Peppermint: the herb of mythical Persephone

Μentha piperita or peppermint is one of the most fragrant Greek herbs. Actually, in this country alone, we count at least 26 different species of aromatic mint. Yet peppermint is a special herb because, apart from its fragrance, it has amazing healing qualities that make it beneficiary for our health.

Mentha piperita is a natural hybrid, created by the crossing of the common – and known to us all – mint (mentha aquatica) and spearmint. But the myth concerning its birth involves the goddess Persephone. According to the story, Persephone was enjoying a walk along the bank of river Acheron, when she caught her husband, Pluto, embracing a beautiful nymph, Minthe. Blinded by jealousy, she turned the nymph into a humble herb with purple blossoms, so that no one would notice it. However, Pluto took pity on Minthe and gave her a unique and unsurpassed fragrance, thus granting her immortality.

Whichever version we like best and accept about the origin of this herb, the fact is that the humble-looking peppermint is, without a doubt and since antiquity, a favorite herb in pharmaceutics, perfumery, cooking and wine-making.

In botanology, mentha piperita is described as a herbaceous aromatic plant of the family of Lamiaceae. Its Latin name, used officially in pharmaceutics, is Mentha piperita; yet it is commonly known as mint or peppermint. Peppermint leaves contain high amounts of mono-, sesqui- and diterpenes, as well as a plethora of other aromatic compounds, such as eucalyptol and menthol – it owes its unique fragrance to these two. Moreover, the plant contains small quantities of calcium, potassium, manganese and iron; while it is rich in vitamins A, B2 and C, as well as antacid flavonoids and tanines.

There are endless records about the use of peppermint’s essential oil, extract and beverage in therapeutics, and many other fields. For instance:

Peppermint beverage is vasoconstricting and cardiotonic; moreover, it has anxiolytic effects and is used to decrease mental fatigue and stress by empowering both memory and learning ability.

Peppermint leaves essential oil is widely used in aromatherapy and various forms of alternative medicine. Inhaling the oil or applying it locally (diluted in an oily medium) proves beneficiary in cases of bronchitis, dyspnea, asthma and general breathing problems; also in treating common cold and influenza.

Peppermint leaves beverage is recommended to treat dyspepsia, as it decreases muscular spasms, enables the peptic process and stimulates the liver to produce bile. Moreover, it seems to help against the occurrence of stomach ulcers; it has anti-convulsant effects and helps against irritable bowel syndrome by relaxing the muscles.

Peppermint leaves alcoholic extract can be used as light anesthetic when applied locally. Peppermint contains a large variety of polyphenoles, which affect the nerve endings, simultaneously creating a cold sensation.

Thanks to its analgesic, antimicrobial and antiseptic qualities, peppermint is used in dental concoctions. Due to methanol, peppermint’s essential oil, the herb is widely used in the preparation of lozenges and solutions for fresh breath.

Peppermint extract possesses antacid and anti-aging capacities, due to the polyphenolic compounds and vitamins A and C it contains. It has the ability to detox and hydrate the skin and is, therefore, used in cosmetic creams to prevent premature skin aging. In addition to the above mentioned qualities, when applied to the scalp, peppermint extract has sebum-regulating and anti-fungal effects; and so is very helpful in treating greasiness and dandruff.

 

Christina Bakopoulou

Pharmacist

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