For centuries this powerfully aromatic herb has provided relief for indigestion, colds and headache. Today, medicinal peppermint is most prized for its ability to soothe the digestive tract, easing indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome and other complaints.
What it is?
Peppermint is cultivated worldwide for use as a flavouring agent and a herbal medicine. A natural hybrid of spearmint and water mint, peppermint has square stems, oval, pointed, dark green or purple leaves, and lilac-coloured flowers. For medicinal purposes, the leaves and stems of the plant are harvested just before the flowers bloom in summer. The major active ingredient of peppermint is its volatile oil, which is made up of more than 40 different compounds. The oil's therapeutic effect comes mainly from menthol (35-55% of the oil), menthone (15-30%) and menthyl acetate (3-10%). Medicinal peppermint oil is made by steam-distilling the parts of the plant that grow above the ground.
What it does?
Particularly effective in treating digestive disorders, peppermint relieves cramps and relaxes intestinal muscles. It freshens the breath and may clear up nasal congestion as well.
Peppermint oil relaxes the muscles of the digestive tract, helping to relieve intestinal cramping and flatulence. Its anti-spasmodic effect also makes it useful for alleviating the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, a common disorder that is characterized by abdominal pain, alternating bouts of diarrhoea and constipation, and indigestion. The menthol in peppermint aids digestion because it stimulates the flow of natural digestive juices and bile. This action explains why peppermint oil is commonly included in over-the-counter antacids. Several studies indicate that the menthol in peppermint oil helps to dissolve gallstones as well, providing a possible alternative to surgery. Consult your doctor before trying the oil for this purpose. You can also put the oil directly on your tongue; it provides a minty antidote to bad breath. Be careful of dosage.
As a tea or as an oil, peppermint serves as a mild anaesthetic to the stomach's mucous lining, which helps to reduce nausea and motion sickness. The tea may ease symptoms of diverticulosis as well, including flatulence and bloating.
When it's rubbed on the skin, peppermint oil relieves pain by stimulating the nerves that perceive cold while muting those that sense pain, making it a welcome remedy for aching muscles.
Findings are contradictory concerning peppermint's historical use in the treatment of colds and coughs. Some tests suggest that the aromatic plant has no effect. But Commission E, a German health board recognized as an authority on the scientific investigation of herbs, found that peppermint was an effective decongestant that reduced inflammation of the nasal passageways. In addition, many people with colds report that inhaling peppermint's menthol enables them to breathe more easily. Drinking peppermint tea may also offer relief from the bronchial constriction of asthma.
- Relieves heartburn, nausea and indigestion.
- Eases the symptoms of diverticulosis and irritable bowel syndrome.
- Helps to dissolve gallstones.
- Sweetens the breath.
- Soothes muscle aches.
- Eases coughs and congestion due to allergies or colds.
- Dried or fresh herb/tea.
- Because peppermint oil relaxes gastrointestinal muscles, it may aggravate the symptoms of a hiatus hernia.
- Peppermint oil should not be applied to the nostrils or chest of infants and children under the age of 5 because it can cause a choking sensation.
- Reminder: If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
How to take it?
For the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, nausea and gallstones: Try enteric-coated capsules containing peppermint oil because they release peppermint oil where it's most needed – in the small and large intestine rather than in the stomach. Take one or two capsules (containing 0.2 ml of oil per capsule) two or three times a day, between meals.
To freshen the breath: Chew one capsule of peppermint oil.
To relieve flatulence and calm the stomach: Make a tea by steeping 1 or 2 teaspoons of dried peppermint leaves in a cup of very hot water for 5-10 minutes; be sure to cover the cup to keep the volatile oil from escaping.
For congestion: Drink up to four cups of peppermint tea a day.
For pain relief: Add a few drops of peppermint oil to 15 ml of a neutral oil. Apply to the affected areas up to four times daily.
Guidelines for use:
Take enteric-coated capsules between meals. If you prefer peppermint tea, drink a cup three or four times a day, after or between meals. Apply peppermint oil or ointments containing menthol no more than three or four times daily. To take peppermint tincture, put 10-20 drops in a glass of water. Avoid large doses during pregnancy.
Possible side effects
Even when used for prolonged periods, peppermint leaves in the recommended doses generally have no side effects. On rare occasions, enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules can cause skin rash and heartburn. Topical peppermint oil can produce allergic skin rashes, especially if applying heat as well. If side effects occur, stop using the herb. If using the oil, be careful with dosage.
Facts and Tips
- Peppermint oil appears in more commercial products than any other herb. Included in antacids for its therapeutic effects, the oil is commonly added to toothpaste and mouthwash for the fresh taste it imparts.
- Many people confuse peppermint with another popular mint: spearmint. Unlike peppermint, however, spearmint contains no menthol to aid digestion; it is used mainly as a flavouring agent.
- In a study conducted at the Taichung Veterans General Hospital in Taiwan, the vast majority of patients with irritable bowel syndrome who took enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules 15-30 minutes before every meal reported significant relief from the symptoms of the disease. Abdominal pain lessened or disappeared entirely, and patients had less bloating, less frequent stools, and less stomach rumbling and flatulence than usual.
- Researchers at the University of Kiel of Germany studies the effect of peppermint oil on headaches. They found that applying a mixture of peppermint and eucalyptus oils and ethanol to the forehead and temples significantly reduces patients' pain.
Did you know?
Peppermint’s stomach-settling ability makes it a popular ingredient in after-dinner mints, though few confections contain much peppermint oil.