Mentha x piperita
Peppermint is the aromatic plant that gives the candy of the same name its cool, refreshing taste. It is one of more than two dozen species of mint that belong to the genus Mentha. The name comes from Minthe, a nymph in Greek mythology who has the misfortune to be loved by Hades, god of the underworld, and subsequently was turned into an insignificant little plant by Hades’s jealous wife. According to the story, Hades tries to make it up to Minthe by sweetly scenting her small, green leaves. While several mints appear to have been cultivated since the time of the ancient Egyptians, peppermint is a relative newcomer. A natural hybrid of two other mint species, it was discovered in England in 1696. Cultivation of peppermint spread rapidly across Europe, and colonists transported the herb to the New World. Today, peppermint ranks near the top of the world’s favorite flavorings. It is also a respected herbal remedy for upset stomach and other digestive issues.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Colds and coughs
Peppermint is a long-standing digestive herbal remedy. This aromatic herb calms the muscles of the digestive tract and improves the flow of bile from the gallbladder, thus helping the body to digest fats. It is for these reasons that peppermint alleviates intestinal gas, reduces abdominal cramping, and can settle an upset stomach. Studies show that peppermint oil, especially when combined with caraway seed oil, is equal or superior to conventional treatments for indigestion.
Peppermint oil is the most widely studied herbal product for treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), characterized by recurring abdominal pain along with bouts of constipation, diarrhea, or both. IBS disproportionately affects women, and there are few effective treatments. The majority of clinical studies show that peppermint oil is superior to placebo and equivalent to prescription medications for improving IBS, especially when diarrhea is the predominant symptom. Peppermint oil is very well tolerated.
Peppermint and its active constituent, menthol, are good for the respiratory system. A cup of warm peppermint tea can thin mucus, help loosen phlegm, and relieve a stuffy nose. The Food and Drug Administration approves the use of mentholated ointments, lozenges, and steam inhalants for coughs. Applied to neck and chest, the vapors quickly relieve coughing. Applied topically in products such as BENGAY and Tiger Balm, peppermint also soothes the skin, reducing itching from bug bites or poison ivy and relieving arthritis and headache.
How to Use
Tea: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1 teaspoon dried peppermint leaves, or 6 to 8 fresh leaves. Steep for 10 minutes. Strain and cool. Enjoy 2 to 3 times per day after meals.
Capsules: 500 to 1,000 mg dried peppermint leaf taken after meals. Sustained-release peppermint oil capsules are used for IBS. In studies, 0.2 ml peppermint oil was given 2 to 3 times a day with meals.
Lozenges: For sore throat and cough, lozenges should contain 5 to 10 mg menthol. Children under 2 should not be given menthol products.
Topical: Ointments and rubs are available. Apply 2 to 3 times daily, or as directed.
Do not use peppermint if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or if you have a hiatal hernia, as peppermint can make heartburn worse. Note: Never apply peppermint oil to the face of an infant or small child under the age of 5, as it may cause spasms that inhibit breathing.