A Deeper Look Series: Peppermint Essential Oil

Peppermint is an invigorating herb used for medicinal purposes, as a ceremonial herb, and in cooking for thousands of years. Peppermint Essential Oil is an effective painkiller used for headaches, migraines, neuralgia and muscle pain. It clarifies the mind and drives away mental fatigue. This wonderfully adaptable oil can also be used to heal colds and influenza, treat acne, cure travel sickness and mend liver damage.


Peppermint Plant Description

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Peppermint is a perennial herb growing up to a height of 30 to 100 cm (11-39 inches). It has white or mauve flowers and lanceolate leaves with jagged edges.

Peppermint belongs to the Mentha (mint) genus of plants with about 20 other varieties and hybrids. It is a hybrid of Mentha spicata (spearmint) and Mentha aquatica (water mint).

The name mint has two possible origins. It may be named after the Greek nymph Minthe who was stalked by the god Pluto and consequently transformed – out of jealousy – into a herb by Persephone, the queen of the underworld.

According to a less dramatic explanation the word mint derives from the Latin word for thought, mente.

Peppermint is native to the Mediterranean region and the western Asia. It is cultivated in large parts of the world with the major producers being the USA, Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, England, France, Germany, Holland, India, Italy, Morocco, and Spain.

The Peppermint Essential Oil is steam-distilled from the partially dried leaves of Mentha piperita. The colour of the oil is pale yellow or pale olive. It has a clean, sweet odour with “balsamic undertones.”


Peppermint in Ancient Rome and Egypt

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The peppermint plant has been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes, as a ceremonial herb, and in cooking.

According to Pliny, the Romans used peppermint to flavour their sources and wines. It was also used to scent bath water and, in its powdered form, the bed linen. Finally, this aromatic herb was used as decoration at Roman celebrations and festivals.

For the Egyptians, peppermint was an ingredient of the sacred incense, Kyphi, and used in religious rituals and ceremonies.

Both peoples also believed – quite correctly – in the digestive properties of peppermint.


Peppermint Essential Oil Usage in Medieval Europe

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In Europe, the essential oil of peppermint was used for the first time in the 14th century when the distillation process became more widely known.

The oil was used, among other things, to whiten the teeth. It was also said to heal, according to Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654), “complaints of the stomach such as wind and vomiting.”

In modern times, peppermint is widely used industrially in detergents, perfumes, toothpastes and mouthwashes. It is also a popular food flavouring in chewing gums, chocolates and other confectioneries.


Peppermint Essential Oil Components and Therapeutic Actions

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The major components of Peppermint Essential Oil are menthol, menthene, mentone, limonene, pulegone, and phellandrene.

Its therapeutic actions are many and varied.

  • It is analgesic (painkilling), anaesthetic (painkilling, numbing), antiphlogistic (it reduces inflammation), antispasmodic (it relieves spasms) and astringent (it causes contraction of skin cells and other body tissues).Peppermint Essential Oil is also carminative (it reduces flatulence), and cephalic (it has an effect on the head, for example reducing headaches and migraines).
  • It is a cholagogue (it promotes discharge of bile) and a choleretic (it stimulates the liver into producing more bile).
  • Peppermint is also a cordial, aiding with the functioning of the heart.
  • It is a decongestant and relieves nasal congestion.
  • It is an emmenagogue, increasing menstrual flow.
  • Peppermint oil is expectorant (it promotes secretion of sputum from the air passages).
  • It is a febrifuge and helps bring down fever.
  • It is hepatic. It eases the working of the liver.
  • Peppermint Essential oil is both a nervine and a stimulant, which means that it calms the nerves while increasing the physiological and nervous activity.
  • Peppermint is stomachic (it assists with digestion and fosters appetite).
  • It is sudorific (it causes sweating), while also being a vasoconstrictor, constricting blood vessels and increasing blood pressure.
  • Finally, Peppermint Essential Oil is a vermifuge, killing parasitic worms.

Pharmacological and Clinical Studies of Peppermint Essential Oil

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There have been a number of pharmacological and clinical studies made into the healing qualities of the Peppermint Essential Oil.

In a study published in 2000, the researchers found that peppermint eased tension headaches when mixed with ethanol and applied topically on the head.

Their conclusion was that peppermint oil was an “acceptable alternative to oral analgesics.” 1

The same research team also noted that the antibacterial and antifungal effects of Peppermint Essential Oil were significant.

In another study, conducted in 1992, the choleretic effects of peppermint were found to be remarkable. In this study, the use of peppermint increased secretion of bile from the liver notably. 2

Colostomy patients will be interested to know that Peppermint Essential Oil reduces colonic pressure and prevents foaming.

