Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is quite an interesting herb, as in itself, it’s a naturally-occurring hybrid created by crossing two mint varieties - water mint and spearmint. And while most of us drink peppermint tea and diffuse peppermint essential oil in our homes because it just tastes and smells nice, we are here to tell you this gentle aromatic herb is also nothing short of incredible in terms of its health benefits.
In fact, peppermint offers a wide range of unique science-approved properties we can use to improve seasonal allergy symptoms, ease stomach cramps, and bring relief to migraines, just to name some. In this article, you'll learn what concerns peppermint is most beneficial for and how to use this herb to improve your wellbeing.
What Is Peppermint and How Is It Different from Other Mint Varieties?
Peppermint is a hybrid mint species native to Europe and the Middle East that can be distinguished from other mint varieties for its pointy and smooth leaves. Peppermint was used for medicinal purposes and pleasant yet strong aroma in both Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt millennia ago, though it was only recognized as a separate mint variety in the 17th century.
Menthol, one of the key essential oils in peppermint, is known for its cooling and soothing properties, and peppermint, in particular, offers the highest concentrations of menthol compared to other mint subspecies. Today, peppermint is used to flavor self-care items like mouthwash, cosmetics, particularly shampoos, foods, e.g. mints and gum, and medical ointments, such as chest rubs, as well as countless other products.
The herb is widely available in different forms:
- Fresh and dry leaves are added to foods and used to prepare tea
- Peppermint essential oil is used in cooking, DIY, and commercial products
- Peppermint supplements are consumed for wellness reasons.
Keep in mind that you can ingest and apply peppermint oil topically on your skin, but you can only use 2-3 drops diluted with a carrier oil, such as grapeseed oil or rosehip oil, for example, as higher doses can be toxic and cause symptoms like nausea, skin rashes, etc., especially in children. That’s why it’s best not to use peppermint oil alone as a chest rub for kids. Peppermint oil is also known to not mix well with certain medications, so consult with your doctor if you're on any medication and want to start taking a peppermint supplement every day.
Below we list some of the most prominent and scientifically-backed health benefits of peppermint:
1. Helps Digestive Issues and Stomach Cramps
Peppermint can be used to relieve indigestion, stomach cramps, and nausea. Studies conducted on children suffering from stomach cramps and chemotherapy patients have shown that peppermint reduced the severity of their digestive symptoms. There is also evidence that IBS symptoms, such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation are reduced by 40% after just 4 weeks of daily intake of supplements containing peppermint oil.
Scientists believe that peppermint oil contains compounds capable of relaxing the GI tract and relieving muscle spasm in the digestive system, and animal models have confirmed this. That being said, people who take medications intended to reduce the acidity of the stomach and those who suffer from heartburn should be careful and inform their doctor if they are taking peppermint oil or a supplement on a daily basis.
2. Ameliorates Blocked Sinuses
When you have a stuffy nose, be it as a result of a cold, the flu, allergies, or anything else, hydration is key. But why not supplement that hydration with something extra capable of reducing nasal congestion and killing those germs? A perfect candidate is peppermint tea and peppermint oil, which are known to have powerful antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that will help you get rid of that stuffy nose and let you breathe easier.
Apart from that, peppermint is rich in menthol, which improves the sensation of airflow through the nose when inhaled, and this can provide added relief to patients suffering from nasal congestion.
3. Provides an Energy Boost and Helps You Focus
It also appears that inhaling peppermint oil is capable of boosting your cognition, too. For one, peppermint has been shown to increase focus, alertness and the ability to memorize new information in a 2008 study. Other research also supports that smelling peppermint can make you more alert, since participants who experience daytime sleepiness reported to be more awake after they smelled peppermint oil, and the movements of their pupils also measured in the study further supported the participants' responses.
So, maybe it's worth switching from coffee to peppermint tea, or simply diffuse some peppermint in the room, if you need that extra boost of energy and focus throughout the day.
4. Kills Germs in Your Mouth and Prolongs a Fresh Breath
As mentioned previously, peppermint has antimicrobial properties. In fact, test-tube studies have confirmed that it helps kill such common germs as E. coli, listeria, salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureus, which cause a wide range of different infections in the human body. The germs that live in your mouth and cause plaque are not saved from peppermint either, which is exactly why it is added to toothpastes and mouthwash so often.
5. Helps Tension Headaches and Migraines
Menthol, the active ingredient in peppermint, may be capable of decreasing the pain intensity in migraine sufferers and relieving other symptoms of migraines, such as nausea, vomiting, and light sensitivity. Tension headaches may also be improved with the help of peppermint oil. To use peppermint to reduce headaches and migraines, dilute a few drops of peppermint oil in a carrier oil, and apply a drop of the mixture on your temples and forehead.
6. Improves Menstrual Cramps
As we've mentioned above, peppermint acts as a muscle relaxant, which is why it has been suggested to improve menstrual cramps. One article that included women who experience painful periods found that peppermint supplements helped relieve menstrual cramps equally as well as NSAID pain relief medications. Some suggest peppermint tea may work just as well.
7. Curbs Your Appetite
Needless to say, drinking unsweetened herbal tea like peppermint tea is a good way to diversify your drinks without having to resort to soda and other high-calorie beverages. In addition to that, however, there is also one study showing that peppermint oil supplements can reduce the appetite in healthy individuals, so peppermint could be beneficial for weight loss, too.
8. Brings Relief to Seasonal Allergies
Nasal congestion is one of those uncomfortable symptoms of allergies that peppermint can relieve, as we've previously discussed. However, there is one more way peppermint can help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms, and a compound called rosmarinic acid also present both in rosemary and peppermint might be why.
It seems like rosmarinic acid is capable of reversing the immune reaction triggered by seasonal allergens and reducing symptoms like itchy eyes, sneezing, coughing, and nasal congestion. In fact, a rosmarinic acid supplement was shown to be effective at reducing all of these allergy symptoms in a 2004 study. Thus, peppermint as well might be capable of the same.