Peppermint (Mentha x piperita [Latin]) is a hybrid of water mint
crossed and spearmint. It is a hearty plant that grows in just
about every country in the world, and the essential oil of this
plant is a popular flavoring used in food and many commercial
products. Of all species of mint, peppermint contains the most
menthol, a phytochemical that helps calm muscle spasms throughout
the body, improve digestion, protect against food poisoning, and
relieve headache and nausea.
The menthol in peppermint has long been used as a cough
suppressant and decongestant. Even in the United States, where
herbal medicine is not widely used, menthol is a common ingredient
in cough drops, nasal spray, and mentholatum chest rubs. The FDA
actually approved the marketing of peppermint as a cold remedy, as
did a panel of experts in Germany that evaluates the safety and
efficacy of herbs.
Peppermint aids digestion by helping to prevent cramping of the
smooth muscles lining the intestine. Studies have shown that
peppermint can significantly reduce symptoms of gastrointestinal
upset, and may even help prevent the formation of stomach ulcers.
Peppermint tea has been used to treat colic, heartburn,
indigestion, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Peppermint relieves cramping in the uterus, which may help
regulate irregular menstrual cycles. However, pregnant women using
peppermint for morning sickness should drink peppermint tea instead
of using the more potent peppermint oil capsules to avoid the risk
of miscarriage. In addition, the antispasmodic actions of
peppermint increases bile production by relaxing muscles in the
bile duct, an action that may help dissolve gallstones in some
The menthol in peppermint has antibacterial, antiviral, and
analgesic effects. In laboratory studies, peppermint oil was found
to kill bacteria that cause urinary tract infections and the herpes
simplex virus. It is an active ingredient in some over-the-counter
topical creams used for relief of muscle pain, such as Bengay
ointment, as well as in lozenges used to treat sore throat.
Peppermint oil also helps treat pain caused by insect bites,
rashes, and headaches.
Peppermint is available in bulk herb oil, enteric-coated
capsules, soft gelatin capsules, and liquid extract. This herb is
easy to grow, and a handful of either fresh or dried peppermint
leaves in a cup of hot water makes an excellent tea. You can drink
up to four cups a day for treatment of digestive disorders, morning
sickness, or to ease congestion.
There have been no toxic side effects associated with
consumption of peppermint tea. However, excessive topical use of
peppermint oil can cause headaches and flushing, and some people
have reported gastrointestinal upset from taking peppermint oil
capsules. Long-term use of peppermint oil may cause liver damage,
so anyone with a liver disorder should not use this herb