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A Powerful Plant

By: Cathy Christensen
Posted: November 25, 2008, from the December 2008 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

The strong, distinct smell and taste of peppermint is something that has infused many childhoods. Whether it was the crisp flavor your mouth craved while wrestling with the plastic wrapper that encased your first candy cane of Christmas, or the round red-and-white disc the school nurse gave you to help cure your stomachache that may or may not have been real, peppermint is refreshing, familiar and welcome all at the same time. Kids aren’t the only ones who enjoy this distinct flavor and aroma. Every morning after I’m finished with my coffee, I pop a tiny white peppermint into my mouth to disintegrate the dreaded coffee breath and to help the caffeine in waking me up to go nonstop for yet another day.

In the kitchen

The peppermint plant grows in a number of countries, but it is native to Europe and Asia and is naturalized to North America, where it is grown in parts of Indiana, Michigan, New York and Ohio.1,2 The plant itself grows to about two feet tall and blooms between July and August, yielding fragrant leaves and flowers that are the source of the volatile oil featuring peppermint’s active component, menthol.1

Lending its distinctive flavor and aroma to many dishes, the plant is used in a variety of ways in the kitchen. One of the best known is in peppermint tea, which is composed of the plant’s dried leaves, and other cuisine offerings include desserts and refreshing beverages.1

At Spa Park Asia at the Grand Plaza Park Hotel in Singapore, the Spa Park Asia Signature Tea accompanies spa cuisine entrées and is composed of a refreshing mixture of peppermint, rosemary and lemon peel to cleanse the body of toxins. For a rise-and-shine breakfast, granola is served with peppermint leaves at Spa Avania in the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona, and for a refreshing—and healthy—indulgence, check out the Vegan Peppermint Chocolate Mousse recipe from Head Chef Todd Cameron of Bangalow, Australia’s Gaia Retreat & Spa.

In the spa

As refreshing as peppermint’s flavor is, it also serves many medicinal purposes, as well. Thanks to its most potent ingredient, menthol, peppermint works to ease muscle pain and can also clear sinuses, calm the stomach and help relieve menstrual cramps. Topical applications, such as creams, lotions and massage oils, have a soothing, cooling effect on the skin, but topical peppermint also has been known to result in contact dermatitis, so a conservative, diluted approach is always best.1