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12/28/2008 18:33:33
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Candy Canes Fight Germs, Settle Stomachs


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New studies on peppermint, the key flavoring in traditional candy canes, reveal the herb may do everything from kill germs to treat digestive troubles.

Some researchers now advise consumers to eat a tablespoon or more of fresh peppermint, and other green herbs, daily.

Peppermint oil, found in most candy canes, also appears to have health benefits. A recent British Medical Journal study, led by McMaster University researcher Alex Ford, concludes that peppermint oil should be the first line of defense against irritable bowel syndrome, a condition characterized by abdominal pain and irregular bowels that affects between 5 to 20 percent of the population.

Peppermint oil, and other potent essential oils, may even one day be wafted in their vapor form over food to prevent the growth of bacteria.

"Most of the (effective) species are really from the family Lamiaceae, or mint family," Pavel Kloucek, a scientist at the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, told Discovery News.

Kloucek and his team analyzed several essential oils to see how well they could, in vapor form, kill the bacteria responsible for Listeria, Staph, E. coli, and Salmonella infections, and more.

While peppermint's germ-killing powers have been previously documented, the new study is the first to report the antimicrobial activity of two other mint family members -- Mentha villosa and Faassen's catnip -- along with another non-mint herb, bluebeard.

Essential oils for horseradish, garlic, hyssop, basil, marjoram, oregano, winter savory, and three types of thyme also showed potent bacteria-busting abilities.

The findings have been accepted for publication in the journal Food Control.

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