Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is a perennial, stoloniferous, highly aromatic herbaceous plant, which boasts countless uses both for therapeutic purposes and in the kitchen.
Origins and History –
Mint is a plant of the Lamiaceae family and is a hybrid between Mentha aquatica and Mentha spicata originally from Europe with crops spread all over the world.
Mint, of its kind, is a plant known since ancient times, so much so that a story narrated by Ovid links the name of this herbaceous to that of the nymph “Myntha”, a creature of extraordinary beauty.
According to legend, the nymph was transformed into the mint plant by Proserpina, jealous wife of Pluto, and her characteristic perfume was given to him by the god as a last gesture of love.
Mint was highly appreciated in ancient times for its therapeutic and flavoring qualities. The Bible reports that the Jews used it to perfume the canteens and uplift the spirit, while Discorides and Galen show that Greeks and Romans appreciated it as a stimulant of venereal pleasures. The brides, to be appreciated by the spouses, intertwined the flowery and fragrant stems in the wedding crowns. Various texts report beliefs according to which the Latins forbade the consumption of mint by soldiers, because if enslaved by its aphrodisiac power they would have preferred to engage in amorous battles rather than those with the enemy.
Confirming the stimulating virtues of the plant, the wedding night was traditional for some peoples of the Mediterranean to distribute many mint leaves on the bedroom floor.
The opinion that the plant had corroborating qualities remained so until the seventeenth century. then in the nineteenth century the belief that this herbaceous had only the virtue of stimulating the digestive system was affirmed.
Mint is currently recognized as an invigorating action of the stomach and central nervous system, it is recommended to use it to treat bad breath and inflammation of the mucous membranes.
In herbal medicine this natural product is highly regarded for regenerating potions and invigorating baths.
As for its use in the kitchen, it should be remembered that while Apicius appreciated it to flavor rustic and country dishes, currently its leaves are used extensively in the central and southern regions to flavor pasta, semifreddo, stewed fruit and vegetables, in particular eggplant and zucchini .
There are numerous varieties of wild and garden mint, among those most used in gastronomy, peppermint stands out, a natural hybrid born around the seventeenth century, with a very strong flavor suitable for sweet preparations and drinks.
Mint lives in a temperate climate, but if the temperature is too cool, its aroma loses intensity. It can be dried by leaving the stem in a ventilated and shaded environment, it is advisable to keep it in airtight containers and away from light.
Peppermint is a herb from a few cm to about 70 cm tall, with erect stems and rhizomatous roots that expand considerably in the soil.
It has opposite leaves, simple, lanceolate and covered with a light, bright green hair.
The flowers are collected in terminal, conical tops, which bloom from the bottom upwards. The individual flowers, sympathetic and irregular, are small, white, pink or purple in color; the corolla, partially melted in a tube, opens into two lips, the upper one with only one lobe, the lower one with 3 unequal lobes. Flowering occurs in the height of summer and continues until autumn.
The fruit is a capsule containing 1 to 4 seeds.
Active principles –
The chemical composition of peppermint varies greatly depending on the soil and the time of harvest. Peppermint essential oil is mainly made up of menthol (30-40%), menton (20-65%), esters, coumarins and sulphurated compounds.
On average its chemical composition per 100 g of fresh mint sees:
– Water 78.65 g;
– Proteins 3.75 g;
– Carbohydrates g 14.89;
– Fat g 0,94;
– Fibers g 8;
– Ashes g 1.76;
as regards minerals, you will have:
– Calcium 243 mg;
– Copper 0.329 mg;
– Iron 5.08 mg;
– Magnesium 80 mg;
– Manganese 1,176 mg;
– Phosphorus 73 mg;
– Potassium 569 mg;
– Sodium mg 31;
– Zinc 1.11 mg;
with reference to the vitamin content we have:
– Vitamin A IU 4248;
– Vitamin A, RAE mcg 212;
– B1 mg 0.082;
– B2 mg 0.266;
– B3 mg 1.706;
– B5 mg 0.338;
– B6 mg 0.129;
– Vitamin C 31.8 mg;
– Vitamin E mg 0;
– Vitamin J mg 0;
– Folate mcg 114.
