The versatility of medicinal plants has long been a source of fascination and wonder. Many times, an herb or remedy will get a reputation for curing this or that ailment and suddenly everyone assumes that’s all the plant does. Feel depressed? Take St. John’s Wort. Have a cold? Echinacea. Headache? Feverfew. Most, if not all the time, that’s only one way to work with that plant. It may not even be what the plant does best.
Take Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) for instance. Many people think of Peppermint purely as an herbal beverage tea or as a food flavoring. Something you might find in grandma’s cupboard and yet Peppermint has a whole array of health benefits and medicinal uses. In fact, Peppermint has been considered an important medicinal plant for thousands of years from ancient Egypt to Western Europe and England where it was first grown commercially around the mid-18th century.
It’s difficult for me to think of Peppermint and not conjure up its lively taste. That sharply pungent yet cooling flavor is due to the very high menthol content. Higher, in fact, than its cousin Spearmint. It’s the high menthol content in part that gives Peppermint its relaxing effect on smooth muscle tissue such as that found in the digestive system, easing stomach aches, gas, and indigestion. Those who suffer with ulcers and IBS maybe also find relief in a cup of Peppermint tea or enteric coated Peppermint oil capsules.
Peppermint’s healing attributes don’t stop at the digestive system. Peppermint can ease headaches from the common cold, flu, and sinus congestion. An herbal steam of Peppermint leaves can go a long way in clearing nasal congestion along with a soothing cup of tea. It can enliven a fatigued mind and improve overall mood. In the summertime, Peppermint can bring cooling relief in the form of iced tea, fomentation, or diluted essential oil blend dabbed on the wrists or pulse points.
Growing this plant is pretty easy and it can even be grown in pots to have the fresh herb on hand. Nothing beats fresh Peppermint added to salads and fruit salads in summertime. One of my favorites is Peppermint added to a bowl of watermelon. Yum!