According to a 1989 study, peppermint reduces “post-operative colic and the frequency of bag change.”

The subjects of this study were given peppermint capsules orally. 3

In a related study, peppermint was found to reduce colonic spasm during endoscopy – viewing of intestines and other internal parts with a miniature camera introduced into the body.

In a 1990s study, the nasal decongestant qualities of Peppermint Essential Oil were attributed to a cooling effect caused by stimulation of the “thermoreceptors” in the nasal cavity. 4

Importantly, this study warns against using Peppermint Essential Oil nasally on young children and infants because of its inhibiting effect on breathing.


Uses of Peppermint Essential Oil for Healing

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Peppermint Essential Oil is used as a painkiller and local anaesthetic for headaches, bruises and nervous pain.

It is said to have a noticeable effect on neuralgia and myalgia.

When applied in liniments, Peppermint Essential Oil acts on muscle and joint pain, and can be used to treat lumbago.

Peppermint has a clarifying effect on the mind. Used alone or in combination with rosemary and basil, peppermint is a wonderful aid to concentration. It increases circulation and blood flow to the brain. It also has a calming and fortifying effect on the nerves, and it dispels mental fatigue.

To treat headaches and migraines, mix Peppermint Essential Oil with lavender, and use in a cold compress on the forehead and the temples.

Peppermint Essential Oil stimulates the lymphatic system. It increases blood flow to the spleen and so increases production of new blood corpuscles.

It helps with liver damage and inflammation of the gall bladder and can be used to clear obstructions of the bile ducts.

Various stomach ailments, such as intestinal colic and mucus colitis, respond well to treatment with peppermint, as do more general stomach pains.

The antispasmodic properties of peppermint help with diarrhea and indigestion.

To relieve tension in the stomach, dilute Peppermint Essential Oil in massage oil and rub on the stomach in clockwise direction. A good idea is also to drink plenty of peppermint tea.

To reduce vomiting, travel sickness and feeling of nausea, inhale Peppermint Essential Oil from a handkerchief or a tissue. 2-3 drops will be sufficient.

In feverish conditions, Peppermint Essential Oil has a cooling effect while simultaneously increasing sweating.

To heal colds and influenza, dilute peppermint oil in carrier oil or lotion with cypress, eucalyptus and lemon essential oils and apply to the neck, shoulders and the temples.

Sinus congestion and inflammation can be treated by inhaling steam from hot water infused with peppermint and lavender.

Peppermint can also be used to unfasten stubborn yellow mucus from the air passages.

For all respiratory ailments, add 2-3 drops of Peppermint Essential Oil into the bath water.

Peppermint oil cleanses and decongests the skin and is an excellent treatment for acne.

Peppermint constricts the capillaries and has a cooling effect on the skin.

It helps to relieve itching when used on the skin in dilutions of 1% or less. Please note that stronger dilutions may have an opposite effect.


Peppermint Oil for Pest Control

Peppermint Essential Oil is an animal-friendly pest repellent as it does not kill the vermin or harm the pets.

It can be used to drive out mice, rats, cockroaches and ants. None of these animals will tolerate the smell of peppermint.


Peppermint Essential Oil Energetics and Personality

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Peppermint Essential Oil enhances inspiration and insight.

It is associated with cleanliness and thus with ethics and morally righteous living.

Peppermint is a “visionary herb”. It uplifts the spirit and may induce revelatory dreaming.

Peppermint personality is friendly and empathetic. It is a fearless, quick thinker but may also be “brash and overpowering.”

Lastly, Peppermint Essential Oil can be used to “dispel pride” and to combat inferiority complex.


Peppermint Essential Oil Application

Peppermint Essential Oil can be used topically, (on the skin), in massage oils, ointments, compresses and bath water. It can also be used as part of skin care routine.

Peppermint oil is inhaled directly from the bottle or steamed in a diffuser or an oil vapouriser.


Peppermint Essential Oil Safety

Peppermint Essential Oil is non-toxic and non-irritant. It may have a sensitising effect on sensitive very sensitive skin types, and care should be taken to always keep dilutions low.

Do not use peppermint oil at sleep time or for long periods of time as its stimulating effect accumulates, disturbing the sleep.

Do not use Peppermint Essential Oil with any homeopathic medicines.

Do not use peppermint oil on the face or inside the nose of infants.


References:

1 Mills S, Bone K: Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy, 2000)

2 Trabace L et al: Choleretic Activity of Some Typical Components of Essential Oil, 1992

3 Gallacher et al: A Sweet Smell of Success. Nursing Times, July 5, 1989

4 Bruneton J: Pharmacognosy 2nd Ed. 1999

 

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