Among the amino acids we find the presence of: aspartic acid and glutamic acid, alanine, arginine, cystine, glycine, phenylalanine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, proline, methionine, serine, tyrosine, tryptophan and valine.
As mentioned, menthol is extracted from essential oil, a type of alcohol called chiral, discovered about 2,000 years ago in Japan which is mainly used in the preparation of perfumes and medicines.
The calories provided by 100 grams of fresh leaves correspond to 41.
Properties and Uses –
Peppermint is a herbaceous plant with intense flavor; it is used in the kitchen and its essence in the preparation of drinks and confectionery products.
In aromatherapy it is recommended as a tonifier for the nervous system, digestive system, liver, intestine, to reduce spasms and flatulence. It proves to be an effective expectorant, analgesic and antiseptic. It is used in the case of bad digestion, nausea, diarrhea, cold, flu, acne, toothache, migraine.
It is also used in the pharmaceutical industry as a flavoring (mouthwashes, toothpastes, herbal teas), it is anti-neuralgic and decongestant of the upper airways.
In detail we see what are the qualities and uses of this plant:
– Digestive properties; helps the stomach in cases of inflammation and indigestion. For stomach problems we recommend a cup of mint tea. The aroma of mint stimulates the salivary glands that produce digestive enzymes thus facilitating digestion. In particular, its intake can help in case of irritable bowel syndrome. There are studies that suggest that people with this syndrome can benefit from taking peppermint oil supplements. A study in IBS patients, the administration of capsules containing peppermint oil for 4 weeks, reduced the symptoms of the disease by 40%.
– Headache; menthol also has a good analgesic action but should be used carefully. In excessive doses they can have unpleasant side effects on the nervous system. Menthol in fact increases blood flow and provides a feeling of freshness that can have beneficial effects on headaches.
– Respiratory tract; inhalation of essential oil vapors can help clear the respiratory tract and provide relief to a sore throat. The plant has expectorant properties, helps to clear the respiratory tract, eliminates mucus and reduces congestion. It is one of the best essential oils for the treatment of flu, colds, coughs, sinusitis and asthma.
– Energetics; the tea produced with its leaves can improve energy levels and reduce fatigue during the day.
– Stimulant; it is a real natural stimulant, excellent for those who feel depressed, anxious or simply unloaded. To enjoy its stimulating effects, it can be ingested, inhaled with steam or applied in the form of an ointment.
– Allergies; mint contains rosmarinic acid, a plant compound found in rosemary and plants belonging to the same family. This substance is associated with a reduction in allergy symptoms such as itchy eyes and asthma.
– Seasickness; the sedative properties of this essence make mint an excellent aid for those suffering from car sickness or seasickness by blocking vomiting in no time.
– Bad breath; mint is very useful even in case of bad breath. 5 gr of fresh leaves in 100 ml of water are used to make purifying gargles. Mint has germicidal properties and therefore inhibits the growth of bacteria inside the mouth.
– Insect bites; in case of insect bites, such as bees, wasps, mosquitoes and hornets, the fresh leaves will be able to bring relief. Pleasant sensation of freshness that will relieve itching. Useful its anti-inflammatory properties that will reduce swelling due to puncture.
– Insect repellent; there are different types of insects that don’t like the smell of this plant. An Indian study found that 0.1 ml of oil extracted from its leaves protects against mosquitoes for 150 minutes. After this period, its effectiveness ceases and therefore needs to be applied again.
– Cognitive function; It has been noted, according to recent studies, that people who use mint chewing gums very often have superior memory and mental alertness than those who do not use it. It therefore appears that mint helps to greatly improve brain activity.
– Benefits to the skin; essential oil has anti-itch and antiseptic properties while mint juice is a good cleanser for the skin. The plant can therefore be used to treat pimples and acne.
