June 9, 2012

Herb & Spice Fact of the Day

Spearmint or Garden mint has long been used by humans in drinks and garnishes and chutneys because of its characteristic menthol aroma. It uses underground runners to propagate so is best cultivated in a container instead of in the ground because it has a tendency to easily grow wild. My first experience with 'mint gone wild' was a long long time ago at a cabin in the Himalayas. We were there on a family camping trip and there was a fresh water spring in the back yard with the freshest, most refreshing water. My aunt who was with us discovered that a few hundred years upstream there was a huge patch of 'mint gone wild'. As the babbling brook ran through the mint leaves, the mint imparted its freshness to the water. Here's a picture from that camping trip - with my aunt on the left :) !! It was a long time ago but every time I eat a mint flavored drink, I remember Badi-Ma and that trip to Har-ki-doon!! 

Spearmint is packed with numerous health benefiting vitamins, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Unlike some of the other stronger mint varieties, spearmint has a low levels of menthol which make it rather pleasant on the palate when it is added to drinks. Other essential oils include areα-pinene, β-pinene, carvone, cineole, linalool, limonene, myrcene and caryophyllene. These are supposed to help relieve fatigue and stress. The herb parts of spearmint are also very good in minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Iron is required for enzymes in cellular metabolism and synthesis of hemoglobin. Potassium in an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase. 

Spearmint is also rich in many antioxidant vitamins including vitamin A (provides 4054 IU or 135% of RDA), beta carotene, vitamin C, folates (26% of RDA), vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), riboflavin and thiamin. Along with the nutritional uses, spearmint has also found its place in traditional as well in modern medicine. It has been used as a remedy for minor ailments such as headaches, nervous strain, fatigue and stress, as well as for the respiratory problems; helping with asthma and bronchitis. It has been useful for digestive problems including nausea, flatulence and hiccups as it relaxes the stomach muscles. Menthol is an analgesic, local anaesthetic and has been used in toothpaste and mouth refresheners. On the skin, when used as cream or lotion, mint extracts and menthol may help relieve the itching of pruritis, dermatitis and hives. Its also used in massage oils as it with headaches, stress, fatigue, and nervous conditions and to relieve itching. So bring on those mojitos and the mint iced teas ... there's a lot of good stuff in this cool herb!

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