“Fine-tune” your digestion, tame headaches and banish fatigue with peppermint
For many, red- and white-striped peppermint candy canes are a cheery reminder of the Christmas season and the winter holidays. But zesty, refreshing peppermint is far more than just another candy flavor. It may have surprising abilities to improve our health and quality of life. For example, scientists report that a compound found in peppermint can act as a mild stimulant, helping to boost concentration and fight fatigue.
Read on for a closer look at some of peppermint's hidden health "superpowers" and the best ways to access them.
Peppermint offers protective "ammunition" against illness and infection
Peppermint, botanically known as Mentha piperita, contains many potent antioxidants, including limonene, menthol, menthone, and 1,8- cineole. While there's limited research on peppermint essential oils and teas, these specific compounds have been well-studied. And the results are impressive.
A scientific review published in 2021 in Molecules credits limonene in peppermint with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving, and stomach-protecting qualities - and reports that limonene may even help protect against neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis. Peppermint is also antibacterial, meaning it can help control the pathogens implicated in dental plaque, cavities, bad breath, and gum disease.
A review of literature published in the Journal of the International Society of Community Dentistry showed that peppermint compounds are active against various microbial "bad guys," including such notorious pathogens as S. aureus, E. coli, Salmonella, and Candida albicans. The authors added that peppermint compounds even help to defeat biofilms - layered communities of difficult-to-dislodge bacterial and fungal strains.
Despite its use in peppermint candies and festive seasonal baking, it's clear that peppermint is not "lightweight!"
Peppermint oil can promote a brighter, energized outlook and top-notch digestion
Peppermint essential oil is often used in aromatherapy to alleviate fatigue and lift mood. It may accomplish this due to its rosmarinic acid content, the same antioxidant compound found in rosemary - with the same potential to support healthy cognitive function. One study showed that aromatherapy with peppermint oil improved memory and alertness! You can use a diffuser to dispense the scent of peppermint into the air. Or, if you don't have a diffuser, you can go "low-tech" and get a similar effect by adding a few drops of peppermint oil to a bowl of steaming water.
In addition to its cognitive benefits, peppermint oil aromatherapy may help settle an upset stomach. One 2020 clinical trial published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice found that inhaling peppermint oil vapor through a nebulizer reduced the frequency, duration, and severity of nausea and vomiting in patients recovering from heart surgery.
Peppermint essential oil, when diluted with a carrier oil such as olive, jojoba, or coconut oil, can be massaged into the temples to relieve simple tension headaches. (Use 3 to 6 drops of peppermint oil for every ounce of carrier oil, and check for allergic reaction beforehand by testing a small amount on the forearm 24 hours before use). You can also employ peppermint oil to soothe muscle and nerve pain. Finally, the menthol in peppermint oil has a cooling effect, which can help alleviate itchy skin.
Decongestant peppermint tea can be your "new best friend" in cold season
If you crave a hot, flavorful, caffeine-free herbal beverage with health-promoting properties, you're in luck. Peppermint tea fills this bill nicely. As it turns out, the steam rising from a cup of this refreshing tea is laden with antibacterial vapors, which help to combat upper respiratory infections when inhaled. The cooling sensation of menthol promotes free breathing and helps to unclog blocked sinuses.
Drinking peppermint tea is a time-honored way to promote healthy digestion and ease nausea, bloating, and gas. Again, menthol - which acts as an antispasmodic to relax the smooth muscle of the digestive tract - gets much of the credit. To make your own peppermint tea, bring two cups of water to a boil, then remove from heat and add a tablespoon of fresh, crushed peppermint leaves. Cover, steep for five minutes, then cool, strain and sip. If desired, add a little honey for extra antioxidant and antibacterial power.
While peppermint tea excels at soothing heartburn and indigestion, it has been known to aggravate digestive symptoms in some people. If this occurs, stop drinking it. Of course, don't drink peppermint tea if you are allergic to it.
Access peppermint's benefits in three different ways
Integrative healthcare providers typically recommend drinking peppermint tea, applying the diluted essential oil to the skin, or inhaling its vapors as the best ways to avail yourself of peppermint's benefits. It is available as an extract if you want to use peppermint in cooking or baking. Naturally, consult your holistic doctor before using peppermint tea or essential oil.
Important: Like other essential oils, peppermint essential oil should not be taken orally. And highly concentrated peppermint oil can be toxic to children and pets. Peppermint aromatherapy and topically applied peppermint oil are not for use on children. Members of your "fur family" (as well as feathered and finny companions) should not be present during peppermint aromatherapy.
Archaeologists have found sprigs of dried peppermint in Egyptian tombs dating back to 1000 BC, establishing that this zingy herb has had its enthusiasts and fans for centuries. Maybe it's time for you to discover the timeless merits of peppermint!
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