Peppermint is one of the most ancient of all herbal remedies. Dating back to the days of the pharaohs, mint has been used to treat a variety of ailments and conditions. That’s because the oil extracted from the peppermint plant contains a host of beneficial compounds.
Uses for Peppermint
Studies have shown peppermint oil to be fairly effective at relieving irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a collection of symptoms that includes abdominal pain and cramping, bloating, constipation and diarrhea that affects 5 to 20 percent of the population. It is believed that the oil blocks calcium channels, which has the effect of relaxing the “smooth” muscles in the walls of the intestines.
Peppermint also is used topically for the cooling and relaxing effect it has on the skin. Various muscle rubs and “ices” contain peppermint oil to reduce pain, burning, and inflammation. Peppermint oil is absorbed fairly well and can have temporary pain-relieving effect on muscles and organs that are cramped and in spasm. As with all essential oils, dilute this oil before putting it directly on your skin.
Peppermint also provides temporary relief for itching. Rub a drop of diluted peppermint oil onto insect bites, eczema, and other itching lesions, including the rash of poison ivy. Peppermint can help relieve some headaches, and you can rub peppermint oil onto the temples or scalp for a comforting therapy.
Menthol, the essential oil in peppermint, is credited with the herb’s analgesic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, decongestant, and cooling effects. Menthol also helps subdue many bacteria, fungi, and viruses, but because stronger herbal antimicrobials are available, peppermint usually is not the first choice of herbalists to treat serious infections.
Menthol is used in many over-the-counter products, including toothpaste, mouthwash, chewing gum, breath mints and cough drops. Menthol works by stimulating the nerves that sense cold, creating that familiar cooling sensation, and can help temporarily relieve the pain of muscles and organs that are cramped and in spasm. Your mouth also has some of these nerves, which is why products containing menthol “taste” cool.
Some researchers now advise consumers to eat a tablespoon or more of fresh peppermint, and other green herbs daily. Of course, this time of the year, a fun way to enjoy peppermint is from eating the most popular peppermint flavored item of all, candy canes!