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Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is an aromatic perennial plant that grows to a height of about 3 ft (1 m). It has
The plant is harvested when the oil content is highest. When ready for harvest, it is always collected in the morning, before noon sun reduces the leaf essential oil content. This generally takes place shortly before the plant blooms, which occurs in the summer (July through August) or during dry, sunny weather. The United States is responsible for producing 75% of the world's supply of peppermint.
Peppermint is a natural hybrid of water mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (Mentha spicata) and was first cultivated in England in the late seventeenth century. The herb has been used as a remedy for indigestion since Ancient Egyptian times. In fact, dried peppermint leaves were found in Egyptian pyramids dating back to 1000 B.C. The ancient Greeks and Romans valued it as a stomach soother. During the eighteenth century, peppermint became popular in Western Europe as a folk remedy for nausea, vomiting, morning sickness, respiratory infections, and menstrual disorders. Peppermint was first listed in the London Pharmacopoeia in 1721. In modern times it appears in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia as a remedy for intestinal colic, gas, colds, morning sickness, and menstruation pain.
Peppermint is a cooling, relaxing herb that contains properties that help ease inflamed tissues, calm muscle spasms or cramps, and inhibit bacteria and microorganisms. It also has pain-relieving and infection-preventing qualities.
The medicinal parts of peppermint are derived from the whole plant, and include a volatile oil, flavonoids, phenolic acids, and triterpenes. The plant is primarily cultivated for its oil, which is extracted from the leaves of the flowering plant.
The essential oil contains the principal active ingredients of the plant: menthol, menthone, and menthyl acetate. Menthyl acetate is responsible for peppermint's minty aroma and flavor. Menthol, peppermint's main active ingredient, is found in the leaves and flowering tops of the plant. It provides the cool sensation of the herb.
The menthol content of peppermint oil determines the quality of its essential oil. This varies depending upon climate, habitat, and where the peppermint is
grown. For instance, American peppermint oil contains 50–78% menthol, while English peppermint oil has a menthol content of 60–70%. Japanese peppermint oil contains 85% menthol. Peppermint and its oils help with intestinal function.
Author Info: Jennifer Wurges, Teresa G. Odle, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005
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