The Greeks and Romans used peppermint as a flavouring in cooking. It was not until the eighteenth century that peppermint began to be widely used as a medicinal plant.
Peppermint, mentha piperita, has perhaps the strongest scent of all the different mints and is certainly one of the most attractive with its dark red stems and greeny-red leaves. It is a fragrant plant to grow in the herb garden but it needs to be contained by setting in pieces of roofing slate around the herb, otherwise the creeping roots will grow into other plants. The herb grows up to 2ft (61 cm) high and the soft violet-coloured flowers grow in whorls in the axils of the leaves. The flowers bloom in July and August. The whole plant has a strong aromatic scent and the delicious flavour characteristic of peppermint.
Peppermint is well known in the kitchen as a flavouring in fruit cups, sweets and confectionery. Dried peppermint is delicious sprinkled on to hot split pea soup which makes a warming start to a meal. It can be added to potato salads and other vegetables, but only in small amounts as peppermint is a strong herb and is best used in moderation.
Peppermint will grow in any garden soil, but the flavour is more pronounced if it is grown in moist rich soil in a sunny position. It is propagated by cutting off rooted pieces of the rootstock — even the smallest piece will grow. Set out new plants a handspan apart and keep them well watered. Cut the roots back regularly so that the herb does not spread into other plants’ root systems.
The long-lasting scent makes peppermint a rewarding plant to dry. Gather the leaves just before flowering and dry and store in the usual way.
Peppermint is much used to disguise the unpleasant tastes of other medicines. It is a good remedy for digestive upsets, for flatulence and colic and for relieving stomach ache. It has a calming and relaxing effect on those who suffer from tension and stress. A cup of tea after a meal will help to relieve indigestion.
* To make the tea: Pour a cup of boiling water on to 1-2 teaspoons of dried peppermint. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes then strain and add honey to sweeten.
Peppermint is also helpful for stomach ache when taken with milk.
* To make peppermint milk: Put a tablespoon of dried peppermint and a cup of milk together in an enamel pan. Bring slowly to the boil, simmer for I minute then remove from the heat and strain. It should be taken hot.
Peppermint infusion will help to ward off a cold if taken as soon as the symptoms appear. It increases perspiration and reduces fever and is a useful remedy for chesty colds and mild cases of influenza.
* To make an infusion: Use equal quantities of peppermint and elder flower and mix in a little dried yarrow. Pour a cup of boiling water on to a handful of the mixture and leave to infuse for 20 minutes. Add sugar or honey to taste. Drink the tea as hot as possible and preferably when in bed.
An effective way to clear a stuffy head cold and relieve chest complaints is to use peppermint in the form of an inhalation. Mixed with other herbs it is a helpful treatment.
* To make an inhalation: Use equal parts of the following herbs mixed in a bowl.’ peppermint, lime flowers and chamomile. Pour boiling water over the herbs. Cover the head and bowl with a towel and inhale the steam for about 10 minutes. Remove the towel and wipe the face with cotton wool.
* Peppermint contains the valuable substance menthol which is so important in medicine. It is used externally in the form of an oil to relieve neuralgia, rheumatism and lumbago pains. Oil of peppermint can be purchased from the chemist (pharmacy) and is a useful remedy to have in the home. Gently smooth oil on to the temples and forehead for neuralgic headaches. For rheumatism and lumbago it is brushed on to the affected part. Peppermint is also antiseptic and acts as a mild pain killer; oil of peppermint can help to relieve toothache. A herb cushion filled with peppermint with a drop of peppermint oil added is helpful for headaches and is refreshing after a tiring day.
* Rubbing crushed fresh peppermint leaves on to the forehead and temples will help to cure a headache.
Peppermint is both disinfectant and antiseptic and is helpful to those suffering from skin problems. It stimulates the circulation, so helping to throw out the impurities. Used in the form of a compress peppermint acts as a skin tonic and will reduce large pores.
* To make a compress: Make an infusion of peppermint by pouring a cupful of boiling distilled water on to a heaped tablespoon of dried leaves. Leave to infuse for 20 minutes, strain and stand until cold. Cleanse the face thoroughly and if the skin is very dry smooth a little oil on to the face. Dip pieces of lint into the cold infusion and lay on the face, pressing lightly on to the skin. Leave it for 10-15 minutes and renew the compress when it becomes warm.
For tired and aching feet a footbath using a decoction of herbs can be soothing and invigorating.
* To make a footbath: Mix together dried peppermint, thyme, chamomile and mugwort. Make the decoction using 2 handfuls of the mixed herbs in an enamel pan with 4 cups of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain and pour into the foot- bath. When it has cooled sufficiently plunge the feet into the bath for 10 minutes.
* Both the leaves and flowers, dried and crushed, can be mixed in when making potpourri. Use other strong-scented herbs in the mixture; choose from rosemary, marjoram, lemon verbena and sage, and
add flowers and colourful leaves to make it attractive.