Mentha piperata

Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Mentha
Species:  piperata

Synonyms and Common names: Brandy mint, lamb mint.

Description and Habitat: Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is a sterile hybrid mint, a cross between watermint (Mentha aquatica) and Spearmint (Mentha spicata).  A ‘sterile hybrid’ is a plant with an uneven number of chromosome pairs, it can't produce egg or sperm cells and will not be able to produce viable offspring, however, it is the habit of all mint herbs that they grow and spread prolifically.

There are two main kinds: black peppermint with dark green, purple-flushed foliage and rounded flower spikes; and white peppermint, with bright green leaves and a spearmint-like inflorescence.

Peppermint leaves are around two inches or more in length and around 1 ½ inches wide, they are deeply veined and ribbed on the underside, vibrant green with a powerful peppermint scent from the volatile oils which are present in all aerial parts of the herb. The surface of the leaves is hairy on both sides with the stems growing two to four feet high.

The stems can grow up to four feet tall and are quadrangular, green to purple in colour.   Flowers grow in whorled clusters and are small red/purple in colour, as said above they rarely grow seed.

When tasted the leaves have a ‘hot’ taste on the tongue, which changes to a ‘cool’ taste due to the menthol contained in the whole of the herb.

Peppermint generally thrives in shade and expands quickly by underground rhizomes. If you choose to grow peppermint, it is advisable to plant it in a container, otherwise, it can rapidly take over a whole garden. It needs a good water supply and is ideal for planting in part-sun to shade areas.

Parts used: Leaves and flowering tops

Harvesting: The leaves and flowering tops are collected as soon as the flowers begin to open and they are carefully dried.  Seeds sold at stores labelled peppermint generally will not germinate into true peppermint, but into a particularly poor-scented spearmint plant.  The true peppermint might rarely produce seeds, but only by fertilization from a spearmint plant, and contribute only their own spearmint genes, as is true of female mules that have babies, contributing only their maternal horse genes.

Constituents: The chief constituent of Peppermint oil is Menthol, but it also contains menthyl acetate and isovalerate, together with menthone, cineol, inactive pinene, limonene and other less important bodies.

Actions: Spasmolytic, carminative, choleretic, diaphoretic, aromatic, nervine, antemetic, peripheral vasodilator with a paradoxical cooling effect, cholagogue, bitter. Locally antiseptic, antiparasitic, analgesic and antipruritic.

The local anaesthetic action of Peppermint oil is exceptionally strong. It is also powerfully antiseptic, the two properties making it valuable in the relief of toothache and in the treatment of cavities in the teeth.

Indications: Intestinal colic, flatulent dyspepsia, biliary disorders (refers to diseases affecting the bile ducts, gallbladder and other structures involved in the production and transportation of bile).  The common cold, dysmenorrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome.

Therapeutics and Pharmacology: Specifically indicated in flatulent digestive pains, Mentha has a notable action on the lower bowel. Externally, peppermint oil or menthol is used in pain-relieving balms, massage oils and liniments.

Menthol is cooling and anaesthetic when applied to the skin, increasing blood flow to the area over which it is applied.

It may be used to relieve itching and inflammations.

Inhalations of the herb and oil in boiling water are effective against upper respiratory or bronchial catarrh. Inhaled, it has a drying effect on the mucous membranes and ingested it has a settling effect on the gastric and intestinal mucosa.

It is a useful remedy to increase concentration.

It reduces nausea and is helpful in travel sickness.

It promotes sweating in fevers and influenza.

As a nervine it acts as a tonic, easing anxiety, tension and hysteria. In dysmenorrhoea, it relieves the pain and associated tension.

The pharmacological actions of Mentha are largely due to the volatile oil, which is relaxation. The volatile oil acts as a mild anaesthetic to the mucous membrane of the stomach, relieving nausea and the desire to vomit. It reduces the tone of the cardiac sphincter and relaxes the gastro-oesophageal sphincter, allowing expulsion of air in flatulent dyspepsia. It relieves colonic spasm and bowel irritability. Chronic disease of the pancreas also responds well to peppermint, as do abnormal fermentation processes in the intestine, for example, when the bowel bacteria is abnormal.  Menthol is bactericidal and antiparasitic.  Dissolved in alcohol, it is effective against ringworm and other fungal infestations.  It is also four times as powerful an antiseptic as phenol. The flavonoids contribute to the spasmolytic activity, and flavonoids and phenolic acids to the choleretic activity - it promotes liver and gallbladder function.

Contraindications: Prolonged use of the essential oil as an inhalant should be avoided as Mentha can irritate the mucous membranes.   Do not give any form of mint directly to young babies. It can reduce milk flow, so should be taken with caution during lactation.

Preparation and Dosage:: 3gm as an  Infusion, 3 times a day.

The following simple preparation has been found useful in insomnia:
1 oz. Peppermint herb, cut fine,
1/2 oz. Rue herb,
1/2 oz. Wood Betony.
Mix well and place a large tablespoonful in a teacup, fill with boiling water, stir and cover for twenty minutes, strain and sweeten, and drink the warm infusion on going to bed.

 Boiled in milk and drunk hot, Peppermint herb is good for abdominal pains.

Additional Comments & Folklore: Peppermint is generally regarded as 'the world's oldest medicine', with archaeological evidence placing its use at least as far back as ten thousand years ago.

There are several varieties of Peppermint. The two chiefs, the so-called 'Black' and 'White' mints are the ones extensively cultivated. Botanically there is little difference between them, but the stems and leaves of the 'Black' mint are tinged purplish-brown, while the stems of the 'White' variety are green, and the leaves are more coarsely serrated in the White. The oil furnished by the Black is of inferior quality, but more abundant than that obtained from the White, the yield of oil from which is generally only about four-fifths of that from an equal area of the Black, but it has a more delicate odour and obtains a higher price.

The plant is also more delicate, being easily destroyed by frost or drought; it is principally grown for drying in bundles - technically termed 'bunching,' and is the kind chiefly dried for herbalists, the Black variety being more generally grown for the oil on account of its greater productivity and hardiness.

There are at least thirty species of mint. Peppermint is a popular flavouring for confectionery and liqueurs, as well as for toothpaste, mouthwashes and medicines. Mentha arvensis is prescribed in Chinese medicine for colds, headaches, sore throats and conjunctivitis. Rats dislike the scent of peppermint. According to Pliny, the Greeks and Romans crowned themselves with peppermint leaves during feasts and used it as a culinary flavouring.

The genus name Mentha comes from Minthe, a nymph in Greek mythology beloved by Hades, who was transformed into the mint plant by his jealous wife Persephone.

Pliny describes peppermint as a common head wreath, table decoration, and flavouring agent for wines and sauces at Greek and Roman feasts. There is evidence of peppermint cultivation by the Egyptians, and it is mentioned in 13th-century Icelandic pharmacopoeias’, although it did not come into general medical use until the 18th-century in England. Mint was a popular medieval flavouring for whiskey in Scotland.

Peppermint has been valued as a symbol of wisdom and virtue. Peppermint has also been valued as a ‘magical’ plant for passion and love, using the power of the goddess Venus.

In English folklore finding a flowering mint plant on Midsummer’s day brought eternal happiness.

In French folklore carrying a bouquet of mint and St. John’s wort protected against wicked spirits.

In Italian folklore using peppermint helped protect children from evil spells.

An old belief concerning the power of the peppermint leaves says that if leaves are burned or rubbed up on household items and the corners of the home’s walls, it will clear them of negative energies and protect from evil forces.