Herbs, Spices, Medicinal Plants: Peppermint

Peppermint

The peppermint (Mentha piperita) plant grows to about 2 or 3 feet high. It is native to Europe and Asia, but has also been introduced to North America. Peppermint plants can also be found in South America, South Africa, and Australia. The leaves and stems of the plant are harvested for a variety of medicinal purposes. Peppermint is able to kill some types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It is also used to flavor personal care products like toothpaste, mouthwash, and soap. The dried leaves can be used to make tea (see recipes below), and it is also sold in capsule form. Peppermint essential oil is commercially available as well. Peppermint’s various medicinal uses are made possible mainly by menthol, a volatile oil that it contains. Peppermint can be used for the following purposes:

Colds and Flu

The menthol in peppermint makes it an effective decongestant. It is also an expectorant; it helps to loosen phlegm. For this reason, peppermint is sometimes added to chest rubs.

Digestive Aid

Peppermint is soothing to the muscles of the stomach. It increases stomach acidity and improves the flow of bile, which is used to help digest fats. Peppermint can also help to relieve bloating and gas by relaxing the muscles of the digestive tract and allowing gas to pass. It is useful for nausea as well. Peppermint tea and capsules are both useful for digestive issues. Peppermint can also be used in combination with other herbs to aid digestion (see recipe for Digestion Tea below).

Headaches

Peppermint may help to relieve tension headaches. This may be due to its ability to relax muscles. To ease headaches, one drop of peppermint essential oil can be be diluted with a carrier oil, such as almond, apricot, or fractionated coconut oil, and applied to the forehead, as well as to tight muscles in the neck and shoulders. Drinking peppermint tea when you feel a headache coming on may also help.

Repelling Insects

To repel insects with peppermint, put fresh leaves wherever needed. You can also put several drops of the essential oil on cotton balls and leave them around the house.

Soothing Irritated Skin

Peppermint cools the skin and helps with the itching associated with hives and poison ivy or oak. Again, add one drop of peppermint essential oil to a carrier oil, and apply to affected areas. Peppermint essential oil also works well in combination with lavender essential oil to sooth sunburns. Verefina makes an After Sun Mist that contains both of these essential oils and works wonders on sunburns.

Peppermint Teas

To use peppermint in tea form, try these recipes:

Plain Peppermint Tea

Peppermint tea is available in most health food and regular grocery stores. I like both this one and this one. You can also buy loose peppermint leaves at many health food stores. This is often an inexpensive option. To make tea from the loose leaves, put 2 teaspoons in a tea ball, place in a mug, and pour 8 ounces of just boiling water over the tea ball. Cover, and steep for 10 to 15 minutes.

Digestion Tea

This tea is good for settling an upset stomach or for aiding digestion after a meal.

Ingredients:

1 tsp. loose peppermint leaves
1/2 tsp. loose chamomile leaves
1/2 tsp. crushed fennel seeds

Directions:

Put all of the herbs in a tea ball, and place it in a mug. Pour 8 ounces of just boiling water over the tea ball. Cover, and steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Tea can be sweetened with honey or stevia to taste if desired. Drink 2 to 3 times a day after meals, or if you have digestive discomfort.

Both peppermint leaves or tea and the essential oil are wonderful to have on hand in your home at all times. With such a wide variety of uses, you’ll find yourself reaching for it again and again.

Caution: Peppermint essential oil is highly concentrated and should be diluted with a carrier oil, such as almond, apricot, or fractioned coconut oil, before being applied topically. Undiluted peppermint essential oil may cause irritation.

Do not take peppermint if you have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Because peppermint relaxes the muscles of the GI tract, it may actually increase reflux.

Do not give peppermint to an infant or young child. Applying peppermint oil to the face of an infant can cause serious or life-threatening breathing problems. Peppermint may also cause a burning sensation in the mouths of infants and young children. Peppermint can be used with caution in pregnancy.

Peppermint may inhibit iron absorption.

Peppermint may worsen gallstones.

Sources:

Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print.

“Peppermint.” University of Maryland Medical Center. 3 April 2011. Web. 27 January 2014.
http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/peppermint

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