Is your familiarity with peppermint limited to the hard candies given out by restaurants after a meal? If so, you may be surprised to learn that the refreshing flavor comes from a perennial herb that has been called the “world’s oldest medicine.” Peppermint has been shown to be an effective treatment for symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, headache, and indigestion. There are also studies showing it may kill some kinds of bacteria, fungus and viruses.
What is Peppermint?
Peppermint is what gives mint chocolate chip ice cream its flavor, as well as many mouthwashes, toothpastes, ointments and rubs, candies and herbal teas. It comes from a plant that was originally grown in Europe and the Middle East but which is now grown all over the world. It is the product of cross pollinating watermint and spearmint, and has elongated leaves with serrated edges.
Peppermint is available for consumption in the forms of fresh and dried leaves, capsules, and essential oil.
It gets its medicinal value from its high menthol content. Menthol has been found to be an anesthetic and has been used to cure sore throat and to soothe irritation. It triggers cold-sensitive receptors and activates the receptors in our cells that receive pain relief.
1. Peppermint is Low in Calories, Fat and Sodium and a Good Source of Many Nutrients
Peppermint is generally used for its oil or for the flavor of its leaves for tea, but as a food source it offers many important nutrients. It is a good source of dietary fiber and contains niacin, phosphorus and zinc. It also contains Vitamins A and C, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese. Two tablespoons of mint contain:
Calories – 2.1
Protein – 0.1 g
Total Carbohydrates – 0.4 g
Phytosterols – 0.4 mg
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – 13.0 mg
Omega-6 Fatty Acids – 2.1 mg
Vitamin A – 127 IU (3% of RDV)
Vitamin C – 1.0 mg (2% of RDV)
Folate – 3.4 mcg (1% of RDV)
Calcium – 7.3 mg (1% of RDV)
Iron – 0.2 mg (1% of RDV)
Magnesium – 2.4 mg (1% of RDV)
Though peppermint leaves can be eaten and has been used to treat a variety of conditions, peppermint essential oil is not safe for consumption without being diluted.
2. Peppermint Has Long Been Used as a Digestive Aid
One of the most popular uses for peppermint is to help ease stomach cramps and discomfort – that’s why it is offered after meals! The plant’s essential oils have been shown to relax the smooth muscle inside of the intestinal tract. This relieves cramps and helps the digestive acids found in the bile to break down fats more quickly. This action also relaxes the muscle found at the top of the stomach, making it easier to release gas. Though this is good if your goal is to burp, it can also lead to heartburn if you lay down too quickly after using peppermint to relief bloating.
Bottom Line: If you’ve eaten too much, too quickly, or your meal simply did not agree with you, having peppermint tea can help to relieve your discomfort and to digest your food more easily.
3. Peppermint is A Boon to Your Oral Health
Ever wonder why so many toothpastes and mouthwashes taste like peppermint? It’s more than just the minty taste and fresh smell that it gives your breath. Peppermint fights plaque and keeps your gums healthy by slowing the growth of the type of bacteria that grows in low oxygen areas like the mouth.
Bottom Line: By choosing a peppermint-based mouthwash or making your own peppermint toothpaste or mouthwash, you can help kill the germs that cause bad breath and plaque.
4. Peppermint Oil Can Cure a Headache
Peppermint has relaxing effects on the smooth muscles. It can stop spasms of all types and increase the effectiveness of pain relief, and that is as true for headaches and migraines as for other types of pain. By diluting essential peppermint oil and smoothing it onto the forehead, you can soothe a tension headache in just 15 minutes. One test showed that peppermint oil used in this way is as effective as taking over-the-counter pain relievers.
Bottom Line: Peppermint oil has a numbing and calming effect that can make it an effective natural remedy for tension headaches that works as well as aspirin or Tylenol.
5. Peppermint Can Help Boost Your Workout
Few people are aware that peppermint can boost their use of oxygen, but it’s true – and especially during exercise. One study showed that when athletes were given peppermint-infused water to drink while they were running, their performance improved significantly. Not only did they increase the time that they were able to exercise by 51%, but the time to exhaustion increased by 25%. They also experienced a decrease in their resting blood pressure and heart rate after their workout. Scientists believe that the mint helps to increase the concentration of oxygen in the blood. Not only that, you can put a few drops of peppermint oil into your running shoes to keep your feet cool or into your running backpack, or soak a wet cloth in a diluted solution of peppermint oil and use it to help you cool down and ease muscle aches.
Bottom Line: Adding a tiny amount of peppermint oil to your workout water can help improve your endurance and your performance.
6. Peppermint Can Ease the Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a condition that is known for causing abdominal pain and changes in a person’s bowel movements over time. These include constipation, diarrhea, or both, and they can have a serious impact on a person’s quality of life, causing them to miss work or school and to lead to anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that taking peppermint can decrease pain and bloating, as well as gas and diarrhea because of its ability to reduce the levels of spasms in the bowels and to decrease pain inside the colon. One study showed that people who took 2 peppermint oil capsules twice a day over a 4-week period had a 50 percent reduction in their discomfort.
Bottom Line: For people suffering with irritable bowel syndrome, peppermint oil offers a natural remedy that has been proven effective at eliminating the condition’s most distressing symptoms.
7. Peppermint Can Help Ease the Symptoms of a Cold or Sinus Infection
The main compound found in peppermint is menthol, which is known to help ease congestion by shrinking the membranes in the nose. Inhaling menthol also helps to loosen mucus in the lungs.
Bottom Line: By rubbing a cream that contains peppermint oil (or diluted peppermint oil) onto your chest, you can help yourself breathe more easily when suffering from a stuffy nose.
8. Peppermint Can Ease Nausea from Chemotherapy
When people diagnosed with cancer are treated using chemotherapy, the toxic medication acts to kill rapidly growing cells, including those found in the intestines. This leads to nausea and vomiting, making a bad situation even more miserable. Studies have shown that when cancer patients have been given a diluted peppermint essential oil to inhale, it easeds their nausea and they throw up less frequently.
Bottom Line: Cancer patients being treated with chemotherapy can improve their quality of life during treatment by inhaling peppermint oil, particularly in the first 24 hours after a treatment.
What You Need to Know About Buying and Using Peppermint
You can grow your own peppermint in your garden easily, and once planted it will spread and come back year after year. The leaves have the best flavor and the highest concentration of oil when they are fresh, but you can also dry them and keep them in an airtight container all year long. Add the leaves to salads or to make tea, or you can clean the leaves and add them to a pitcher of water for a fresh flavor.
Peppermint is also available as an essential oil or as a supplement. You should check with your physician before using peppermint supplements or oil because it can have negative interactions with some medications. It should not be used on children, and is not recommended for people who have diabetes, a hiatal hernia, or who suffer from GERD.