The most widely used of all aromatic essential oils, peppermint makes a grand and obvious appearance in all sorts of edible and nonedible products, including beverages, ice cream, sauces and jellies, liqueurs, medicines, dental preparations, aromatherapy preparations, cleaners, cosmetics, tobacco, desserts, and gums.

It was known to the Egyptians, who dedicated mint to the god Horus. The Romans personified it as Minthe or Mentha, the beautiful naiad loved by Pluto, god of the underworld. When Pluto’s queen, Proserpine, saw what was going on she jealously trampled Minthe, transforming her into the lowly plant. But Pluto decreed that the more mint was walked on the sweeter it would smell.

Peppermint self-hybridized by the seventeenth century into more than 20 modern varieties of square-stemmed perennials that easily spread by underground root systems. It now grows wild throughout Europe, North America, and Australia, and is one of the few essential oil plants grown in the U.S., where the rainfall, temperature, and soil conditions in Michigan and central Oregon are ideal for high oil production. Most of the oil is redistilled to produce a lighter mint flavor for candies and gums.

After the British Medical Journal noted in 1879 that smelling menthol, which is the main component in peppermint, relieves headaches and nerve pain, menthol cones that evaporate into the air became all the rage. Taking center stage in several controversies, herbalists have long argued for or against the assertion by the ancient Greek physician Galen that peppermint is an aphrodisiac. But everyone, including modern scientists, agrees that it is a strong mental and physical stimulant that can help one concentrate and stay awake and alert.

Principal constituents of peppermint: Menthol (up to 70 percent), menthone, menthyl acetate, limonene, pulegone, cineol, azulene, and others

Scent of peppermint: Peppermint has a powerful, minty-fresh, camphoraceous, cool, and distinctive fragrance.

Therapeutic properties of peppermint: Anti-inflammatory; relieves pain, muscle spasms, and cramping; relaxes the nerves; kills viral infections; decreases gas and indigestion; clears lung congestion; reduces fever

Uses for peppermint: Peppermint helps the digestion of heavy foods and relieves flatulence and intestinal cramping, actually relaxing the digestive muscles so they operate more efficiently. A massage over the abdomen with an oil containing peppermint can greatly aid intestinal spasms, indigestion, nausea, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Peppermint essential oil is included in most liniments, where it warms by increasing blood flow, relieving muscle spasms and arthritis. Peppermint relieves the itching of ringworm, herpes simplex, scabies, and poison oak. It also clears sinus and lung congestion when inhaled directly or when a vapor balm is rubbed on the chest. It also destroys many bacteria and viruses. Peppermint is not drying, as one might assume; rather, it stimulates the skin’s oil production, so use it blended with other oils to treat dry complexions. When using peppermint, remember that it is an energizing scent.

Warnings about peppermint: Watch out! At first peppermint feels cooling, but too much of it can burn.

To learn more about Aromatherapy and other alternative medicines, see:
  • Aromatherapy: Learn about aromatherapy, how it works, what part essential oils play, and how to use aromatherapy.
  • Essential Oils Profiles: We have collected profiles of dozens of plants that are used to produce essential oils. On these pages, you will learn the properties and preparations for the most popular essential oils.
  • How to Treat Common Conditions With Aromatherapy: Aromatherapy can be used to treat a number of conditions, from asthma to depression to skin problems. Here you will learn how to treat some common medical problems with aromatherapy.
  • Home Remedies: We have gathered over a hundred safe, time-tested home remedies for treating a wide variety of medical complaints yourself.
  • Herbal Remedies: Herbal remedies and aromatherapy can be very similar, and they stem from similar historic roots. On this page, you will find all of our herb profiles and instructions for treating medical problems with herbal remedies.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kathi Keville is director of the American Herb Association and editor of the American Herb Association Quarterly newsletter. A writer, photographer, consultant, and teacher specializing in aromatherapy and herbs for over 25 years, she has written several books, including Aromatherapy: The Complete Guide to the Healing Art and Pocket Guide to Aromatherapy, and has written over 150 articles for such magazines as New Age Journal, The Herb Companion, and New Herbal Remedies.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.