Can Peppermint Make You Smarter?

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Can peppermint make you smarter? That’s a tricky question. Do you know what the hippocampus is? That’s a fun word, “hippocampus.” It makes me think of a hippopotamus with a backpack trekking across a college campus trying to get to his next calculus class. Anyway…the hippocampus is a pretty cool little part of the brain that is responsible for so much. It is the organ that is responsible for learning and memory. Additionally, it is reasonable for mood regulation (something we all need “regulated” once in a while).

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Do you know what the olfactory system is? Yes…the “Old Factory” system is the part of the sensory system that is responsible for smelling. The olfactory sensory system is directly plugged into the brain. It does not travel to the brain via the spinal cord. When olfaction (smelling) occurs, interaction occurs between the olfactory system and the hippocampus. Again, the hippocampus is responsible for the formation of new memories and mood regulation. “No other senses have this kind of deep access,” says Rachel Herz, Ph.D. of Brown University in her book The Scent of Desire – Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell.

Peppermint and its essential oil, primarily the menthol component, stimulates the hippocampus. As the peppermint is taken in, the menthol is released and stimulates the olfactory nerves thereby stimulating the hippocampus and enhances learning and promotes a state of calmness. This “calmness” is not a state of restfulness. It’s a calmness that promotes an alert and attentive state.

During a study at Wheeling Jesuit University, Dr. Bryan Raudenbush determined that drivers who were exposed to the scent of peppermint were less frustrated with their fellow drivers and were more attentive when driving long distances. Pretty cool, hu?

You are thinking, “But these studies talk more about ‘smelling’ the peppermint and the beneficial nature the smell of peppermint has on the hippocampus rather than eating and tasting peppermint.” And, you’d be correct in thinking that. However, consider the act of both tasting and smelling. We have five senses of taste. If the enjoyment of a good meal depended on the combination of only Sweetness, Sourness, Saltiness, Bitterness, Umami, the world would be full of skinny people dreading their next savory, sour, bitter, salty-sweet meal. What’s the fun in a meal like that? However, the olfactory system comes to the rescue. Based on the study by the Rockefeller University, “Humans Can Discriminate More than 1 Trillion Olfactory Stimuli.” And much of what we eat is actually enjoyed by what we smell during mastication (chewing).

Ever experience that cold feeling in your mouth AND NOSE while eating a peppermint? Sure you have! It’s the thermal illusion that happens when our sensory receptors are bamboozled by the stimulus. How? We’ll, that’s a process of proteins and ion movements that may be better explained in a different article. The point is: your nose is stimulated while you eat as well, if not more so. This indicates that the smell of the peppermint is working its magic.

Along with the memory-making, calming nature of peppermints, the sugar in the mints fuels the brain for learning. Don’t worry too much about a possible negative effect of peppermints namely cavity creeps. Though sugar has been proven to promote the processes that result in tooth decay, peppermint oil is superior to the active ingredient of mouth wash: chlorhexidine. Folks used peppermint to whiten teeth in the middle ages.

Peppermint repels mosquitoes. Granted, you will have to “rough up” the leaves for a good, topical mosquito repellant. But, during the summer months, the thermal illusion of cold will be refreshing. Additionally, peppermint helps control skin blemishes and tones the skin.

Peppermint also repels aphids, cabbage looper, flea beetles, squash bugs and the small white. I am considering using freshly cut peppermint as a mulch for my squash plants. The bugs usually use the mulch as a hiding place; if their “hiding places” are all made out of peppermint, then there’s no place to hide (except in the neighbor’s squash (shame on me)).

Peppermint may be the cure-all you’ve been waiting on (either for an actual or a “perceived” illness). But peppermint does so much good that you may not need a cure-all if you incorporate this cure-some into your homestead and diet. Not only will a peppermint help with learning, mood management and freshen breath, peppermints will sooth upset stomachs, calm headaches, thwart food cravings (why I use a lot of the stuff), free the sensation of stuffy noses, aid in gas passing (yes, they relax the bowel to allow for a few in-the-garden-left-cheek-sneaks), and heal fever blisters. Peppermint oil has awesome antiseptic and antibacterial properties and lice hate it!!

We know peppermint will spread and…for me…that’s A-OK. Most homesteaders will plant peppermint with good intentions. The plants look great and usually are very healthy. Visitors to our homesteads will enjoy a nice sniff of the herb as they are being taken on the full garden tour. What I have found is that it like to travel; it’ll travel under the rocks you’ve placed to hold it back but “runners” will shoot under and spring up in other areas. We had some in the back yard and when I mowed and weedeat-ed the back yard, I’d buzz some of the mint and WOW! It’s possible that I got smarter just mowing the yard. It was an area I always waited until last to weedeat because it was so nice to smell.

But, most homesteaders don’t know what to do with the abundance of peppermint…or any of the mints…once they become established. Later, when we warm up and planting time arrives, we’ll plant some mint on our homestead and later explore many of its uses. For now, put this plant on your shopping lists and we’ll talk more about it later in the year.

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