Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Many Faces Of Mint...

    Mint, that well known food flavor, and breathe freshener

Even though we all brush our teeth, chew gum, suck on candy canes or cough drops, and swallow medications flavored with peppermint or spearmint oil, most Americans are largely unaware of the two century history of the mint industry and the impact it has had upon our daily lives. I would bet these days that it would be hard to find a home that didn't have at least one mint product in it. The market is full of products like tooth paste, chewing gums, mouth & breath fresheners, candies, cookies, ice cream, and medicinal inhalers, which are based on mint. Most of us are only familiar with the refreshing side of mint, but it has much more to offer. Mint promotes digestion, by activating saliva glands in our mouth as well as other glands which secrete digestive enzymes. That's where the idea of the after dinner mint came from. Mint is also an herb with remarkable medicinal properties. Mint is a germicidal and breath freshener, it inhibits harmful bacterial growth inside the mouth. Another gift of mint is the strong aroma, mint aroma is very effective in opening up congestion of nose, throat, and lungs, giving relief in respiratory disorders resulting from asthma, or cold congestion. It also cools and soothes throat, nose and other respiratory channels. It can give relief for a cough, and so is added to many cough medicines. Muscle balms use mint to relieve minor muscle aches.
 
Mint is a leafy plant with square stems that bear short, uneven, serrate leaves topped by slender, terminal spikes and pale purple or mauve flowers that bloom from July to September. There are over two dozen species and hundreds of varieties. Mint is native to the Mediterranean and western Asia, mints interbreed so easily it is often hard for even the experts to distinguish and separate all the varieties. In Greek mythology, "Menthe" was originally a nymph, and became Pluto's secret lover. Eventually Persephone Pluto's wife, found out and in a fit of rage turned Menthe into a lowly plant, to be trod upon. Pluto, was unable to undo the spell, but he was able to soften it by giving Menthe a sweet scent, which would perfume the air when her leaves were stepped on, and Menthe became the aromatic herb, Mint. I guess that why gardners plant mint along walkways, where our shoes can brush up against it as we pass by its perfumed leaves and release the refreshing mint fragrances into the air.  All mints have the volatile oil menthol, which gives mint that characteristic cooling, cleansing feeling. Mint was most likely brought to England by the Romans. Peppermint has been grown commercially in England since 1750 in Surrey. Where it's well known that oil of peppermint, contains menthol which is an antiseptic, and anesthetic. Chewing a few peppermint leaves is can even relieve a minor toothache. Indigestion, and cold or flu sufferers can also get some relief by drinking peppermint tea. The early European settlers brought mint to America primarily for medicinal uses. The first commercial cultivation of mint in the United States occurred in Massachusetts in the 1790's. According to research done at West Virginia University, the early colonists used mint leaves to treat fevers and influenza. It was also a symbol of hospitality in the Southern states. Mint plants became a common  "house warming" gift. The growing popularity of mint flavored toothpaste, gum, and candy at the turn-of-the century created a domestic market for high quality peppermint and spearmint oil.

 William Colgate invented modern peppermint toothpaste in 1877. William Wrigley, Jr., popularized spearmint flavoring in gum in 1907. In 1912, Clarence Crane of Cleveland, Ohio invented a mint flavored hard candy that had a strong resemblance to a lifesaving ring that you throw out to someone in distress in the water. It was the "LIFE SAVER" breath mint. Then in the 1950's, the spread of a fungus called verticillium wilt threatened the entire mint and peppermint industry in the United States. To the rescue came M. J. Murray, working for the A. M. Todd Company, his team developed a wilt resistant variety of peppermint. Washington and Oregon lead the nation today in the production of mint oil, followed by Idaho, Montana and the Mid-West. Mint is a perennial and its seeds can be sowed in hot house flats or in the ground. Once the hardy herb takes hold in your garden, it is very easy to propagate them by cuttings and transplanting them.

Mint needs humid soil and only moderate sunshine. It will grow in, out and around all garden plants. Be careful and pay attention to this guy, mint is not unlike a weed, this herb is tenacious and dedicated to spreading through the garden. The trick is to continuously cut it back and restrict it's growth. Otherwise this herb will spread like wild fire through your garden in the form of strong willed runners. To keep mint in check it can easily be grown in pots. This is a good herb for keeping ants away, and combating mice, and fleas. Keep mint leaves near food, beds and wardrobes. You can use it to freshen the house like an air freshener because it brings the fresh smell of herbal fragrance into every room. Spearmint and peppermint possess many of the same characteristics, but there are significant differences in leaves, blooms, and flavor. About 45% of the mint oil (peppermint and spearmint) produced in this country is used for flavoring in chewing gum, another 45% in tooth paste, mouth wash, breath fresheners, dental floss, and the remaining 10% in confectioneries, pharmaceutical applications, flavor for liqueurs, and aroma therapy.

You can find mint in a variety of beauty products from shampoos to cleansers and moisturizers, and for good reason. If you take a look at the labels on beauty products, sometimes you'll see the words Mentha piperita or Mentha spicata in the ingredients. Mentha piperita is the Latin name for peppermint, and Mentha spicata is spearmint. In skin care products, mint is used in skin creams, toners, body lotions and face masks. What makes mint a beneficial ingredient for skin care is its ability to act as an anti-pruritic agent. That means that it's juice can soothe and calm skin that's itchy or infected. You can even use mint oil it to help heal bites from mosquitoes. Mint contains vitamin A, so it will strengthen skin tissue and help reduce oily skin. You should consider rubbing mint oil on your face to prevent pimples from popping up or to treat wounds and rashes. Mint oil is a natural astringent, and people have used it to treat these problems for hundreds if not thousands of years. What makes mint helpful in treating inflammations such as acne is its high content of salicylic acid according to Web MD. This acid, found naturally in mint, and is the active ingredient. The acid loosens up dead skin cells, allowing them to shed easier. That has the potential to prevent your pores from clogging up, so you get fewer pimples and clearer skin. Peppermint, is an excellent source of manganese, vitamin C and vitamin A, it's has high concentrations of carotenoids, including beta-carotene. Both vitamin C and beta-carotene seem to play a role in decreasing colon cancer risk. Vitamin C, the main water-soluble antioxidant in the body is needed to decrease levels of free radicals that can cause damage to cells. For most culinary purposes, garden peppermint is a bit strong. Harvest only the young leaves. The older leaves and the stems are bitter. Spearmint and curly mint are more versatile for culinary uses. Milder than peppermint, they enhance all sorts of meat, fish, or vegetable dishes. FYI, peppermint tea can cause insomnia so avoid it before bedtime. Plant your mint now, so you can enjoy mint juleps while watching the Kentucky Derby in a couple of weeks, and fit some more mint into your diet and start enjoying the benefits. Good Luck...






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