Peppermint, Mentha piperita. Source: weird-maex, published under FreeImages.com Content License.
Other Names: Red Mint, Brandy Mint
Peppermint is a naturally occuring hybrid between watermint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (M. spicata) that was first distinctly cultivated in 18th-century England . Peppermint is now cultivated across Europe and much of North America, and yields a popular flavoring agent.
An annual plant, peppermint has a square reddish-purple stem and smooth, serrated leaves up to two inches long. It grows between 32 and 36 inches in height, and unlike spearmint, all of the leaves of peppermint are distinctly stalked .
History and Folklore
The genus name Mentha comes from Minthe, a nymph in Greek mythology beloved by Hades, who was transformed into the mint plant by his jealous wife Persephone . Pliny describes peppermint as a common head wreath, table decoration, and flavoring agent for wines and sauces at Greek and Roman feasts. There is evidence of peppermint cultivation by the Egyptians, and it is mentioned in 13th-century Icelandic pharmacopoeias, although it did not come into general medical use until the 18th-century in England . Mint was a popular medieval flavoring for whisky in Scotland .
Peppermint, like spearmint, thrives best in rich, moist soil and full sun to partial shade, although it is hardy enough for a variety of climates . Peppermint should be grown from root divisions and cuttings, as the seeds are sterile. Leaves should be harvested just before the plant begins flowering .
A jar of mint kept in the house freshens the air and keeps flies and mice away. Traditional folk belief holds that a sprig of mint placed in milk will keep it from souring, and that if crushed mint is rubbed on a new beehive it will keep the bees from deserting .
Peppermint has a long history as a digestive tonic. It relieves nausea, gas, stomach cramps and spasms, and is a recognized treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) . Peppermint may be applied directly to bee stings, burns, and even toothaches to relieve pain, and peppermint infusions or compresses relieve headaches .
The most famous culinary use for mint is mint sauce, an accompaniment to lamb. Peppermint makes a tasty infusion that was very popular in Scotland before the introduction of tea .
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