You may have noticed that almost all non-prescription preparations that claim to help indigestion are mint flavored. And this is not just because mint has a nice taste. Mint is one of the oldest known treatments for indigestion and its inclusion in medicines is due to the plant’s ability to settle the stomach.
Originally native to the Mediterranean region, peppermint, which is a cross between water mint and spearmint, is one of the oldest cultivated herbs and was used for culinary as well as healing purposes by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It would seem that poor eating habits have been a problem throughout all of human history!
The ancient Romans carried it with them wherever they colonized; (presumably the relief it offered was much needed at the end of an orgy!) To this day, the Arabs brew it into tea and chop it into salads, the Asian Indians include it in chutney recipes, the British make its juice into jellies to be served with heavy meat dishes, and the Germans concoct it into schnapps as an after-dinner drink. In all these cases, the motive for including mint in the diet is to improve digestion and avoid indigestion.
As with any dark green leafy plant the peppermint offers a wide range of nutrients that make it an excellent food source. Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, Vitamin B2, Vitamin C, manganese, folate, iron, magnesium and calcium. Unfortunately you do not normally consume a sufficient quantity to be able to classify this as a superfood. However, if you add the nutrients in the leaves to an already balanced diet, it will certainly add to the pot of essential and varied nutrients you need each day.
Peppermint improves digestion in general but is great for stomach and colon cramps as the menthol in the herb has a muscle relaxing action and IBS sufferers often find it reduces symptoms. A cup of peppermint tea after a meal is much better for your digestion than a cup of coffee.
The oil mixed with a lotion or light skin oil, rubbed on the forehead can relieve headaches and is cooling when massaged into sore muscles.
As a forerunner of our modern gum, the leaves were chewed to prevent bad breath which was essential before toothpaste and flossing. You can also put a drop on your toothbrush instead of toothpaste from time to time and it will leave your mouth feeling fresh and clean for ages.
Peppermint oil usually comes in small capsules or in a liquid tincture. The tea also comes with some variations, one of my favourites being Green Tea and Peppermint. One word of warning when using the oil. It is very strong and usually just one drop is sufficient.
Other health benefits
Studies have indicated that the oil produced from the leaves could provide protection from cancer and also inhibit the growth of certain tumours in the breasts, pancreas and liver. I am not a keen fan of using data from animal studies since they are not as contaminated as we humans are with our modern lifestyles. But peppermint has been used for thousands of years by healers and it would not have maintained its reputation as an effective remedy if it had been a false claim.
Peppermint oil is highly antibacterial and it also inhibits the growth of other potentially dangerous bacteria such as H.Pylori (Helicobacter pylori), the bacteria that causes peptic ulcers; Salmonella, E.Coli 0157:H7 and MRSA.
If you have a cold or flu there is nothing better than a little peppermint oil sprinkled on a tissue, or rubbed on your chest, to help you breathe better.
Also rubbed into the palms of your hands before you grab the handle of the shopping trolley may help prevent you getting a cold passed on from the previous shoppers.
For asthmatics the rosmarinic acid in the oil acts as an anti-inflammatory and also encourages cells to produce substances called prostacyclins, which keep the airways open.
Using Mint in cooking.
Apart from its medicinal uses and nutritional properties, mint is a wonderful herb to use in cooking. Make a home-made sauce or jelly and enjoy two or three times a week along with a cup of peppermint tea after your dinner. It can be chopped up in salads and in soups to add a fresh flavour.
Peppermint is one of the easiest of herbs to grow either in a pot or in the garden and in fact can take over if not careful. Crush the leaves in a pestle and mortar to add flavour to savoury and sweet dishes but I like to eat mint sauce or jelly with most meats, particularly lamb. If you are vegtarian then use mushrooms as an alternative, particularly the shitake variety which very tasty. Mix through some chopped mint leaves and it will put even more zing into the dish.
Quick Mince Sauce.
Grab a good handful of fresh mint leaves
One teaspoon of caster sugar (you can add more but I don’t like it too sweet)
Two tablespoons of red wine vinegar.
75mls of boiling water.
Finely chop the leaves of the mint. Place in a bowl and mix in the caster sugar. Pour over the boiling water to dissolve the sugar and then add the red wine vinegar. Leave to cool and marinate.
It keeps in a jar in the fridge.
You will find the first post in the series – Dandelion in the directory
©sallygeorginacronin Just Food For Health 2009
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