Last Updated on October 12, 2020
When one talks about peppermint, tea, candy, balms, and toothpaste often come to mind. It’s seen more of a flavoring or a deodorizing aroma than a nutritional herb that’s been used in ancient medicine. It’s often confused with other varieties of mint, most probably because it’s a hybrid of water mint and spearmint.
The herb has serrated bright green leaves, which can sometimes have a tinge of purple. It’s harvested during the summer just before its flower blooms. This is when its leaves contain the highest oil content in its life cycle.
Peppermint can be seen throughout Asia, North America, and Europe. Today, the United States is the largest producer of peppermint, producing at least ¾ of the world’s supply.
The earliest record of peppermint was from the writings of Pliny the Elder where it was described as a flavoring for sauce and wine. The Greeks and Romans chewed on the leaves to soothe an upset stomach.
Dried peppermint leaves were also found in the ancient pyramids of Egypt. In the 18th century, peppermint rose to prominence in Europe as a medicinal herb, not just for the upset stomach but for morning sickness, nausea, and respiratory infections as well.
While the leaves prove to be beneficial, peppermint oil or extract is also used to treat and improve many health conditions.
The oil is used in cosmetics, dental and hygiene products, tobacco products, alcoholic beverages, and other medicines. With its variety of uses, let’s take a look at how peppermint can help our different bodily functions.
Abdominal pain and discomfort in many digestive and abdominal disorders are relieved by the anti-spasmodic effect of peppermint. Why is that?
Peppermint has several properties that work together against the pain and spasms in the intestinal area. It triggers the TRPM8 receptors which opens a channel for the cold and menthol effect. The cooling menthol effect produces an instant anti-pain and numbing effect in the intestine.
Spasms and inflamed gastrointestinal tracts are usually the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea, and indigestion. Peppermint reduces flatulence, excess gas, and induces a feeling of fullness.
Peppermint can also stimulate the bile flow to aid the lipid digestion in the small intestine.
To use as a digestive aid, peppermint is commonly taken in tea, added to appetizers, or as an after-meal mint candy.
For people wanting to suppress their appetite and control their calorie-intake, they inhale peppermint oil or drink peppermint tea before a full meal. It’s beneficial when taken in moderation every day but can be irritable in greater amounts for people who are already suffering from acid reflux and stomach ulcers.
Peppermint also helps with nausea, motion sickness, morning sickness during pregnancy, and menstrual pains.
Peppermint is often added to make the flavor and scent of medicine and food supplements more bearable. The benefits are not just superficial. It goes beyond making medicine pleasant for consumption.
In an in vitro experiment on several essential oils and its effect on 22 bacteria and 12 fungi, peppermint proved to be effective against all 22 strains of bacteria and most of the fungi. This just proves that peppermint has active and strong antimicrobial properties that can help the immune system fight against sickness.
Peppermint can jolt one into a state of wakefulness and energy. For some people who need to implement lifestyle changes, it’s important that they breathe in the scent of peppermint oil.
This gives them a boost of energy to perform aerobic activities and other tasks throughout the day. Being active is very important for the heart and other vital organs. Staying stationary for prolonged periods of time can lead to the decline of health and body.
Chewing peppermint leaves can be very helpful for the circulatory system. Even a small decline in potassium levels can cause the circulatory system to be in a life-threatening state.
Peppermint is rich in potassium and can help with maintaining the correct serum level of this mineral in the body.
Peppermint is often added to cough and asthma medicine. That is because it can clear the passageway from mucus and sputum to allow air to flow freely. It’s both an expectorant and decongestant.
While menthol provides temporary relief for patients suffering from nasal congestion, it breaks down the excess mucus that’s building up so that the patient may excrete it easily. The antispasmodic and antitussive effect also kicks in to soothe and calm the throat to reduce coughing.
Peppermint is a natural antihistamine that blocks the activation of mast cells. Mast cells are part of the immune system and they release substances that kill bacteria.
However, some people have more active or more sensitive mast cells than others when in contact with histamines and allergens. These are people with allergies, rhinitis, bronchial asthma, and other respiratory infections.
Peppermint oil was even tested to be as effective as paracetamol in relieving pain caused by common headaches. However, it has no analgesic effects on migraine but it can at least relieve the stress caused by the pain in the cranial area.
Peppermint has long been used in aromatherapy and massages to induce relaxation and rejuvenation.
Combined with other essential oils from other herbs and plants, it can create a pleasant effect on the nervous system, whether it’s to calm the mind, to de-stress the body, or to keep the level of energy and alertness high.
Even if it is relaxing, it also tends to induce alertness and improved cognitive performance. Results from several tests supports this hypothesis.
One example is when 144 subjects tested better than the control group when they were presented with peppermint aroma before taking an exam that measures their cognitive performance.
Peppermint is a known painkiller not only because of the antispasmodic effect of menthol but also because it contains high levels of magnesium and calcium. These two minerals help relieve muscle and joint pain even when application is only on some parts of the body.
As an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, peppermint can help with toothaches, cold sores, scabs, chronic wounds, and scrapes.
Peppermint can also reduce itching and skin irritation caused by insect bites, allergies, irritation, and pruritus gravidarum (pregnancy skin itching.)
Safe for Children and Babies
Peppermint is a popular ingredient in candies and desserts, but can it be consumed as medicine for younger children? As with any medication and herbal concoction, peppermint should be taken in moderation.
Whether it’s added to beverages, balms, or a steam bath, one must remember that menthol can be toxic in concentrated doses.
While there is no standard treatment for colic, a study showed a favorable difference between infants who regularly received small doses of peppermint drops in their milk versus infants who did not receive them.
Peppermint may reduce the distressing effect of colic on infants, but it’s always best to proceed with caution.
Peppermint can bring down the body temperature of people with fever. Thus, it makes sense to rub a child’s feet and chest with some peppermint oil so that they can rest better while sick.
This is also true for people who live in hotter climates. Peppermint is a popular dessert or ingredient due to its cooling effect, but it can also produce mild sweating, which brings down the body heat to a cooler degree. Often, children can be sluggish or be finicky eaters in warm weather.
Peppermint infused water, tea, or juice can quickly bring their mood and appetite back.
It’s best to consult with a doctor and to use peppermint sparingly. Some children may also be more sensitive to menthol and may experience a burning sensation similar to the heat of capsaicin.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, 100 grams of fresh peppermint leaves should contain the following:
- 70 Kcal of energy
- 14.79 grams of carbohydrates
- 3.75 grams of protein
- 0.94 gram of fat
- 8 gram of fiber
- 114 µg of folates
- 1.706 mg of niacin
- 0.338 mg of pantothenic acid
- 0.129 mg of pyridoxine
- 0.266 mg of riboflavin
- 0.082 mg of thiamin
- 4248 IU of vitamin A
- 31.8 mg of vitamin C
- 31 mg of sodium
- 569 mg of potassium
- 243 mg of calcium
- 329 µg of copper
- 5.08 mg of iron
- 80 mg of magnesium
- 1.176 mg of manganese
- 1.11 mg of zinc
Peppermint is one of the many herbs that should be included in a diet. It serves a lot of beneficial purposes, whether it’s eaten fresh or added to stews, soups, salads, or drinks.
It may not be as rich in vitamins as other herbs but it contains important minerals that are essential to maintaining the function and performance of the different systems within the body.
Infants, children, adults, pregnant women, and old people can find a use for peppermint in their lives. When used in proper doses and suggested servings, you’ll find that you have more energy, relaxed breathing, a healthy appetite, and less use for pain medication.