Peppermint is one of the most useful herbs in your back yard pharmacy. It’s also one of the oldest known natural remedies. It has been known for many centuries as an excellent remedy for stomach and respiratory trouble and as a pain reliever. Today peppermint extract is found in thousands of products we use every day.
Peppermint is a natural hybrid of water mint and spearmint, native to Mediterranean Europe. In Egypt and Rome its fresh scent was part of wines and desserts. Ancient versions of air fresheners, deodorants, mouthwashes and therapeutic baths also contained peppermint. Traditional herbalists use it to relieve gas and diarrhea, migraine headache, arthritis and asthma. It not only eases symptoms of colds and flu but strengthens the immune system, preventing re-infection. Some doctors recommend peppermint in capsules for irritable bowel syndrome. Peppermint tea is sometimes recommended as a coffee substitute, especially since it’s good for the heart. You can drink it any time you feel weak or tired. Fibromyalgics may benefit from its pain-relieving properties.
As we’ve seen with the other herbs and flowers in this series, there are scientific realities behind many of the traditional healers’ claims. The secret of peppermint’s delicious scent and taste is its high menthol content. It’s also loaded with antioxidants, vitamins A, B and C, calcium, magnesium and iron. It’s high in folic acid and manganese, which are especially important to women’s health. Peppermint relieves asthma because it has rosmarinic acid, an antioxidant that stops inflammation and keeps airways open. Doctors have taken interest in peppermint’s phytonutrients, particularly perillyl alcohol, which may prevent and even cure certain types of cancer. They are also considering adding peppermint extract to barium sulphate, which is great news for anyone who has to undergo a barium enema. In addition to all this, peppermint has antimicrobial properties which may make it an effective fighter against salmonella, staph, MRSA, and the heliobacter virus that causes ulcers.
In the 1960s, some counterculture thrill seekers dubbed peppermint oil “68” and claimed it could get you high. While it doesn’t really have that property, the wonderful scent can certainly produce a natural euphoria and uplift your mood. Try sniffing some to stay awake when you’re pulling an all-nighter.
There are several brands of peppermint herbal tea on the market. Look for fresh peppermint leaves in a natural grocery if you don’t have any in your garden. Some people use pure peppermint oil in hot water to make tea. It’s a popular addition to coffee and hot chocolate, especially around Christmas. Peppermint oil is an ingredient in salves for arthritis and sore feet. You can put it in homemade creams and ointments or add a touch to homemade candles. A mint cordial is easily made with mint leaves, natural sugar and vodka, left to soak for a week or two. There are many recipes in books and on line.
Peppermint is a perennial which needs full or partial sun, moist but well drained soil and frequent watering. Choose a spot where it will not interfere with other plants. It loves to spread out just as far as it can. To control it you can plant it in pots or barrels or simply raise it indoors. Some people resort to a plastic five-gallon bucket with the bottom cut out. Dig a hole that’s deep enough that the top of the bucket is level with the ground. This way the roots can grow down but not out.
Start your peppermint as seedlings indoors or just plant the seeds in the ground after the last frost. Set seedlings about one foot apart. Water frequently for the first few months, then water only if there’s no rain. Never harvest all the leaves off a peppermint plant at once. Take them from the top of the plant to encourage it to bush out.
People with gallstones, acid reflux or GERD should not use peppermint internally. Peppermint oil should not be given to babies.
If peppermint isn’t growing in your backyard pharmacy now, be sure to plant some as soon as possible. You’ll find it attracts helpful ladybugs as well as bees.