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LOCAL HERBS AND HOW TO USE THEM ~ PEPPERMINT (Mentha piperita) Greeks and Romans used peppermint at their feasts and on their tables in sprays. There is evidence that mint was cultivated by the Egyptians, but it came into use in Western Europe about 1750 and was first used in England. Of course, the English now consider their local peppermint as the best in the world. Some fine peppermint is grown in the Flathead Valley of Montana and carries a distinctive “green” flavor. Even though the cultivar may be a clone, the flavor of peppermint changes noticeably in every locale it is grown and the conditions of weather, water, and soil. Hence, peppermint from Yakima differs from peppermint from Flathead Valley. Some peppermint has much more menthol, which clears breathing passages. Both peppermint and spearmint do best in a fairly warm, moist climate in deep soils rich in humus, but is a cold hardy herb (down to -20 F in Montana). Peppermint will succeed in most soils when once started. It grows so very well under my outdoor faucet and outgrows any weed. Of course, quack grass moves in eventually, so I replant my peppermint in a new spot every three years, taking care to separate the weed roots from the peppermint rhizomes (wide-spreading, fleshy, and bare fibrous roots). For peak essential oil content, harvest, when the flower buds are forming after the dew, has dried on a sunny day. This herb is so prolific, I harvest it much more frequently, and a small patch of it provides herbs for hundreds of sleep pillows every year. Peppermint is a good decongestant, so helps a person to sleep more soundly. Peppermint is a superior anti-spasmodic herb (reduces muscle spasm and tension) and is widely used for stomach aches, cramping, flatulence, and colic. It is used with purgatives to prevent griping and used with drugs and formulas to disguise the taste. In slight colds or early indications of disease, Peppermint tea will help ward off the problem. Use one ounce of dried herb to 2 cups of boiling water, let steep for one half hour, then take ½ cup every few hours. According to Mrs. M Grieve, Peppermint blended with an equal quantity of Elderflower, as a tea, will banish a cold or mild attack of flu within thirty-six hours, and there is no danger of overdose or harmful action on the heart. Peppermint promotes sweating in fevers and flu. In fairly high doses, Peppermint Essential Oil is analgesic (relieves pain) and promotes calming. It is cooling, so is good for fever, headaches, menstrual pain and migraines. Apply to forehead and temples for headaches. Used as an inhalant, it clears nasal congestion. 2-3 drops of oil in a saucer of water left in the room at night will reduce nasal congestion. As a wash, use 2-3 drops of oil in ½ cup of water for itching, burns, ringworm, and skin irritations. Peppermint oil is used for Crohn’s disease and hepatitis to relieve digestive disturbances and stimulate the release of bile. It is easy to see why peppermint is used extensively in after dinner mints, gum, mouthwash, and toothpaste. Do not give any form of mint directly to young babies. It can reduce milk flow, so take internally with caution if you are breast feeding. Avoid peppermint if you have a gallbladder disorder. If you have chronic heartburn, avoid this herb. If you drink peppermint tea on a regular basis, take a few days' break after a week or two. Sources: The Complete Medicinal Herbal, Penelope Ody, DK Books, 1993 A Modern Herbal, Mrs. M. Grieve, Dover, 1971 Prescription for Herbal Healing, Phyllis Balch, Avery, 2002 Sunset Western Garden Book, Sunset Publishing, 2001 Mentha piperita illustration, from NRCS Plants Database, Britton, N.L. Disclaimer: Herbal medicine and teas, as a method of healing, are not recognized in the USA. Lynn Wallingford makes no health claims. Any herbal or tea information is not intended to treat, diagnose, or prescribe in any way, and is for informational purposes only. She does not take responsibility for your experience using them. She trusts that you will consult a licensed healthcare professional when appropriate, especially pregnant women, nursing mothers, anyone over 60 years of age, anyone under 12 years of age, or anyone with a serious medical condition.