With the rising costs of health care and the increased desire of people to seek more natural methods of treating various ailments, more and more individuals are rediscovering the ancient art of herbalism. Centuries before the birth of Christ, ancient peoples relied on herbs to treat illnesses and other common ailments. Sometimes these herbal remedies worked, and sometimes they did not. Some herbs actually proved to be harmful and even lethal. There is one herb, however, that has withstood the test of time. Peppermint (Mentha piperita), which is the most common and most popular of all of the mints, is usually quite safe, except in certain limited situations. [Note: Always consult your physician and/or a certified herbalist before using any herbal remedy with which you are unfamiliar.] More importantly, though, as a medicinal herb, peppermint actually does work. It is often used in herbal teas [see: Herbal Teas for Your Health: Peppermint and Chamomile]. However, peppermint is such an important and effective medicinal herb and can be used in other forms than tea.
Peppermint oil is more potent than the tea, and most studies tend to revolve around the use of the oil. For instance, in an article on MedScape [see “Resources” below], it is noted that “[m]ost modern preparations of peppermint use its oil, which usually is provided with an enteric coating to prevent gastroesophageal reflux.” According to research done by Doctors of McMaster University in Canada and published in the British Medical Journal, peppermint oil is “much more efficient than drugs on irritable bowel syndrome.” However, in the article on this same web site reporting these findings [see HealthMad under “Resources” below], the author observes: “They talk about peppermint oil which you could probably buy in any drugstore. But peppermint oil is contained in peppermint tea as well. So why bother getting oil if you have tea at home already? Obviously, oil is stronger, but then, it has to be diluted down which brings us back to tea.”
The average person is more familiar with peppermint tea and tends to use it more. The same benefits can be derived from the tea as from the oil. In fact, most herbalists with whom I have talked and whose writings I have read recommend drinking peppermint tea much more often than they do the use of the peppermint oil. Nevertheless, there are many instances in which the oil is the preferred method of treatment. In addition, there are other times when the fresh or dried leaves are the preferred form of use. (Peppermint tea, however, is usually more readily available to the average person, and most remedies call for the use of the tea. For example, peppermint tea is often used to alleviate insomnia.)
As mentioned above regarding the studies concerning the use of the herb, peppermint is quite effective in relieving abdominal pains. Peppermint is actually an antispasmodic and, therefore, very useful for relieving not only general abdominal pains but also muscle spasms, menstrual cramps, and pains related to IBS [irritable bowel syndrome]. In a study reported on in the American Family Physician, it was noted that “children between the ages of 8 and 17 years who had IBS [irritable bowel syndrome]found that peppermint oil was more effective than placebo in reducing the severity of abdominal pain.” [Medscape Peppermint Oil May Relieve Digestive Symptoms, Headaches] Those suffering from abdominal pains can also warm milk and fresh or dried peppermint leaves together for a soothing tonic. In addition, peppermint assists digestion by stimulating the flow of bile. This ability to improve digestion prompted the custom of having a peppermint after a meal.
Peppermint is not only good for digestion and for alleviating the various pains associated with the stomach and digestive tract. It has also been shown that a cup of peppermint tea can rid one of a headache. For very severe headaches, the patient can apply freshly-crushed leaves directly to the forehead. For those bothered by sinus problems, drinking lots of peppermint tea is recommended. In addition, these same sinus sufferers can make up a warm pack of freshly-cut peppermint leaves and press that onto the sinus area. Finally, a bit of peppermint oil can be applied under the nostrils to help open the sinuses. Peppermint oil is also good for toothaches. One need only to apply a drop or two of the oil on the affected tooth and gums. However, if peppermint oil is not available, chewing the fresh leaves can help, as well, to relieve the pain. Finally, peppermint tea is good for treating flu and cold symptoms. Another good tea for the flu and colds is one made by combining equal parts of peppermint and elderberry flower.
These are just a very few of the ways that peppermint can be used as a medicinal herb. Peppermint is an herb that has been used medicinally for centuries. Its efficacy as a medicinal herb is also recognized by many in the traditional medical establishment. In fact, the menthol found in commercial products comes from peppermint. If anyone is looking for just one herb to grow in their garden to use for medicinal purposes, the choice is obviously peppermint.
Kowalchik, Claire and Hylton, William H., eds. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, Inc., 1998, 382-8.