Peppermint. There’s Much More To It Than You Think10 months ago | Nutrition
By: Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
When you consider its wide variety of uses, it becomes clear that the peppermint plant is quite the powerhouse. Scientifically known as Mentha balsamea Wild, the name ‘peppermint’ is from the species name ‘piperita’ meaning ‘peppery.’ This distinguishes peppermint from other forms of mint.
Peppermint may be one of the most versatile and overlooked plants around. It is a natural hybrid of watermint and spearmint and is part of the mint (Lamiaceae) family. This prolific plant can be used whole or fashioned into an essential oil for medicinal use to treat nausea, inflamed tissues, menstrual cramps and discourage the growth of harmful bacteria and microorganisms. It also has pain-relieving and infection-preventing qualities.
Mariah Carey is said to plump her pout with peppermint oil before heading out during the holidays. Simply add a drop of peppermint oil to your favorite lip gloss to give your lips an added ‘oomph.’ Peppermint oil may improve circulation and bring blood to the surface of the lips, thus making them appear fuller.
Even models are reaping the benefits of peppermint oil. Ashley Graham beats her bloat by taking peppermint oil orally. Ashley told Style Caster, “I love mixing peppermint oil in my water to help with bloating.”
Beyond being a convenient beauty product, peppermint and peppermint oil have pain-relieving qualities. And recently, one study suggested that those with unexplained difficulty swallowing followed by chest pain when eating food saw great relief in their symptoms when they took peppermint oil tablets before their meals. What the study means by “unexplained” is that the subjects’ symptoms were not the result of chest pain due to a cardiac cause or difficulty swallowing due to a disorder of the esophagus (like a spastic disorder) or an obstruction.
"Our findings suggest that peppermint may help prevent these symptoms by relaxing the smooth muscle in the lower esophagus," said one of the main doctors involved in the study, in this report discussing the study.
To give you some perspective on how effective taking the peppermint oil tablets were:
- Subjects with both non-cardiac chest pain and unobstructed difficulty swallowing saw the most benefits, 73 percent reported feeling better.
- For those with just non-cardiac chest pain, 63 percent reported improvement.
- For subjects with just difficulty swallowing, 53 percent reported feeling better.
“The results were even better among patients with spastic disorders of the esophagus: 83 percent reported feeling better or slightly better. Although less well-known than esophageal disorders such as acid reflux, spastic disorders of the esophagus can also disrupt a patient's life,” according to the report.
“In these disorders, the esophagus undergoes painful spasms that can interfere with eating. Because the spasms occur only from time to time, these disorders are difficult to diagnose and treat.”
And if you have constant difficulty eating, this could lead to nutritional deficiencies which, in turn, could lead to more health problems.
But discuss your symptoms with a competent healthcare professional first if you suffer from issues with your esophagus before you start treating your symptoms with peppermint. You want to get a proper diagnosis and rule out other issues.
The Lengthy Legacy of Peppermint
Peppermint has had quite the therapeutic track record dating back centuries. It seems that almost everyone had their hands on this plant and used it for a variety of reasons.
Roman author and historian Pliny the Elder (circa 23-79 CE) wrote that Greeks and Romans used peppermint to add flavor to both wines and sauces, while also using it as a decorative centerpiece at feasts and gatherings. Peppermint is also mentioned in Icelandic pharmacopoeias of the 13th century.
Peppermint has an air of mystique surrounding it as well. Aristotle (384-322 BCE) referred to the peppermint plant as an aphrodisiac. And Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) was said to have banned the plant on the battlefield for fear that peppermint would promote erotic thoughts amongst his soldiers and render them unable to fight.
The notion that Alexander the Great had spent time in Ancient Egypt, as did his Grecian predecessors Plato and Herodotus, may afford insight to how this useful plant and herbal remedy crossed oceans and traded cultural hands.
Peppermint pops up again during the 18th century in Western Europe where it began to solidify itself as a medicinal plant.
