Mentha X piperita

by Dustin Bond

Peppermint is a hybrid between Mentha aquatica (water mint) and Mentha spicata (spearmint) and is a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint family). Mentha comes from the Greek Mintha, meaning mint and piperita comes from the Latin piper, meaning pepper. Peppermint is just one of many common names associated with the plant; others include: American mint, brandy mint, lamb mint, and lammint. Peppermint grows in the wild throughout Europe, North America, and Australia and has a long history of being widely cultivated in northern and southern temperate regions along stream banks and in other moist areas. Evidence shows and some believe that peppermint was cultivated in ancient Egypt, although its first definite cultivation was near London in1750. In the late 1600's and early 1700's it was first recognized as a distinct species by John Ray, a botanist. Peppermint is cultivated in two main varieties, black mint, which has violet-colored leaves and stems, and white mint, which has pure green leaves.

Peppermint plants are characterized by the small purplish or lilac-pink blossoms, or flowers, which grow in circles around the stem, forming dense many-flowered spikes or heads. These flowers can be seen July through September. Peppermint, a perennial with its erect and branching smooth, square, hairy stem can grow between one and three feet tall. The plant has a long running root system which supports the stem and numerous toothed leaves. The leaves, which are normally dark green, can sometimes be purple tinged; the stem is usually purplish. The many green or purple-tinged, pointed, toothed leaves are between one and two inches long, and are about half as wide as they are long. The presences of volatile essential oils in the leaves and other parts of the plant, gives the plant a very appealing scent, and fills the surrounding air with a pleasant aroma of mint.

The peppermint plant and its many parts are used throughout the world in many different ways and for many different purposes. The production of peppermint oil by distillation of the cultivated herb is an extensive industry in the United States and around the world. Cultivation of the plant is required because the plants found in the wild are not suitable for the distillation process and the cultivated plant contains much more and better quality oil. The United States is the leading producer of peppermint oil in the world, with Michigan, California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Indiana, and Wisconsin leading the way.

Peppermint oil is used as a flavoring agent in many different products including decongestants, mouthwashes, chewing gum, toothpastes, and other mint flavored candies and breath-freshening products. Peppermint oil can cause burning and gastrointestinal upset in some people. Peppermint tea, made from the dry leaves of the peppermint plant, is considered safer than peppermint oil for regular consumption. Peppermint tea displays many antiseptic properties and is considered a stimulant. Its used for and is effective in treating digestive pains caused by gas, colic, gallstones, gingivitis, irritable bowel syndrome, morning sickness, headaches, sore throats, common colds, fevers, insomnia, nervous tension, and it may also increase flow of bile from the gallbladder.

The peppermint plant offers beauty, and great taste and smell, and can help in the fight against many harmful and painful health problems. The peppermint plant is an all around great plant.

Written fall 2000, as a service learning project for Dr. Gary Coté's Biology 102 class at Radford University. Copyright Pathways for Radford.

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