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Peppermint

( Originally Published 1933 )



MENTHA PIPERITA, L.

Labiatae Perennial

The peppermint is a perennial, native to Europe, and has been introduced into the United States, where it grows wild in wet places. The plant is heavier than spear-mint and has a reddish undertone throughout, even the small leaves near the flower spikes having red on their margins.

Root. The plant produces many creeping stolons which spread in favorable environments.

Stem. The branches are spreading, two to three feet long, and curve out instead of standing up straight. The stem is square, reddish, and with the tips often entirely red.

Lea/. The leaves are darker than those of the spear-mint, larger, and not as crinkly. The margins are toothed and there are tiny glands on the upper surface of the leaves which are without hairs as are the stems. The scent is exhilarating as well as aromatic, and is given off without bruising the leaves, and it is delicious, stimulating, and cool, a little heavier than that of spearmint; more pepper-minty. The leaves taste of camphor, a little bitter, and leave a cool pepperminty feeling behind in one's mouth.

Flower. The flowers come in late July and August and are borne in cylindrical, or club-like spikes, and are a pretty shade of rosy lavender.

Seed. There are no seeds, says Vilmorin.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

It is mentioned by Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Ovid in his story of Philemon and Baucis told how Baucis rubbed mint on the table before setting it when she was entertaining Jupiter and Mercury, unaware of their divinity:

"She rubb'd it o'er with newly gathered mint A wholesome herb, that breath'd a grateful scent."

It was first distilled in America in 1816, in Wayne County, N. Y., by a Mr. Barnett, who collected the wild plants, and the oil was called "pipmentol." In 1835 the industry was established in Saint Joseph's County, Michigan, at first with crude machinery which was later improved. The principal peppermint plantations are on the muck lands of southern Michigan and northern Indiana, but the New York oil is better. The annual production of peppermint oil in the United States is around 300,000 pounds. Besides the Mentha piperita, a var. vulgaris and a kind called Mentha officinalis are also cultivated.

USES

Medicine. The oil for medicine is expressed from the dried leaves of flowering plants. It is in most pharmacopoeias, and the tea is antispasmodic, and also a powerful analgesic, and is used to check the secretions of all glands, except those of the skin and kidneys.

Perfume. The oil is a flavoring in tooth powders, pastes, and washes.

Food. The stems are bitter, and only the leaves and tops should be infused in drinks. In Pennsylvania a tea is served to the farm hands in the fields instead of cold water, or the once popular schnapps, perhaps because peppermint is good for heat prostration.

CULTURE

The wild plants prefer a moist soil, but in the garden a deep soil which is a little moist is satisfactory. The largest supply of peppermint oil comes from America and Japan, but it is also cultivated in Europe.

Mint is propagated by pieces of the runners. All the mints can be increased from slips planted in sand in cold frames.



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