By Dr. Mercola
As we approach the season of candy canes and peppermints, it's a perfect time to pay homage to the medicinal herb that gives these winter treats their flavor: peppermint.
Far from just a flavoring for candies, the therapeutic effects of fresh peppermint leaves and peppermint essential oil have been known since ancient times, and its aromatic aroma has come to symbolize hospitality in many cultures. According to GreenMedInfo:1
"Dried peppermint leaves have even been found in several Egyptian pyramids carbon dating back to 1,000 BC."
Today, modern research has continued to prove what these ancient cultures already know, which is that peppermint is one of nature's most valuable herbal remedies.
21 Health Benefits of Peppermint
Why might you want to add peppermint to your natural medicine chest? Here are 21 valuable uses for this therapeutic plant.2
1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Peppermint oil capsules have been described as "the drug of first choice" in IBS patients,3 as it safely helps alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. Research has shown that it is effective in children and adults alike, with one study showing a 50 percent reduction in "total irritable bowel syndrome score" among 75 percent of patients who tried it.4
2. Colonic Spasm and Gas
Peppermint oil is an effective alternative to drugs like Buscopan for reducing colonic spasms.5 It may also relax the muscles of your intestines, allowing gas to pass and easing abdominal pain. Try peppermint oil or leaves added to tea for gas relief.
3. Gastric Emptying Disorders
In people with functional gastrointestinal disorders, peppermint may be useful to enhance gastric emptying.6
4. Functional Dyspepsia (Upset Stomach and Indigestion)
Supplementing with 90 milligrams (mg) of peppermint oil, along with caraway oil, "much or very much improved" symptoms of functional dyspepsia in 67 percent of patients.7 If you have an upset stomach, try drinking a small glass of water with a few drops of peppermint essential oil added.
5. Infantile Colic
Peppermint is at least as effective as simethicone in the treatment of colic in infants.8
6. Breastfeeding-Associated Nipple Pain and Damage
Peppermint water helped to prevent nipple cracks and pain in breastfeeding mothers.9
Inhaled essential oil of peppermint helped to rapidly regress tuberculosis inflammation, with researchers suggesting it may help prevent recurrences and exacerbation of the disease.10
8. Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever)
Extracts from peppermint leaves may inhibit histamine release, which suggests it may help alleviate hay fever symptoms.11
9. Shingles-Associated Pain
A topical treatment of peppermint oil resulted in near-immediate improvement in shingles-associated pain, with the results lasting for two months of follow-up treatment.12
10. Memory Problems
The aroma of peppermint has been shown to enhance memory and increase alertness.13
11. Chemotherapy-Induced Nausea
Peppermint oil effectively reduces chemotherapy-induced nausea, and at a reduced cost compared to standard drug-based treatments.14
12. Prostate Cancer
Peppermint contains menthol, which may inhibit the growth of prostate cancer.15
13. Radiation Damage
Peppermint may protect against DNA damage and cell death caused by radiation exposure.16
14. Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1
Peppermint has been shown to help inhibit drug-resistant herpes simplex virus type 1.17
15. Dental Cavities and Bad Breath
Peppermint oil extract has been shown to be superior to the mouthwash chemical chlorhexidine in inhibiting the formation of biofilm formations linked to dental cavities.18 Powdered peppermint leaves have also been used historically to freshen breath and whiten teeth; you can even add a drop or two directly to your toothpaste.
16. Respiratory Benefits
Peppermint oil acts as an expectorant and decongestant, and may help clear your respiratory tract. Use peppermint essential oil as a cold rub on your chest or inhale it through a vaporizer to help clear nasal congestion and relieve cough and cold symptoms.
Peppermint oil may help relieve tension headache pain. For headache pain, try dabbing a few drops on your wrist or sprinkling a few drops on a cloth, then inhaling the aroma. You can also massage the oil directly onto your temples and forehead.
Peppermint oil is cooling and energizing. Add a few drops to your bath, or dap a few drops directly on your body then get into the tub, for near-instant stress relief. You can also put the oil into a burner for a stress-relieving aroma.
19. Hair and Skin
Try blending peppermint oil into your massage oil, shampoo, bodywash or body lotion. It has antiseptic and antibacterial properties that can help cool your skin and remove dandruff (and lice) from your scalp.
Peppermint contains rosmarinic acid (also found in rosemary), which may help to reduce inflammation-causing chemicals in people with asthma.
21. Muscle Pain
Peppermint may help to relieve muscle spasms and pain. Try massaging its essential oil onto sore muscles or adding it to your bath water for muscle pain relief.
Peppermint 101: A Quick History and How to Use It
Peppermint comes from the mint plant (there are about 25 different species of mint), and is actually a natural hybrid cross between water mint and spearmint. In addition to its medicinal properties, mint leaves were rubbed on tables to welcome guests in Greece, and mint tea is still customarily offered to arriving guests in the Middle East.19
When selecting peppermint for your own use, the fresh leaves will impart a superior flavor to dried leaves (such as for use in tea). Look for fresh leaves that are green in color without any dark spots or yellowing. In addition to using fresh mint leaves in tea, you can add them to soups, fruit salad or gazpacho. Peppermint essential oil is also widely available, as is peppermint extract in supplement form.
The essential oil is ideal for muscle and chest rubs, headache pain, dental care and aromatherapy. You can even add it to your homemade cleaning supplies for extra antimicrobial power and natural fragrance.
If you want to give the therapeutic properties of peppermint a try, simply add a drop or two of natural peppermint extract or a few crushed mint leaves into a glass of pure water (either iced or hot). For even more therapeutic punch, and with flu season upon us, try a tea made from a combination of elderflower, yarrow, boneset, linden, peppermint and ginger; drink it hot and often for combating a cold or flu. It causes you to sweat, which is helpful for eradicating a virus from your system.