Mentha piperita or mentha balsamea is commonly referred to as peppermint.
The current peppermint plant we know is actually a cross or a hybrid plant between a spearmint and water mint plant.
Originally, this plant was native to Europe but is now cultivated and is almost available all around the world.
Peppermint over the recent years has been extensively used in food and beverage preparations owing to its extremely distinct flavor and taste. Recently, with advances in pharmacology, there have been studies and extensive work has been done on ascertaining the medicinal properties of this plant.
In order to suit the taste buds and to enhance the flavors of peppermint, the plant has been crossed with other species so as to produce different flavors which have their own distinct characteristic and bring the same to the food or beverage they are added to.
The characteristic odor and taste on the peppermint plant is because of its high content of menthol which is responsible for the same.
Apart from menthol, the plant also contains traces of menthyl acetate, menthone, cineol and menthofuran as major components.
Other chemical constituents found in minor and smaller quantities are namely flavinoids such as hesperidin, eriocitrin and kaempferol along with certain terpenoids which also occur in smaller quantities.
Since peppermint grows extensively where ever it maybe planted, the oil has extremely high concentrations of pesticides used by the farmers which finally finds its way into the various water systems. Thus modern techniques of filtration and purification have to be applied so as to remove the same as they can have deleterious effects on the body.
Owing to this increased content of pesticide, it is known to help repel certain pests, especially insects such as mosquitoes and is used for better growth of plants in organic gardening.
Uses of Peppermint
Peppermint oil finds its use in the culinary as well as the medical world where in its use has been extensively researched and proven in a variety of conditions.
The culinary uses of peppermint include the use of its leaves which are often either consumed alone or added and mixed with other components and consumed.
Peppermint is also mixed with tea and is the same is widely consumed all over the world.
Dried peppermint leaves are used as a mouth freshener and also help enhance and improve oral and dental hygiene. The aroma from the menthol component also helps relieve bad breath.
More recently, peppermint finds its use in ice creams where in it a used as a flavoring agent, in fruit preserves, chocolates and candies, alcoholic beverages and products such as tooth paste.
Cosmetics also make use of peppermint as an agent especially certain soaps and shampoos and other products useful for skin care. Thus we see peppermint is now an important component of the cosmetic world and is widely used in the same.
The medicinal uses of peppermint primarily include its effectiveness in cases of irritable bowel syndrome where in it is known to be beneficial in treating the irregularities of the bowel and promoting peristalsis. Peppermint also has antibacterial properties and is used as a cholagogue and carminative.
It also has direct action on the lower sphincter or opening of the oesophagus and thus helps relieve symptoms of acidity and heart burn even though studies have not confirmed the same.
As an external agent used for applying locally, peppermint oil finds its use in relieving muscle and nerve pain as well as itching caused due to dermatitis.
Aromatherapy uses peppermint oil in cases of memory and alertness related issues as the inhalation of the vapors of the same are known to improve perception.
Peppermint is also used in Homoeopathy in the tincture form for cases of hyper acidity and irritable bowel syndrome. It is also useful in aborting acute episodes of cold and acute attacks of allergic rhinitis.
Q. Why does peppermint cause a sudden coldness especially in the nose and mouth when taken and why does the breath become icy cold after consuming a mint?
A. The menthol component of peppermint activates the cold sensitive receptors present on the mucosal and skin tissues thus giving a sense of extreme coldness to the food, air or water we consume immediately after eating a mint, hence the icy cool feeling!
This thus gives us a detailed explanation of peppermint, its biological and chemical understanding as well as its uses and why and how the mint causes its characteristic icy coldness!