If any treat is synonymous with the holiday season it’s the good old candy cane. And while these sweet snacks come in a plethora of flavors, this time of year the peppermint variety reigns supreme. Aside from being a favorite goody among young and old alike, this minty fresh flavor provides more than just a seasonal snack.
Peppermint is actually a hybrid cross between watermint and spearmint. This powerful herb has been held in high esteem for centuries due to its healing effects and aromatic properties.
The herb is an excellent source of manganese, vitamins C, A and B2, folate, iron, calcium and potassium just to name a few of the nutrients these small but mighty leaves bring to the table. The high concentrations of carotenoids also link the herb very closely with colorectal cancer protection.
Throughout history peppermint has been used to treat various digestive ailments, soothing everything from bloating and gas to constipation and diarrhea. Today, many turn to the herbal extract for relief from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms.
Recent studies have found that peppermint oil capsules were effective in treating 50 percent of IBS symptoms in those who tried them. Researchers believe it is the menthol concentration found in peppermint that relaxes the smooth muscle lining of the digestive system. Once the tension is relieved, there is less likelihood of the spasm and contractions that lead to stomach upset.
And menthol does more than quell stomach woes. You’ll find menthol in several products you use every day including mouthwash, toothpaste, chewing gum and lozenges. It stimulates the nerves that sense cold and is responsible for stimulating that rush of coolness which can temporarily aid in pain relief and can quickly calm a nagging cough or sore muscle.
Perhaps especially beneficial during this time of year is peppermint’s use as an antimicrobial. The essential oil of peppermint has been proven to be effective in inhibiting bacterial growth as well as certain types of fungal growths. And research has also shown peppermint extract to be an effective antiviral treatment for more serious infections such as herpes.
Menthol is not the only star present in peppermint’s leaves. Rosmarinic acid acts as a free radical-blocking antioxidant and blocks the production of inflammatory substances that restrict airways. This makes peppermint extract an effective treatment for asthma sufferers as well.
If you’re looking for a lower-calorie, lower sugar way to incorporate peppermint into your diet, try making a peppermint tea or adding fresh peppermint leaves to ice cubes and then putting a few cubes into your water for a minty fresh drink.
Or just sprinkle fresh leaves over cold salads or chilled soups to not only give you that minty fresh feeling but all the benefits of this great plant.
-The Alternative Daily