Cool, refreshing, with a little bit of zing; fresh peppermint is a zippy way to wake up your palate.
Peppermint is a hybrid of spearmint and watermint, it was originally most widely cultivated in Europe and the Middle East but now has made its way around the globe. The peppermint plant is a hardy hybrid and often spreads quickly due to the prolific growth of the main root, especially in moist soil. Interestingly, because it is a hybrid, it doesn’t produce seeds, so doesn’t really produce “new” plants, however the root system is industrious and continues to sprout off new additions even if cut and transplanted.
From a culinary perspective, peppermint is a common ingredient in quite a few cultural cuisines. In the U.S. it seems to make its presence known especially around the holidays. Peppermint has a higher menthol content, giving it a much stronger flavor which is why it is such a good option in the culinary world. Peppermint tea, peppermint candy, peppermint cake, even peppermint toffee, it provides a refreshing and invigorating flavor. Peppermint isn’t only reserved for the sweet dishes, it can be a really interesting addition to savory as well; roll it into fresh spring rolls, throw it in soups (spring pea and mint is delicious), toss it into a salad, mix it into some yogurt as a dip, even mince it up to sprinkle over entrees.
From a health perspective, as part of the mint family, peppermint has all the good stuff that its mint relatives has and then some due to the higher menthol content. It is an excellent digestive tonic; useful for nausea and stomachache. Research is demonstrating that it is highly effective in calming the gastrointestinal tract in cases of Irritable Bowel or Crohn’s Disease. Studies also demonstrate that inhaling mint is enhances cognitive function and elevates mood. It also helps stimulate memory. Sipping mint tea and inhaling the aroma can be a great way to boost your energy and focus when you hit those afternoon slumps. This happens because the olfactory system plugs directly into the limbic system, which is responsible for emotional responses and memory. Inhaling and sipping creates a nice retronasal effect; while also calming the nerves and soothing digestion. Peppermint is also full of antioxidants and other phytonutrients that help alleviate oxidative stress and systemic inflammation. The chemical compounds in the volatile oils like menthone also give it an antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibiotic quality. I keep a bottle of peppermint essential oil handy as part of my herbal medicine cabinet. Peppermint also makes a really great pest repellent, ants, spiders, even small rodents. Planted in your garden it can help manage the pests that bother your other plants.