Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is an exceptional component in a natural tool chest. As to its botanical lineage, there are about 25 different species of mint: Peppermint is actually a naturally occurring hybrid between water mint and spearmint. Indigenous to Europe, peppermint is now spread throughout the world, to the point that it is considered invasive in Australia, the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, and parts of the US. It typically grows in moist habitats like alongside streams and in drainage ditches.
Long associated with winter (candy canes and peppermints), this medicinal herb has a host of healing properties and has been used that way since ancient times. Dried peppermint leaves have even been found in several Egyptian pyramids—carbon dating places them around 1000 BC. If it worked for Pharaoh, you may want to give it a try too.
What’s it good for?
Peppermint helps alleviate many stomach and bowel problems, tuberculosis, hay fever, shingles pain (topical application), memory problems (aroma), and nausea. It protects against radiation exposure, treats herpes, helps prevent cavities and bad breath, and is a decongestant. Added to a bath it can also help reduce muscle pain. Apply it to your skin and scalp: Its antiseptic and antibacterial properties will cool your skin and kill dandruff and lice.
How do I take it?
There are many ways to take peppermint. You can get peppermint oil capsules, add peppermint oil to tea or water, add fresh peppermint leaves to cold water, or drink peppermint tea. (Check out the peppermint tea from Traditional Medicinals and Tazo—both are quite good.) If you suffer from insomnia, try a cup of peppermint tea right before bed: A naturally caffeine-free tea, it has been shown to be effective in treating sleep deprivation.
You can add the fresh leaves to soups, fruit salads, lettuce salads, or anything else you think it might complement. Fresh leaves will have a superior flavor to dry leaves for cooking purposes, and fresh mint leaves also make fantastic tea.
Aroma of mint
The aromatic properties of mint have been prized for millennia. In areas where mint grows in abundance, people have rubbed it on their dining tables, spread it on the floor, burned it for incense, added it to their baths, and (of course) served it in their tea.
Grow your own
Mint is hardy and easy to grow. It will grow well inside in a large pot that gets moderate sun. Keep the soil moist and you can enjoy its benefits all year round. If you plant it outdoors in the spring be careful—its runners can take over an open space.