Mention of peppermint may bring to mind chewing gum, candy canes or mojito highballs to most people, but the curative properties of this familiar flavoring agent are not to be overlooked.
According to no lesser authority than Harvard Medical School, the health benefits of peppermint are many and varied.
It is an age-old herbal remedy used to treat all kinds of abdominal problems, from flatulence, cramping and indigestion to stomach cancer and gallbladder disease. Peppermint oil is especially effective against abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
More than a few pieces of research have indicated that drinking peppermint tea, taking enteric-coated peppermint capsules or ingesting fresh peppermint leaves can help relieve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
In 2007, Italian investigators found that three quarters of patients in a study who took the capsules had a major reduction in IBS symptoms, compared with just 38% who took a placebo.
Other studies have shown peppermint to be effective as a decongestant, expectorant, antiviral and astringent for relief of sinusitis and cold symptoms. The menthol it contains is widely used in cough drops and throat lozenges as well as muscle pain ointments and skin moisturizers.
Used in aromatherapy, peppermint vapors help alleviate anxiety, tension, emotional imbalance and stress-related headaches or migraines. It can be useful in treating acne, head lice, burns and insect bites, too.
What’s more, the leaves of the peppermint plant (Mentha piperita) naturally deliver a great deal of nutritional value. They contain calcium, copper, iron, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and zinc as well as vitamins A, B2 and C.
Sadly, we have all but forgotten what a powerful friend peppermint can be. Few people grow it in their gardens now for use as anything other than a garnish. Its commercialization as a confectionary ingredient has almost driven the knowledge of its curative properties out of our collective consciousness.
But we can be reminded. Every pantry should contain some peppermint tea and every medicine cabinet some 100% pure peppermint essential oil. A stash of chocolate mint ice cream in the freezer is, of course, optional.
Alfablue, December 2011