pepper-mint defined in 1912 yearpepper-mint - PEPPER-MINT (Mentha piperita);
pepper-mint - A mere touch of the hand, a slight bruising of the heart-shaped leaves between one's fingers, and the secret of this plant's personality is revealed, for a strong scent, like no other that we know, exhales. Even if the plant be totally unknown to us by sight, this will at once betray it - it is the Pepper-Mint. All the Mints are known by their aromatic essences, but the Pepper-Mint is by far the richest in them. Hidden away in the tissues, chiefly in those of the leaves and the sepals, are multitudes of tiny glands containing a fragrant volatile oil, and by the bruising of the tissues in any way this oil is set free. Closely associated with the scent is a pungent, aromatic taste, for a leaf laid in the mouth bites the tongue with a heat like pepper - hence its name - to be followed a moment later by a sensation of coldness. First hot, then cold, that is the characteristic action of both pepper and the Pepper-Mint.
It is not one of our commonest wild flowers, and, indeed, some critics hold that it is not a true native of this country, but it certainly grows wild now in many districts, preferably in damp places and by the edges of ponds. Lord Bacon, in his famous passage on the Breath of Flowers, specially refers to this plant: "Those which perfume the air most delightfully... being trodden upon and crushed, are three: that is Burnet, Wild Time, and Water Mints. Therefore, you are to set whole alleys of them, to have the pleasure when you walk or tread." Of course, it is possible these plants may be descendants of escapes from the gardens of our own far-back ancestors, where mints always found a place among their many other herbs. Indeed, a garden in the Middle Ages was only very secondarily a flower garden, being almost wholly given up to the growing of aromatic herbs, essential in the days when spices were unknown for flavouring, and essential, too, in our forefathers' estimation, for hanging up in their houses and for strewing the floors both at home and in church.
"My lady's fair pew had been strewn full gay
With Primroses, Cowslips and Violets sweet,
With Mints, with Marigolds and Marjoram,"
says an old play written by a contemporary of Shakespeare. Probably in those days, when sanitation was chiefly distinguished by its absence, our ancestors instinctively realised the value of these plants as health agents, an instinct amply justified to-day with reference to this very plant, for some of the most modern derivatives manufactured from Pepper-Mint are recognised by us as strong antiseptics and disinfectants.
A low perennial herb with square stems, it has its leaves arranged in pairs, each pair being at right angles to the pair above and below it. Lord Avebury points out that these two characters generally go together, and that it is actually a structural advantage for plants with opposite leaves to have their stems square. Soft hairs form a scanty coating on both stalk and leaves.
The flowers, which appear in August and September, are of a delicate lilac-blue colour, and are massed, twenty or more together, into balls for the sake of attractiveness. * Each flower has a five-toothed calyx and a corolla with four lobes, one a trifle larger than the rest. Now, most of its family relatives have their corollas formed into two lips, hence the family name Labiatæ, but in the Mints this two-lippedness is reduced almost to nothing, and it could never be distinguished if it were not carefully looked for. Standing on the corolla are four stamens; they are much taller than it is, and they project right beyond it, so the eighty or more stamens that protrude from each tuft of flowers form a sort of halo to the blue ball. Every flower produces four seeds - each in a little pocket of the ovary - with a column rising from down between them and passing up through the stamens and ending in a fork. As they mature the petals turn brown, lingering on long after they are dead; the calyx, too, dries and persists protectingly until the four nutlets are black and ripe and are scattered to the winds. Our photograph is an excellent presentment of the plant.
The Pepper-Mint appears to have been first definitely recognised as wild in Hertfordshire, and to have received its name from Ray in his Historia Plant arum, published 1704. It is one of the few plants whose reputation in medicine is of comparatively recent origin. Culpepper does not mention it among the medicinal herbs of his day, though he records a common belief that if a wounded man eat ordinary mint his wound would never be cured - and he sapiently opines, "and that is a long day 1" Its value was not realised until the following century, and its commercial history began in 1750, when a little land was set apart for its cultivation at Mitcham, in Surrey. A large herbal published at the beginning of last century writes of essence of Pepper-Mint as "an elegant medicine," and suggests many occasions for its use, while Dr. Thornton's "Herbal" of 1814 mentions the plant as being then cultivated in very large quantities for the sake of its essential oil - Pepper-Mint water, spirits of Pepper-Mint, oil of Pepper-Mint being the three forms under which it was in use. The zenith of its cultivation was reached in 1850. Since then the competition from imported foreign varieties of Pepper-Mints has affected it adversely.
To-day the Pepper-Mint is grown for medicinal purposes at Mitcham, Carshalton, Hitchin, Wisbech and Market Deeping. Two varieties of the plant are found, the Black and White Pepper-Mints. The former is coarser, hardier, and flowers later than the White Pepper-Mint, and gives about thirty pounds of oil extract per acre. The latter gives only twenty-four pounds, but the extract is finer flavoured.
The plant needs rich, somewhat sandy soil, in a moist and warm locality. It is gathered for distillation when the flowers are out in August, and is put straight into the still, some five hundredweight of Pepper-Mint being put into a still seven or eight feet high. Water is added, heat applied, and the oil distilled. In about four and a half hours the process is completed, the herb drawn off, and later ploughed back into the land. Almost colourless at first, the oil becomes thicker and redder by age. One of its chief uses is to disguise unpleasant medicine from the faddy and difficult patient, but it is also very valuable on its own account in digestive troubles; therefore the " bull's eyes " and peppermint drops of our youthful fancy have a special sanction from the faculty. It has two remarkable effects upon the human body - firstly, wherever it touches the skin it causes the blood vessels to contract acutely, hence the person feels cold there; secondly, it seems to diminish the number of white corpuscles in the blood when it is taken as a medicine.
Menthol, an increasingly popular remedy for neuralgia, rheumatism, toothache, etc. - in fact, a local anaesthetic - is a crystalline substance derived from oil of Pepper-Mint. Attention was first called to it in the Lancet of 1879, but the Japanese have known it for two hundred years, and it was carried as a matter of course by Japanese gentlemen in a little medicine box attached to their girdles. Nowadays, however, the Japanese variety of the Pepper-Mint is commonly employed for making it, as this is cheaper. This Japanese variety of the plant has been satisfactorily grown near Colchester.
pictures for pepper-mint
near pepper-mint in Knolik
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