Those candy canes you may stick on your Christmas tree are good for more than just decoration. As long as you stick to the simple red and white peppermint candy canes and don’t stray to the neo-fruity ones, you don’t need to feel too guilty about occasionally sneaking one off the tree for a few minty licks.
While peppermint may bring mint choc. chip ice cream, candy canes, or minty-fresh breath to mind, this herb has actually been put to use as a medicine years before it was ever turned into an ingredient in food. Peppermint is particularly well known for relieving indigestion and the symptoms of an upset stomach. I can attest to this, for in the past when I’ve been slightly nauseated, peppermint tea has significantly helped in soothing my stomach.
Studies have also shown that peppermint oil helps relieve the symptoms of those who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a condition characterized by abdominal cramping and pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. This may be due to the fact that peppermint has muscle relaxing properties that calm the muscles of the stomach and intestines. One study done in 2005, showed that peppermint oil helped to relieve 58% of patients in the study of their preexisting IBS symptoms. Other fieldwork conducted by researcher Alexander C. Ford, MD showed that an estimated one of every 2.5 patients would get considerable relief of IBS symptoms if treated with peppermint oil. While peppermint may not help every IBS patient, it has proven to at least make a difference for a significant number of those who have it.
Peppermint may also contribute to stopping the growth of cancerous tumors. Perillyl aclohol, a phytonutrient in peppermint, has been shown to stop the growth of pancreatic, mammary, and liver tumors, as well as protect against tumor formation in the colon, skin, and lungs in animals. (However, note that these studies have yet to be applied to humans.)
Additionally, peppermint has been shown to aid those who have asthma. It contains a component known as rosmarinic acid, which has been shown to block the production of inflammatory chemicals and create prostacyclins which help to keep the airways open for breathing. Due to these properties, peppermint has shown to relieve the symptoms generated by both asthma and allergies.
Peppermint oil is the most potent, concentrated way to benefit from these healthful advantages. However, simply eating or drinking the peppermint leaves has also proven to be beneficial and can be quite tasty as well.
Try replacing your morning cup of coffee with some peppermint tea, or have a cup after dinner to soothe the stomach. The aroma in itself is worth the cup. There are plenty of companies that sell peppermint tea, but if you want to make your own, try combining 1-2 tablespoons of dried peppermint leaves with very hot (not quite boiling) water, and steep for approximately ten minutes. Drain the leaves, and enjoy the taste and emanating smells. If you happen to grow your own mint (which can easily spread and take over your whole garden), tea can also easily be made with fresh mint leaves, by filling your cup at least halfway full of leaves, adding very hot water, and steeping for ten minutes. Strain, then enjoy warm, or throw the cup in the fridge for a few hours for a nice version of iced tea.
The smell of peppermint has also been shown to suppress appetite, so if you’re trying to avoid the afternoon snack impulse, reach for a piece of peppermint gum. A study done by Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia found that when adults were regularly exposed to peppermint, they consumed about 2,800 fewer calories per week.
So if that candy cane on your tree has caught your eye, don’t be afraid to grab it and give your taste buds a nice treat. Keep in mind that they do contain an empty 50 calories of sugar, but for a treat, this combined with the “minty benefits” doesn’t make them look too bad. And if you’re looking for a calorieless treat, go for the tea or simply chew on a few minty leaves as is.