Fresh mint on old wooden background

Peppermint leaf and peppermint oil have a long history of use for digestive disorders.  The therapeutic use of peppermint and other mint plants probably dates back to the herbal pharmacopoeia of ancient Greece, where peppermint leaf traditionally was used internally as a digestive aid and for management of gallbladder disease; it also was used in inhaled form for upper respiratory symptoms and cough.  (Am. Fam. Physician, 2007 Apr. 1; 75(7):1027-1030).

The volatile oil in peppermint is a stomach soother and gas reducer, making it useful in cases of indigestion. The menthol and flavonoids found in the leaves of peppermint soothe the digestive tract and stimulate the production of bile, making it a reliable digestive aid.  It helps to reduce flatulence and cramps and, as an anti-inflammatory also relieves diarrhea.  In addition, peppermint tea is effective in treating nausea and in helping with motion sickness.

Recent evidence suggests that enteric-coated peppermint oil may be effective in relieving some of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. A combination product including peppermint oil and caraway oil seems to be moderately effective in the treatment of non-ulcer dyspepsia. Topical application of peppermint oil may be effective in the treatment of tension headache. Peppermint oil is well tolerated at the commonly recommended dosage, but it may cause significant adverse effects at higher dosages. (Am. Fam. Physician, 2007 Apr. 1; 75(7):1027-1030).

Peppermint is also effective as an antibacterial, making it useful in infections; however, using other antibacterial herbs (e.g., thyme, oregano, amongst others), together with peppermint oil yield better results as different strains of bacteria respond better to different plants.

Fresh peppermint leaves – either eaten fresh or brewed into a tea – are an excellent source of vitamin A, B vitamins (including riboflavin, folic acid, niacin), magnesium, potassium and calcium.  Fresh peppermint leaves contain more vitamins and minerals than dried.

Cautions:   There are studies that show peppermint to be contraindicated in pregnancy.  Its strong fragrance can induce gagging in children, and its menthol properties can be highly toxic, even fatal, to infants.  Peppermint tea and oil is not recommended for people with heartburn or in those people with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) as it could worsen symptoms.  Contraindicated in constipation.  If you have chills, avoid peppermint oil and tea as peppermint has intense cooling properties.

In those who cannot tolerate the strong aroma and flavor of peppermint, the milder spearmint can often be used in its place.  Diluting peppermint to produce a very mild flavor may also be helpful if unable to tolerate the strong aroma and flavor of peppermint.  Please heed the above cautions and do not use spearmint in its place, nor use diluted, if you fall into the categories mentioned above.

Recipes:  Sip a soothing blend of dried peppermint leaves and dried chamomile flowers to aid digestion and help calm a nervous stomach by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tsp. of each herb.  Steep for 10-15 minutes, and then strain.  Herbs may also be placed in a tea ball.  Better effects if left unsweetened.

Dried peppermint is delicious in Middle Eastern cuisine.  Use it to flavor cheese pastry fillings, yogurt dressings, grain-based salads and in stuffing for vegetables such as peppers, eggplants and tomatoes.

For Headaches:  Mix 1 TBSP. of a base oil, such as sweet almond oil, with 1 or 2 drops of peppermint oil and rub a few drops on your forehead and the nape of your neck.

Please note the above information is intended to complement, and not replace, the advice of your health care practitioner, including a nutritionist.  You should always consult with a health care practitioner who can best assess your individual needs.


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