Peppermint leaves are rich in essential oils from which flavorings and compounds such as menthol are distilled.
Peppermint is an herbaceous creeping (stampeding?) perennial with strongly aromatic foliage. It spreads with virtually unstoppable fleshy white rhizomes. The leaves are opposite, toothed, 1.5-3.5 in (4-9 cm) long, and when bruised smell like menthol. The flowers are tiny purple-pink tubes borne in upright terminal spikes. Although peppermint may cover a large area on the ground, it holds its stems and leaves no more than a foot (30 cm) aloft. There are varieties of peppermint that smell like lemon, varieties that smell like lime, varieties with crinkled leaves, varieties with variegated leaves, and one with red stems. Several commercial varieties have been developed for different mint growing regions of the world.
Location Mentha X piperita is a hybrid, probably first bred by the ancient Greeks by crossing watermint (Mentha aquatica) with spearmint (M. spicata).
Culture Light: Grow peppermint in full sun to partial shade. Moisture: Peppermint likes plenty of moisture. It tolerates moist, poorly drained soils, and well drained soils if watered frequently. Hardiness: USDA Zones 3-7. Peppermint can probably be grown in zone 8, if protected from the full sun in summer. Propagation: Peppermint is a hybrid and is naturally sterile, its flowers rarely if ever going to seed. However, you will have no problem propagating peppermint with pieces of rhizome.
The mints are grown for their aromatic foliage, and have been cultivated for centuries for their culinary, aromatic and antiseptic qualities. Peppermint leaves can be dried for use in potpourri and herbal teas. Increase leaf production by pinching off flower heads before the flowers open. You should be able to harvest a cup or two (0.25-0.5 l) of leaves every ten to fifteen days. Grow peppermint in the vegetable garden, in a border or, better yet, in isolated areas such as gaps between bricks or flagstones where the rhizomes will not be able to spread. Another way to restrain the rhizomes is to plant peppermint in a clay pot, then sink the pot in the ground, leaving an inch (2.5 cm) of the rim above ground level. Underground barriers of metal or plastic strips usually fail to contain the vigorously spreading plant. In a suitable location, peppermint is invasive. If you grow peppermint, you will have to trim it back regularly to keep it in bounds.
Peppermint has been grown commercially in England for peppermint oil since the 1700's. Today there are large peppermint farms and the oil is extracted at centrally located distilleries. Even more land is devoted to peppermint farming in the U.S., where it is grown commercially in Michigan, Indiana, western New York and Ohio. The leaves and stems are distilled to produce peppermint oil. The menthol extracted from the oil has many uses in medicine, including abilities to relieve flatulence, bloating and colic. The oil is strongly antibacterial and antifungal, and is a cooling anesthetic on the skin. Peppermint oil has antispasmodic effects in the digestive system and is widely used to soothe irritable bowel syndrome, cramps, constipation, and gas.
Most of the 25 or so species of mint (genus Mentha) are spreading aromatic perennials. All hail from the Old World.
Floridata does not advocate the medicinal use of any plant. Consult your physician before employing any herbal remedy or supplementation.