The World's Healthiest Foods
Peppermint leaves, fresh

While peppermint leaves are available throughout the year, they are especially good in warm weather when they can give a burst of cool flavor to a summery salad or beverage.

Peppermint has greenish-purple lance-shaped leaves while the rounder leaves of spearmint are more of a grayish green color. The taste of both peppermint and spearmint bear a flavor that can be described as a cross between pepper and chlorophyll, with peppermint being a bit stronger and spearmint being a little more cool and subtle.

 


Health Benefits

Soothe Your Tummy with Peppermint

In the world of health research, randomized controlled trials have repeatedly shown the ability of peppermint oil to relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, including indigestion, dyspepsia, and colonic muscle spasms. These healing properties of peppermint are apparently related to its smooth muscle relaxing ability. Once the smooth muscles surrounding the intestine are relaxed, there is less chance of spasm and the indigestion that can accompany it. The menthol contained in peppermint may be a key reason for this bowel-comforting effect.

A Potential Anti-Cancer Agent

Interest in peppermint has extended well beyond the digestive tract, however. Perillyl alcohol is a phytonutrient called a monoterpene, and it is plentiful in peppermint oil. In animal studies, this phytonutrient has been shown to stop the growth of pancreatic, mammary, and liver tumors. It has also been shown to protect against cancer formation in the colon, skin, and lungs. These animal-based studies have yet to be matched by equally sound human studies, however.

An Anti-Microbial Oil

Esssential oil of peppermint also stops the growth of many different bacteria. These bacteria include Helicobacter pylori, Salmonella enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). It has also be found to inhibit the growth of certain types of fungus as well.

Breathe Easier with Peppermint

Peppermint contains the substance rosmarinic acid, which has several actions that are beneficial in asthma. In addition to its antioxidant abilities to neutralize free radicals, rosmarinic acid has been shown to block the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals, such as leukotrienes. It also encourages cells to make substances called prostacyclins that keep the airways open for easy breathing. Extracts of peppermint have also been shown to help relieve the nasal symptoms of allergic rhinitis (colds related to allergy).

A Rich Source of Traditional Nutrients

Our food ranking system also showed peppermint to deliver a wide range of traditional nutrients. Peppermint is an excellent source of manganese, vitamin C and vitamin A, the latter notably through its concentration of carotenoids, including beta-carotene. Both vitamin C and beta-carotene seem to play a role in decreasing colorectal 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. Some studies have shown a link between increased vitamin C intake and a decreased risk for colon cancer, possibly by as much as 40%, while other studies have shown that vitamin C intake can help to decrease the incidence of colon tumors. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids have been shown in some studies to decrease the risks of developing both colon cancer and rectal cancer. Carotenoids have also been shown to increase cell differentiation and protect cells against carcinogenic chemicals that could damage DNA. Vitamin A, which is structurally similar to beta-carotene, may help to decrease risk by preventing excessive colon cell proliferation and tumor formation.

In addition to all of the above healing properties, peppermint emerged from our food ranking system as a very good source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, and calcium, vitamin B2 (based on its few calories and high nutrient density). This high nutrient density and low calorie status qualified peppermint as a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B2, potassium and copper.

Description

Mint is the glorious plant that gives the candy of the same name its cool burst of flavor. While there are about 25 different species of mints, peppermint is actually a natural hybrid cross between Mentha aquatica (water mint) and Mentha spicata (spearmint). Peppermint has greenish-purple lance-shaped leaves while the rounder leaves of spearmint are more of a grayish green color.

The taste of both peppermint and spearmint bear a flavor that can be described as a cross between pepper and chlorophyll, with peppermint being a bit stronger and spearmint being a little more cool and subtle. In addition to peppermint and spearmint, other plants in the Mentha genus include apple mint, orange mint, water mint, curly mint and Corsican mint.

History

Mint is an ancient herb used since antiquity for its culinary, medicinal and aromatic properties. The origins of mint are honored in a Greek myth that tells the tale that the plant was originally a nymph (Minthe), who was transformed into a plant by Persephone, who was jealous of the affections that her husband Pluto was showing to Minthe. While Pluto could not reverse the spell that his wife cast, he did impart Minthe with a sweet smell, so when she was walked upon in the garden, her aroma would be delightful to the senses.

Mintís characteristic smell has made it one of the more popular perfuming herbs throughout history. Around the globe, from Europe to India to the Middle East, mint has been used a strewing herb to clear the air in both temples and homes. Mint has also come to symbolize hospitality in many cultures. In ancient Greece, mint leaves were rubbed on dining tables to welcome guests, while in the Middle East, the host still traditionally offers mint tea to guests upon their arrival.

Mint has played an important role in the American tradition. While the Native Americans were using mint even before the arrival of the European settlers, the early colonists brought this prized herb with them from the Old World since they had long honored it for its therapeutic properties, as well as for the delicious hot tea beverage made from its leaves.

How to Select and Store

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:

A cup of fresh mint tea can help to soothe your stomach and your nerves.

Toss cubes of cooked eggplant with chopped mint leaves, plain yogurt, garlic and cayenne.

For a quick and easy salad, combine fennel, onions, oranges and mint leaves.

Give fruit salad a unique perk by adding some fresh mint leaves to it.

Add chopped mint leaves to gazpacho or other soups that feature tomatoes as the freshness of the mint complements the sweet acidity of tomatoes very well.

Safety

Peppermint is not a commonly allergenic food, is not included in the list of 20 foods that most frequently contain pesticide residues, and is also not known to contain goitrogens, oxalates, or purines.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Peppermint Leaves, Fresh
1.00 oz-wt
19.85 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin A 1204.31 IU 24.1 21.8 excellent
manganese 0.33 mg 16.5 15.0 excellent
vitamin C 9.02 mg 15.0 13.6 excellent
dietary fiber 2.27 g 9.1 8.2 very good
folate 32.32 mcg 8.1 7.3 very good
iron 1.44 mg 8.0 7.3 very good
calcium 68.89 mg 6.9 6.2 very good
tryptophan 0.02 g 6.3 5.7 very good
magnesium 22.68 mg 5.7 5.1 very good
omega 3 fatty acids 0.12 g 4.8 4.4 good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.08 mg 4.7 4.3 good
potassium 161.31 mg 4.6 4.2 good
copper 0.09 mg 4.5 4.1 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

  • Edris AE, Farrag ES. Antifungal activity of peppermint and sweet basil essential oils and their major aroma constituents on some plant pathogenic fungi from the vapor phase. Nahrung 2003 Apr; 47(2):117-21.
  • Ensminger AH, Ensminger, ME, Kondale JE, Robson JRK. Foods & Nutriton Encyclopedia. Pegus Press, Clovis, California.
  • Ensminger AH, Esminger M. K. J. e. al. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia. Clovis, California: Pegus Press; 1986.
  • Fortin, Francois, Editorial Director. The Visual Foods Encyclopedia. Macmillan, New York.
  • Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Dover Publications, New York.
  • Wood, Rebecca. The Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Prentice-Hall Press; 1988.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-20 18:23:22
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation