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  • Monika Getty

Herbal Spotlight: Peppermint

Ah, peppermint; there's no mistaking that fresh smell! Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a hardy perennial plant (to zone 3) which can take over your yard as it is an aggressive spreader, so if you want to grow it, it's best to keep it in a pot. Peppermint is a hybrid of watermint and spearmint and has both culinary and medicinal uses.

Peppermint tea is one of the most widely used herbal teas in the world, well loved for its refreshing taste and soothing health effects. Some of these benefits include:

* Helps relieve digestive upsets - studies have shown that peppermint relaxes your digestive system and improves the flow of bile, helping relieve symptoms such as gas, bloating, nausea, indigestion, stomach cramps, spasms and pain. This is especially helpful for those with irritable bowel syndrome. Enjoy a cup after a meal to maximize these benefits.

* Helps soothe menstrual cramps - as peppermint is considered an anti-spasmodic (especially for smooth muscles), it can help soothe menstrual cramps by easing the constricting muscles of the uterus.

* Improves mental clarity - peppermint tea has been shown to improve brain function by making you more mentally alert, improving memory retrieval and reducing stress. This may be due to the scent of peppermint, which significantly increases oxygen saturation. Blood brings oxygen to your brain, so if peppermint increases the amount of oxygen in your blood, more oxygen travels to your brain. The more oxygen available to your brain, the better your concentration and focus.

* Good for your immune system - peppermint has anti-microbial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties. The main component of peppermint is menthol, which is also a decongestant and an expectorant, so peppermint tea is great to drink when you have a cold. Peppermint also contains rosmarinic acid (also found in rosemary), which is linked with reduced symptoms of allergic reactions, such as runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing.

* Helps freshen your breath - there's a reason why peppermint is the preferred flavouring used in toothpastes, gum, breath mints and mouthwash; it has a pleasant smell and taste, plus it has antibacterial properties that help kill germs that cause dental plaque, which may improve your breath.

Peppermint tea is easy to make; you can use either fresh or dried peppermint. Use 1 tablespoon of fresh peppermint leaves or 1 teaspoon of dried leaves per cup of boiling water. Pour the boiling water over the leaves, cover to retain the natural oils and let steep about 10 minutes.

Peppermint tea should be avoided by those with GERD (gastroesophogeal reflux disease) as it can cause the sphincter muscle of the stomach and esophagus to relax more, exacerbating acid reflux. It is also possible that in rare cases, peppermint tea may interact with medications, so always check the warnings on any medications you may be taking.

Peppermint tea is generally considered to be a very safe, effective, natural remedy. Whether enjoyed on its own or combined with other herbs, enjoy a soothing, healing and tasty cup of peppermint tea today!

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