Peppermint, also known as Mentha piperita, has been utilized for its medicinal properties for hundreds of years. Originating from Europe and Asia, this herb is now grown in many regions across the globe. Known for its invigorating aroma, peppermint is a common ingredient in products like toothpaste and chewing gum. In addition to its pleasant scent, peppermint has been found to have numerous health benefits that have been thoroughly researched by scientists.
History of Peppermint as a Medicinal Herb
For hundreds of years, peppermint has been utilized for its healing properties. Ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used it to treat ailments like indigestion, nausea and respiratory problems. In traditional Chinese medicine it is used to alleviate fever, coughs and headaches while in medieval Europe it was used to soothe stomach issues and as a natural pain reliever.
Peppermint contains a variety of compounds with medicinal benefits. Its primary active ingredients are menthol and menthone which give it its signature scent and cooling effect. Additionally, peppermint contains flavonoids, phenolic acids and tannins.
Peppermint Plant and its Constituents
Peppermint is a hybrid plant that results from crossing watermint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). This perennial herb can grow up to 3 feet in height and has green serrated leaves. The essential oil of peppermint is extracted from the leaves and stems through steam distillation.
The medicinal properties of peppermint come from its various active compounds. Menthol is the main component of peppermint oil, making up as much as 50% of its content. Its cooling and numbing effects make it useful for pain relief. Peppermint also contains rosmarinic acid, flavonoids and terpenes.
Medical Benefits of Peppermint
Peppermint has been studied extensively for its potential therapeutic benefits. Here are some of the most researched medical benefits of peppermint:
Peppermint and Headaches and Migraines
Peppermint oil has been used for centuries to relieve headaches and migraines. A 2015 systematic review of nine clinical trials found that peppermint oil was effective in reducing the severity and duration of headaches. The menthol in peppermint oil has a cooling and numbing effect that can help relieve the pain of a headache or migraine.
Peppermint and Oral Health
Peppermint oil has long been used to freshen breath and improve oral hygiene. It contains antimicrobial compounds that can decrease the amount of harmful bacteria in the mouth. A systematic review from 2015 that analyzed 12 clinical trials found that peppermint oil effectively reduced gingivitis and plaque. To promote oral health, peppermint oil can be added to toothpaste or mouthwash or used as a mouth rinse.
Peppermint and Digestive Health
Peppermint is perhaps best known for its ability to aid digestion. The herb has long been used to treat various digestive issues, including bloating, gas, and indigestion. But what does the science say about peppermint’s digestive benefits?
Research has shown that peppermint can help alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In a study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology, IBS patients were given either a placebo or peppermint oil capsules for four weeks. Those who took the peppermint oil experienced significant improvements in their symptoms, including reduced abdominal pain and bloating.
Another study in the Digestive Diseases and Sciences journal found that peppermint oil capsules effectively reduced indigestion and dyspepsia symptoms (chronic or recurrent upper abdominal pain or discomfort).
Peppermint’s ability to relax digestive tract muscles is thought to be responsible for its digestive benefits. This can help relieve bloating and gas and promote bowel movements.
Peppermint and Pain Relief
Also explored for its pain-relieving effects is peppermint. The plant includes chemicals with analgesic (pain-relieving) properties, including as menthol and rosmarinic acid.
According to a research published in the journal Pain, applying a peppermint oil solution to the temples and forehead of individuals with tension headaches effectively reduced headache discomfort. Another research published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine discovered that applying a peppermint oil solution to the skin reduced fibromyalgia-related pain (a chronic pain condition).
It is believed that peppermint’s pain-relieving properties result from its ability to inhibit pain receptors and decrease inflammation.
Peppermint and Respiratory Health
Moreover, peppermint is often used to treat respiratory conditions such as coughs, colds, and sinus infections. It has been shown that the plant possesses antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities, which may aid in combating respiratory infections.
According to a research published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, peppermint oil effectively alleviates the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections, such as cough, sore throat, and hoarseness. Another research published in the journal Phytomedicine discovered that a blend of peppermint and thyme essential oils was useful in treating acute bronchitis.
It is believed that peppermint’s respiratory advantages result from its capacity to calm the respiratory tract’s muscles, as well as its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities.
Peppermint and Mental Health
Also often utilized in aromatherapy for its mental health benefits is peppermint. It has been established that the plant reduces tension and anxiety due to its relaxing and soothing properties.
According to a research published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, breathing peppermint oil reduced participants’ anxiety and tiredness feelings. Another research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry discovered that the scent of peppermint oil has a calming impact on the brain and might aid in enhancing cognitive function.