Health Benefits of Peppermint and Peppermint Oil
Peppermint is loaded with over 80 nutrients. It is a hearty source of niacin, phosphorus and zinc and is a very good source of dietary fibers, vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese.
These essential nutrients are all key components to good health. (It is always suggested that you get a nutrient test to see what essential nutrients, like vitamins and minerals, you may be lacking).
Peppermint as an essential oil can be taken orally (when diluted and per clearance from a competent healthcare professional) or inhaled as a steam for head colds, rubbed on the skin as a salve, taken in pill form or used as an herbal tea. It is important to note that when using peppermint essential oil (PEO) you will need to dilute it in water or pair it with a carrier oil, like vegetable , coconut or avocado oil or even an aloe vera gel. Discuss with your doctor or a competent healthcare professional about the best way to do this. Concentrated PEO is too potent to ingest or use on the skin alone.
No matter how you decide to partake, peppermint continues to impress us with its wide range of health benefits.
- Headaches. The active ingredient in peppermint oil is menthol. Research published in 2015 shows menthol may be effective in treating migraines when applied to the head as a gel. Tension-type headaches are the most frequent form of headache. The local topical treatment of peppermint oil has been proven to be more effective than placebos in controlled studies.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). A number of research studies have been conducted to assess whether or not peppermint oil is as effective as prescription antispasmodics, leading the American College of Gastroenterology to recommend peppermint oil as a front-line treatment. Several studies show that peppermint can be an effective treatment for rapid relief of IBS symptoms like stomach pain, constipation, bloating and gas. Always make sure to consult with your physician if you plan to treat your IBS with peppermint oil, as it is a complex condition.
- Sinus and Respiratory Infections. Peppermint oil may be effective at relieving sinus congestion. Its strong but pleasant odor has the ability to clear the sinus cavity and break through blockages. Peppermint oil acts as an expectorant and can help clear symptoms of upper respiratory congestion that may stem from allergies, asthma, cold, flu and bronchitis. For this reason, it’s often an ingredient in therapeutic lung cleansing balms that are rubbed on the chest.
- Potential Anti-Cancer Agent. Peppermint oil is chock-full of a phytonutrient called perillyl alcohol. Perillyl alcohol is a naturally occurring dietary monoterpene that comes from essential oils like peppermint, lavender and other plants. In animal studies, this phytonutrient has been shown to stop the growth of pancreatic, mammary and liver tumors. It has also been shown to protect against cancer formation in the colon, skin and lungs. While these animal-based studies have yet to be rivaled by research on humans, the results are promising.
Proceed with Caution
Always talk to your doctor before using essential oils (EOs) for medical purposes, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, currently taking prescription medications or have an existing medical condition. Some people have been known to be allergic to EOs. It may also be prudent to conduct a patch test first.
To do a patch test, mix 3 to 5 drops of the essential peppermint oil with an ounce of carrier oil. Apply a dime-sized amount of this mixture to unbroken skin on your forearm or inside of your wrist. If no adverse reaction occurs within 24 to 48 hours, it should be safe to use. Never apply concentrated essential oils directly on the skin.
Healthy & Fun Recipe Ideas
For those of us with a sweet tooth, this peppermint cookie recipe might be a good treat.
- 1 cup unsweetened almond butter (must be drippy and 100% almond based)
- 1/2 cup raw cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup coconut sugar (or brown sugar)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp peppermint extract
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips
- optional: pinch of sea salt or crushed candy cane
Peppermint tea always provides a soothing end to a stressful work week. You’ll need, 1⁄2 cup dry or fresh peppermint leaf, 3-4 cups very hot water, 2-3 tablespoons organic honey.
- Boil about 3 or 4 cups of water
- Add the peppermint leaves and shut the heat off
- Let the tea steep for about 5 minutes.
- Pour through a tea strainer
- Add the honey and enjoy!
Enjoy your healthy life!
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