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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween and Peppermint Power

The Halloween season can be a favorite among children as they excitedly prepare their costumes in anticipation for parades, trick or treating, and then finally being able to sort out their goodies.

Some parents try to encourage the moderation method in how fast the candy gets consumed.  Others figure, gorge and get it out of temptations way.

The price to pay for overidulgence may be an upset stomach or a throbbing headache from all the sugar.
Prepare ahead and you'll be ready to deal with it all.
A natural remedy that should be in every kitchen cabinet is Peppermint. Peppermint is one of the oldest and most highly regarded herbs for soothing belly aches and digestion.

Peppermint is just one of the many types of mint in the Mentha family.  It is a perennial herb that if left unchecked, will happily take over your garden through its runner root system.  People often have a designated area just for mint or else they may confine it to barrels or tubs under the ground.

Peppermint makes a wonderful, cooling herbal tea for hot summer days, or it can easily be dried and stored for use anytime as a hot beverage.  Peppermint has the properties to relax contracted muscles, such as the case with stomach aches.

Besides the herbal leaf peppermint, you can utilitze peppermint's many uses by way of the essential oil.  Peppermint essential oil is one of the most powerful essences, incompatible with homeopathy (it will neutralize the potency).  Peppermint herbal tea is safe for young children but when it comes to the essential oil (external use only) it is recommended to not be used for children under the age of five as it is just too stong. Some sources say it is alright as a belly massage if diluted in olive oil (1-2 drops per 2 TB olive oil).  Check with your physician. For infants, a better choice for belly aches would be chamomile or lavender essential oil (1 drop each or 2 drops total in 2 TB olive oil).

It is said that peppermint is one of the best for headaches and nausea.  We tend to shallow breathe when in pain, which results in poorly oxygenated blood.  Peppermint helps to breathe deeper.  Headaches generally have 3 main pains:  the neck and shoulders, the stomach with nausea, and the forehead with sinusitis.  Apply a drop of peppermint essential oil or a bit of a massage oil containing peppermint and rub it where it hurts.

With cold season approaching, peppermint is wonderful to open up the airways to make breathing easier.  Add a few teabags to a pot of hot water and form a tent over the head with a towel to create a sauna effect.  Or add a few drops of essential oil to a simmer pot (if only using peppermint 5 drops may be strong enough) which will help purify an entire room.  Ideal for nighttime use while sleeping.  A favorite combination is 4 drops lavender essential oil, 4 drops eucalyptus essential oil, and 2 drops peppermint essential oil (the general rule for simmer pots is a total of 10 drops).

A last, useful tip for peppermint!  Rodents and ants detest its smell.  Add a few drops of the essential oil to a cotton ball and leave at the the point of suspected entry or site of activity.

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This body, air or surface spray has a multitude of uses.  Cool off from hot weather, relieve a heat flash or a headache, improve concentration while studying, ease nausea from motion sickness or poor digestion, or just feel energized!

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Great to keep handy in a home first aid kit or in the car glove compartment.  An herbal oil made by infusing fresh peppermint in olive oil, with the addition of child safe essential oils.  Helps to relieve the painful cramping of stomach muscles or the throbbing of a headache.

Should you be interested in actually growing and using fresh peppermint, here are some tips:

Peppermint likes sun but will tolerate some shade. Be aware that its roots are runners so if left unchecked it will spread. Some people plant it in some sort of container with drainage and then bury the container in the soil.

Cut the tea back periodically over the growing season to deter it getting lanky as it will when it goes into flower and the season nears an end. Snip what you need during the late morning hours after they've dried off but before the heat of the day.

To dry, you can bundle small bunches by the stems and hang to dry in an airy, cool area out of direct sunlight. When dry, strip off the leaves and store in paper bags.
Don't crumble the leaves until you are ready to use them or you'll lose much of the essential oils.
Or you can spread your herbs out on the trays of a kitchen dehydrator for much quicker drying.

When ready to use the usual rule is 1 teaspoon dry herb to 1 cup of hot water.
If using fresh, use 3 teaspoons herb to 1 cup hot water.

You don't want to boil tender teas. You pour the hot water over them and let simmer. On average, teas only need about 3 - 5 minutes to simmer. then sweeten with honey and add a wedge of lemon if desired.

A very simple, yet delicious way to enjoy mint is to simply add a few fresh stems to a pitcher of water. The water will have a subtle, refreshing minty taste. Start with fresh plant material with each refill of the pitcher. If the water hasn't been drunk within about 3 days, toss and start again because it'll start to taste funky.

 A memory I have as a child is being sent down to the water's edge of a pond to collect enough fresh mint to fill a large soup pot. If you do collect plants outside of your own yard, be sure the plants you are cutting were not sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. Mint shouldn't need either one but just know for sure before using the plants. Rinse off the stems of any dirt, cut to fit in the pot (stems, leaves and any flowering tops), add enough water to cover the plants, cover the pot and gently bring to the boiling point but don't boil, Cock the lid so it doesn't overflow and let the tea simmer about 5 to 10 minutes, depending how strong you like your tea. You don't want to simmer it too long or you'll lose the important essential oils in the steam. Strain out the plant material and add sugar to taste. For sweet tea, 1 cup sugar to a gallon of tea is tasty. Enjoy a cup of hot tea right away and let the rest cool and store in the refrigerator for ice tea. This is wonderfully refreshing on a hot day.

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