– Carminative; its content of carvacrol, menthol and thymol help the body to expel excess gas from the intestine by preventing flatulence. For this purpose, prepare an infusion with a teaspoon of dried mint in a cup of hot water, to drink two glasses a day.
– Healthy hair; its essential oil is one of the ingredients of many shampoos thanks to its soothing properties. If used in the right concentration in lotions to massage the scalp it has beneficial effects on the hair. In fact, it eliminates dandruff and stimulates blood circulation.
– Menstrual cramps; thanks to its relaxing properties towards the muscles, the plant can relieve menstrual cramps.
In general, then, essential oil, thanks to the presence of menthol, is able to prevent infections. It is an excellent germicide, and is also used in the treatment of the herpes simplex virus, both labial and genital. It is also useful in case of sunburn and insect bites thanks to its antipruritic properties. Remember that essential oils should always be used with great caution and only after listening to a doctor’s opinion.
Regarding the contraindications, it should be remembered that the mint essential oil, used pure, is toxic and only one teaspoon can kill an adult. It should always be used diluted according to the doses reported with the instructions attached.
Mint intake is not recommended in people with ulcer and gastritis problems as it increases the secretion of gastric juices. Essential oil, used in incorrect doses, can cause effects similar to certain narcotic substances. It can therefore cause states of agitation and convulsions with consequent depressions.
Pure menthol, present in essential oil, can have highly harmful if not lethal effects. For this reason, it is always recommended to use it under medical supervision. Cardiac arrhythmia is another of the possible side effects of its incorrect use.
Prolonged use of essential oil, due to its effects on the nervous system, can cause insomnia problems.
Although mint leaves, used for therapeutic purposes in the right quantities, are not toxic, children must not consume herbal teas made from this plant. Essential oil can drastically reduce blood pressure in children by generating heart depression. It is therefore not suitable for consumption by children, neither locally as an ointment nor aspirated through the nose.
To make the most of the qualities and properties of this plant, it is best to pick it up during the flowering season, in the summer. It is kept inside hermetically sealed containers in a dark and dry place.
Regarding its use in the kitchen, it should be remembered, however, that there are more than 300 types of mint known, each with particular characteristics and a more or less intense aroma. For this reason, some are recommended to mitigate the flavor of strong foods, such as lamb or fava beans, others, more delicate, are suitable for dressing salads, including fruit, or sauces and sauces.
In the kitchen one of the most used is the “piperita”, with an intense green color and a very strong aroma.
It is a very versatile herb, it is suitable for both savory and sweet preparations. In the Arab tradition, for example, it is the fundamental ingredient for a lamb soup but also for refreshing herbal teas. In England it accompanies sauces for meat and roasts. For a more delicate touch instead the mint is used, with a smaller leaf and a more mitigated perfume. It goes well with eggs, mushrooms, seafood and salads.
A perfect match for peppermint is with vegetables, especially if cooked and seasoned with garlic or onion but also with vinegar. Excellent peppers, blanched, peeled and seasoned with oil, garlic and fresh mint leaves. The same is true for aubergines, grilled and then marinated with garlic, mint and oil. The mint gives a fresh touch to the courgettes in scapece, which are fried for a few minutes in a little oil and then seasoned with garlic, a drop of vinegar and oil.
Furthermore, on hot days nothing better than refreshing yourself with fruit salads or light, low-calorie salads. In this case, however, mint is used more, more delicate and pleasant than peppermint; it gives a I don’t know what fresh fruit like melon, watermelon, avocado and mango.
Also try to season the fresh strawberries with a syrup made of water, sugar and mint leaves: everyone will like it.
In the salad it is very delicate with shrimp, lamb’s lettuce and walnuts. Mint is also indicated with eggs, scrambled or in an omelette with courgette flowers or wild asparagus.
Mint also binds well with chocolate. The combination of chocolate and mint has always fascinated the palates of young and old. Mint with sweets is a combination that has always been popular.
Warning: The information shown is not medical advice and may not be accurate. The contents are for illustrative purposes only and do not replace medical advice.