The peppermint plant (Mentha piperita) is a sterile hybrid that was developed by crossing Mentha aquatica and Mentha spicata. The plant grows to 2 to 3 feet in height. Foliage is a bright green that is highly fragrant, and small purple flower spikes appear from July to August. A popular herbal medication, peppermint is widely used to calm stomach problems, relieve skin irritations and as an additive in decongestant medications.
A hardy perennial, the peppermint plant grows on a strong fibrous root system. It prefers a location that offers shade with fertile, moist soil high in organic content. Once established, the peppermint plant is highly invasive. Regular division is required for control. The plant can be successfully grown in containers. Regular clipping and trimming of the sprigs encourages the plant to produce more abundant growth.
The strong aroma of the peppermint plant is produced from a volatile oil known as menthol. The oil resides in the leaves and stems of the plant. The oil is widely used in medicinal compounds, cosmetics, household cleaners and personal hygiene products.
Harvest leaves fresh for use as a flavoring in tea and alcoholic drinks. Adding fresh cut peppermint to flower bouquets helps add scent to the house. The leaves can also be simmered in potpourri pots to emit a pleasing fragrance throughout the home.
Dried peppermint leaves are commonly used in teas and culinary dishes. Lay the cut leaves across a screen in a shady location to slowly dry. Trying to force the leaves to dry using a heat source lessens the flavor and aroma.
Many people suffer skin allergies to peppermint oil from the plant. Rashes, dermatitis and hives often develop when the person comes into contact with the foliage of the plant. Extremely large doses of peppermint oil can be dangerous and cause seizures and even brain damage.