cooling perception it elicits when inhaled, eaten, or applied to the skin. This character of mint herb can be availed in the preparations of cough/cold relieving 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 flavoring 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. Mint is generally added at the final stages of preparation to keep the fragrance and aromatic flavor of recipes intact.
Mint leaves used extensively in the preparation of herbal tea, especially in the Middle-Eastern countries.
It also employed as a flavoring base for 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 the green salad.
Individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GRD) are advised to limit peppermint use in their diet since the compounds in mint leaves may relaxe 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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