Peppermint’s potential uses go far beyond teas and holiday ornaments — it also has some health benefits. The medicinal potential of mint dates as far back as ancient Greece, where they were used for digestive issues as well as for cough and cold symptoms.
Peppermint, a cross between water mint and spearmint, was first bred in the late 1600s in England. The plant has fragrant, dark green leaves and grows to about 2 to 3 feet tall. From July to August, tiny purple flowers bloom in clusters on top of each stalk of leaves. Today the herb grows in Europe and North America.
Fresh peppermint leaves are edible and available year-round in many food stores. Dried leaves are often used in teas. Peppermint oil comes from crushing and distilling the stem, leaves, and flowers of the plant. It’s the oil that’s typically used for medical purposes, although tea may be used as a traditional remedy for an upset stomach or cold symptoms.
As an essential oil, peppermint is sold in health food or vitamin stores in liquid or capsule form. Peppermint oil capsules are often coated so the pill can pass through the stomach without causing heartburn. The oil may also be combined with other essential oils.
Good for the Tummy?
One of the most common and widely researched uses for peppermint oil is treating gastrointestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), indigestion, and intestinal spasms. This is because peppermint relaxes the stomach and intestines.
IBS symptoms include gas, stomach pain, bloating, and diarrhea. The use of peppermint oil capsules to treat IBS has been the focus of several studies. While not all of them have proven the treatment effective, the general consensus is that peppermint oil may be helpful in relieving mild to moderate IBS symptoms.
To treat indigestion, peppermint oil has been found to be more effective when combined with caraway oil. The mixture is taken as a coated pill. A few small studies have shown the combination may be effective for relieving minor indigestion.
Peppermint has been used to prevent colon and intestinal spasms during certain medical procedures, such as a barium enema (putting barium into the lower intestines), endoscopy, and colonoscopy. Research for these uses is promising but is still limited. Some studies show that adding peppermint oil to the barium enema is effective for lessening intestinal pain. Another study found peppermint oil to be effective for reducing stomach spasms during an upper endoscopy.
What Else Is It Good For?
Other medical uses for peppermint include soothing tension headaches, cold symptoms, and skin irritations. The essential oil can be rubbed on the forehead for headache relief, or used in a humidifier to ease sinus congestion. Drinking peppermint tea may help to ease a cough or sore throat from a cold. Menthol, which is a substance found in peppermint oil, is used in creams and ointments for treating itching and skin irritations.
In manufacturing, peppermint oil is used for adding flavor and scent to medications and beauty products.
Eating peppermint, drinking it in tea, and taking it as a supplement in the amounts found in food is considered safe. However, large doses taken as medication can be dangerous, causing kidney failure or death. Other possible side effects are upset stomach, heartburn, heart problems, loss of appetite, and nervous system problems. It may also interfere with other medications, so talk to your doctor before using peppermint as a medical treatment.
With all of its potential uses, it’s easy to see why peppermint has been widely used in both food and medicine. And scientific research may yet uncover more evidence for peppermint as an effective treatment for conditions other than gastrointestinal disorders. In the meantime, peppermint’s traditional uses are generally safe for most adults.