Peppermint Essential Oil- Benefits, Uses, and Origin
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is an herb that naturally grows in Europe and North America but is now cultivated worldwide. Aside from the minty and fresh feeling it leaves our mouth, peppermint essential oil is also famous for its aromatherapeutic effects. It is the most widely used oil commercially and medicinally.
It is believed that peppermint has originated from Northern Africa and the Mediterranean. Although some claims that it was first cultivated in England in the 18th century, ancient Egyptian texts that date back to 1550 BC have already documented the use of mint for stomach pains. It had been so popular and valued then that it was currency for a period.
Peppermint vs Spearmint
For people who are not keen on gardening or using this herb, peppermint and spearmint may seem indistinguishable. Both herbs belong to the mint family (Lamiaceae) but they are two different species. Peppermint is a hybrid between the water mint and the spearmint, which means it contains a higher amount of menthol compared to spearmint. While spearmint essential oil has a subtle and sweet odor, peppermints have a strong, peppery scent that sets it apart from the rest of the mint family.
Peppermint Essential Oil Components
Peppermint is famous because of its cooling effect and minty aroma. This is because of the presence of menthol and menthyl acetate which are extracted from the leaves and flowers of the plant. Pure peppermint oil is almost colorless. It is mainly composed of menthol (36.02%), menthone (24.56%), menthyl acetate (8.95%), and menthofuran (6.88%) with minor components such as 1,8-cineole, limonene, beta-pinene, and beta-caryophyllene. The quality of the peppermint oil depends on its menthol content, which can be affected by the place it was cultivated and the climate.
Ancient uses of peppermint oil
During the Greek and Roman period, peppermint oil was already used to add flavor to food and wine. There were also dried peppermint leaves found in several pyramids. It was said that Ancient Egyptians used these to relieve stomach pains and help with digestive problems. The Greek philosopher Aristotle stated that peppermint works as an aphrodisiac. Soldiers were even forbidden to use or consume it so they don’t get distracted by their feelings or emotions.
Uses of Peppermint Oil
The leaves and the oil of peppermint are a popular flavoring agent present in toothpaste, chewing gums, teas, mouthwash, and desserts, to name a few. But aside from giving us that fresh feeling in our mouth, peppermint essential oil also has several medicinal uses.
To aid digestion
Peppermint essential oil or peppermint tea had been used to relieve people of digestive problems. This includes cramps, diarrhea, indigestion, and heartburn. It helps ease digestion by relaxing the stomach muscles and the linings of the colon. Peppermint essential oil also improved the pain symptoms of those suffering from irritable bowel movement (IBS).
It was revealed from a study that applying peppermint essential oil on the skin can ease tension headaches and migraines. It is commonly applied on the neck, across the forehead, and in the temples for pain relief.
Defense against fungi and bacteria
Peppermint oil has been proven to work against some bacteria strains such as Staphylococcus aureus. They can also treat overgrowths of fungi on the skin depending on the strain.
To soothe itchy skin
Chronic itching can lead to painful and infected skin tissues. Peppermint essential oil can improve the severity of the itch and help calm the skin.
Reduces muscle fatigue
Menthol is often a key ingredient to some balms used for relieving muscle pain. It has a cooling effect on sore muscles. Adding a few drops of essential oil to bathwater works for muscle pain relief.
Relief for nausea
Peppermint oil relieves nausea caused by motion sickness or seasickness and pregnancy. It helps by numbing the walls of the stomach to lessen vomiting. For pregnant women, it is recommended to seek the advice of a doctor before taking peppermint.
Reduce discomfort from respiratory ailments
Aside from adding a pleasant flavor to cough medicines, peppermint oil also helps ease the coughing by acting as an expectorant. It helps loosen the mucus and bring it up from the lungs.
It was also proven peppermint to reduce the inflammation of the nasal passages that is why inhalers with menthol vapor provide relief for those suffering from nasal congestion. These oils are also used in many balms and commercial cold rubs. Peppermint tea also works to help those with cold and flu.
Blending this oil with eucalyptus, lemon, and tea tree essential oil is best for those suffering from nasal congestion.
Helps you focus
Sprinkling a few drops of peppermint essential oil onto a handkerchief or in the palms of the hand, cupping it on the nose, and breathing it deeply can help keep you stay focused and energized. Study areas can also benefit from getting diffused with the refreshing scent of this essential oil. Cinnamon and rosemary oil can be blended with peppermint oil in a diffuser for increased focus.
Safety and Precaution Tips
While the use of peppermint essential oil has been proven to have several benefits, there are also some risks in taking them.
It is important to note that it should be diluted before it can be applied to the skin. Three to five drops of essential oil can be mixed with an ounce of mineral oil or olive oil. Doing a skin patch test first can help determine one’s reaction to peppermint oil.
People who receive regular medication should talk to their doctor first before using peppermint as it can react with other drugs.
Although peppermint oil can ease abdominal pain, large doses of menthol can actually trigger it.
Parents are advised to keep peppermint oils away from children’s reach. It is also not advised to use peppermint oil for children below six years of age.