Peppermint is everywhere. This common, leafy, green herb is omnipresent in our foods, candies, breath mints and chewing gum. Its use dates as far back as ancient Egypt and China, and it was strewn throughout castles in the Middle Ages to lessen the stench of medieval life. Everyone, at some point, has eaten or smelled it.
The peppermint we're all familiar with, mentha piperita (Latin name), can be found almost everywhere and has many uses, but the majority of peppermint grown today is for tea and essential oil distillation. The United States and India are major producers of peppermint, but historically, England was known as the premier producer of the oil. In fact, the town of Mitcham, Surrey, became famous for the peppermint that ran rampant across their town, so much so that they began to harvest and distill it to clear out some of the livestock fields.
Peppermint tea and the after-dinner mint are old standards for soothing a rough stomach because it stimulates enzyme production in the stomach lining, improving digestion. Medical researchers have taken notice of those digestive abilities, and are now testing it for potential use in treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). A 2007 Italian study showed a reduction in IBS symptoms in 75% of patients who took peppermint oil capsules for one month. This may be because compounds in peppermint oil access the anti-pain (TRPM8) channels in the intestine to reduce inflammatory pain from pain-sensing fibers in the intestinal tract.
Herbalists, massage therapists, and homeopaths have known about this ability of peppermint to soothe aching muscles and nerves, which is why many topical analgesics, such as Bengay, Icy Hot, and other pain creams contain peppermint oil in the form of menthol. The essential oil also has antiseptic, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Some other fun facts about peppermint are:
- Inhaling the aroma of the peppermint essential oil sharpens the mind and increases productivity.
- A 50-gallon drum of peppermint essential oil can flavor about 5 million pieces of chewing gum or 400,000 tubes of toothpaste.
- Peppermint combines well with floral, citrus, and herbaceous scents; combining peppermint with lavender essential oil in a diffuser will keep you alert, yet relaxed at the same time.
- A few drops of peppermint essential oil in a 4oz. spritzer bottle of water makes for an easy air freshener
Most of all, peppermint is one of the safest essential oils to use topically. Keep it away from your eyes and mucous membranes, and you can enjoy its minty benefits in all areas of your life.
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