Soothing, relaxing, aromatic peppermint originated in the Mediterranean and is a hybrid of the water mint and the spearmint plants. It is an ancient medicine, one of the oldest in use. The use of peppermint may date back at least as far as 3400 BC, as evidenced by the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medical papyrus. Its beneficial qualities were quickly recognized by the rest of the world. Greeks and Romans used it to promote digestion and as a rejuvenating addition to bath water. It was also hung in the rooms of the ill. Besides digestive system treatments, Chinese and Ayurvedic physicians also used peppermint to treat fevers, colds and coughs.
Today, peppermint oil is used as a flavoring in toothpaste and food. It is used as a fragrance in cosmetics, deodorants and bath products. It is used medicinally in an encapsulated pure form and in diluted forms in tinctures, creams and ointments. The plant itself is also used widely as a tea (by itself or blended with other herbs).
Where Peppermint Oil Comes From
Peppermint plants grow in most moist, temperate parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, North and South America, South Africa and Australia. They grow best in partial sun or shady areas. In the U.S., peppermint farms are concentrated in Indiana, Wisconsin, Oregon, Idaho and Washington. The stems and leaves of the peppermint plant are steam distilled to make peppermint essential oil.
Peppermint Oil Properties
The main medicinal ingredient in peppermint oil is menthol. Menthol tastes and feels “cold” by activating the cold receptor TRPM8. In low doses, it cools and soothes inflammation. Higher doses work as a local anesthetic and as an irritant. Peppermint oil opens the airways and loosens phlegm. It is a muscle relaxant and thus is antispasmodic. Peppermint oil is also antimicrobial. These properties give peppermint oil a great range of uses in natural health.
Peppermint Oil and Natural Health
Peppermint oil capsules can be taken to treat gas, bloating and indigestion. Ancient Egyptians gave peppermint to guests after meals to aid in digestion.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Taken regularly over time, peppermint will reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. For ingestion, peppermint should be taken as a tea or in an encapsulated form.
The numbing property of menthol makes peppermint oil useful in the treatment of nausea, including motion sickness and pregnancy-related nausea (check with your practitioner before taking supplements if you are pregnant—amounts found in foods and teas are generally considered safe).
Colds, Flus and Infections
The antimicrobial properties in peppermint oil supplements may help protect against colds, influenza, infections and even food poisoning. Inhaling diluted oil also helps decrease the symptoms of these illnesses by decreasing nausea, decreasing fever, soothing sore nasal passages, loosening phlegm, clearing the nasal passages, soothing sore throats, and easing dry coughs.
Headaches and Tension
Rubbing a bit of diluted peppermint oil on the forehead (don’t apply peppermint essential oil straight to the skin) or to the back of the neck will relax the muscles and ease tension headaches. It has a very calming effect. Try combining it with other calming essential oils for some very soothing aromatherapy. A little in the bathtub removes tension and refreshes the skin. Rub peppermint oil ointment into muscles for relief from soreness.
Due to its antispasmodic properties, a dose of encapsulated peppermint oil or a drink of peppermint tea will relax menstrual cramps. A peppermint oil cream can be applied to the abdomen as well, to lessen menstrual pain.
Other uses for peppermint oil include:
- Cool itchy and inflamed skin.
- Relieve nerve and joint pain.
- May help prevent gallstones.
- May decrease use of asthma inhalers.
- May help to lower blood sugar levels.
- May lower blood pressure.
- Exhibits antioxidant properties.
- Source of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Helps disburse topical drugs
- May help protect against cancer by inhibiting the growth of certain cancer cells.
- Treat head lice (in conjunction with eucalyptus oil).
- Relax the muscles during colonoscopies.
Pure peppermint oil can irritate the stomach, causing indigestion and heartburn, so it is important that peppermint be taken in a capsule form, so that it will be absorbed in the intestines, rather than in the stomach.
Recommended dosages vary widely. Check with your natural health practitioner for the best dosages for you.
Do not apply pure peppermint oil to the skin. The concentration of menthol in natural, pure peppermint oil can be as high as 48%. It is recommended that ointments, tinctures and creams be mixed to no more than 16% menthol.
Do not apply peppermint oil to young children’s skin or let them ingest pure peppermint oil. Menthol on a child’s face can lead to life-threatening breathing problems.
Some people are allergic to peppermint.
Always let your natural health advisor know that you are taking peppermint oil supplements.
If an antacid is taken at the same time as peppermint oil capsules, they may dissolve in the stomach, leading to heartburn. Separate them by a couple of hours.
Do not take peppermint oil if you have acute gallstones, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or hiatal hernias.
Peppermint oil also interferes with the effectiveness of several drugs. It may multiply the effects of blood pressure medicine or diabetes medicine, leading to dangerously low blood pressure or low blood sugar levels.
Don’t take peppermint oil with cyclosporine. Check with your health provider about taking peppermint oil with drugs that are metabolized by the liver.
Peppermint is a wonderful plant that has a variety of uses. I love to hear ideas from others…. how do you use peppermint oil? If you have a favorite recipe or way to use peppermint essential oil, please share it!