The lovely Peppermint plant (Mentha piperita) is well known all over the world for its flavor and aroma. It is an interesting perennial herb that has been used in both cooking and herbal medicine for thousands of years. Peppermint is actually a naturally occurring hybrid of two types of mint: watermint and spearmint. It is indigenous to Europe and the Middle East but can now be found cultivated in many places across the globe. Peppermint essential oil has recently become very popular not only for its delectable aroma and taste, but for it’s medicinal properties as well.
The name of the genus (Mentha) comes from the ancient Greek story of Minthe and Pluto. Minthe was a Greek nymph who became the lover of Pluto, god of the underwold. When Pluto’s wife learned of the affair, she murdered Minthe. Pluto, however, brought Minthe back to life as a fragrant plant. And the rest, as they say, is history!
Although peppermint wasn’t cultivated until the seventeenth century in England, history has revealed tales of peppermint and its varied uses throughout time. For example, in the Ebers Papyrus (an ancient Egyptian medical text from the 1500 BC era) mint is listed as calming for stomach pains. Egyptians even used peppermint as a form of currency.
More recently, peppermint has been touted as an alternative treatment for everything from nausea, indigestion, colds and coughs to headaches.
Chemistry and Uses
Peppermint is highly prized for its many medicinal and commercial uses. Peppermint is commonly found in products to provide flavor, such as toothpastes, chewing gum and food. It can be found in skin care products, teas and even pesticides. For some, peppermint essential oil may even be found in the medicine cabinet in the form of cough drops or cold medicines.
Peppermint essential oil is obtained from the leaves of the plant by steam distillation. The chemistry of the oil is very complex and even variable depending on the climate and stage of plant development!
Research has shown us that peppermint essential oil contains more than 100 different components. The two most predominant components are menthol and menthone:
Menthol is responsible for the cooling sensation of peppermint when inhaled, eaten or applied to the skin. Menthone is a naturally occurring pesticide that is even used in some commercial products.
Many research studies have shown that peppermint essential oil possesses antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant activities. Even the aroma of peppermint has been studied for its possible memory and alertness enhancing properties. Most exciting, perhaps, is that peppermint oil is under preliminary research for its potential as a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome. Peppermint oil has also been used internally as an antispasmodic of the upper gastrointestinal tract and externally for muscle pain and nerve pain.
As research continues, it will be exciting to see how peppermint can be used to solve new and old medical dilemmas. In the mean time, peppermint will still hold a special place in aromatherapy and herbal medicine. How do you enjoy using peppermint?
Find all of Wild Earth’s peppermint products by visiting the Etsy shop: Wild Earth Apothecary
Article written by Lauren Beihoffer, a biochemist and lover of natural, holistic skin care