One of the most invigorating and sensory-pleasing essential oils around, peppermint essential oil makes its mark when it comes to health benefits. Years of scientific studies and extensive documentation on this essential oil have shown its ability to relieve pain, improve bad breath and promote healthy respiratory and digestive systems.
A versatile oil, peppermint can be consumed orally, topically and as part of an aromatherapy program. That means you’ll have no trouble incorporating this oil into your daily routine, whether you’re an essential oil guru or just getting your feet wet. Read on to find out the top health benefits of this essential oil and how you can get the best results using it.
What Is Peppermint Oil?
Manufacturers cultivate and extract peppermint essential oil through a process of steam distillation that draws out oils from the peppermint plant known as Menthe piperita or its alternative spelling Mentha piperita. This plant is a natural hybrid of the water mint plant and spearmint plant. The peppermint plant is characterized by a distinct aroma and bright purple flowers. There are more than 25 different species of the peppermint plant, which are cultivated around the world.
The United States produces close to 75 percent of the world’s peppermint essential oil, making this oil easy to find and generally affordable when compared to more exotic oils. Indigenous to the Middle East and Europe, peppermint and its essential oil are now cultivated widely thanks to its hardy growing capabilities and adaptation to numerous growing zones.
The peppermint essential oil is always extracted from the leaves in the morning as bright sunlight reduces the oil content. Harvest of the plant oils usually takes place right before the flowers blossom — typically in July and August. Cultivators aim to harvest during dry, sunny weather in order to extract the most oil possible from each leaf.
Peppermint essential oil offers an aroma that is described as uplifting and invigorating. Due to its menthol content, peppermint essential oil delivers an effervescent experience. Boasting a tingling sensation similar to that of tea tree oil, peppermint oil leaves a refreshing feel when taken orally or when applied topically.
History of Use
Peppermint is the star of ancient societies, with its integral use throughout society portrayed in classical myths and legends. In ancient Greek mythology, the goddess Persephone metamorphoses a nymph named Minthe into sweet, aromatic mint after she attempts to seduce Hades.
In ancient Greece, mint was used as part of funeral ceremonies along with rosemary and myrtle. Peppermint was also used as part of a barley drink during the Eleusinian Mysteries as a way to transcend in the afterlife. The Romans and Egyptians also used peppermint to soothe the stomach and treat indigestion.
Modern peppermint oil uses are widespread and varied. It is prevalent in the cosmetic, healthcare and culinary industries all across the globe. In alternative medicine, it is widely used as a home remedy for digestive and respiratory illnesses. It’s most commonly recognized in candy canes and as a flavoring agent in chewing gum and toothpaste. Increasingly common in skincare and healthcare products, peppermint essential oil provides a long list of health benefits.
Health Benefits of Peppermint Essential Oil
1. Aids Digestion
One of the most promising peppermint oil benefits is its use in improving the digestive system and alleviating diseases including irritable bowel syndrome and upset stomach. Studies have demonstrated that peppermint oil contains antiparasitic effects that can help fight off infections that cause digestive problems.
A 2007 study examined the effects of peppermint extract in combating Giardia lamblia, which causes diarrhea and upset stomach. Researchers found that peppermint oil extract worked to combat giardia after 48 hours of incubation and had no negative side effects on the intestinal tract.
Researchers believe the greatest gut health benefits come from peppermint oil’s antispasmodic properties. Compounds prevent the movement of calcium across the cell membrane, resulting in a relaxing effect on gastrointestinal muscles. Peppermint oil also contains the flavonoid terpene, which when combined with menthol produces increased bile production. These gastric juices enable the digestive organs to more easily break down food and absorb nutrients.
To reap the digestive health benefits of peppermint oil, add a few drops to your water before each meal. Alternatively, you can flavor foods using peppermint oil or peppermint extract.
2. Alleviates Pain
The cooling effect of peppermint essential oil can help to provide pain relief for aches associated with tension headaches, muscle pain and joint pain. The menthol present in peppermint oil is largely responsible for these pain reduction benefits.
One German study examined the effect of applying 10 percent peppermint oil topically to the forehead and temple in order to combat tension headaches. The study divided participants into three groups, the first received peppermint oil topically, another received 1,000 milligrams of paracetamol — a painkiller — and the last group was a control group.
Participants who received peppermint oil and paracetamol both showed improvement in pain after 15 minutes and lasting for at least one hour. There was no significant difference between the participants who used the pain medication and those who used the peppermint oil. This study demonstrated the potential health benefits of peppermint oil as equal to common over-the-counter prescriptions when it comes to pain management.
For sore muscles after a long workout or strenuous hike, combine one to two drops of peppermint oil with a carrier oil such as olive oil, coconut oil or jojoba oil. Apply topically and the cooling sensation will help to minimize pain immediately. Alternatively, you can add a few drops of peppermint oil to your favorite massage oil or combine with lavender essential oil to rub sore muscles and relieve tension. For maximum relaxation, add a few drops of peppermint oil to your bath water and soak yourself into a restful, pain-free state.
3. Increases Alertness and Promotes Memory Function
Peppermint oil works to help you wake up easier and increases alertness without the negative side effects of caffeine.
A study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience researched the effects of peppermint oil on cognitive performance and mood. The study examined 144 volunteers who were either given ylang-ylang oil, peppermint oil or an aroma control. Results showed that peppermint oil enhanced memory and improved mood significantly when compared to the control group and ylang-ylang oil.
Additional research showed that peppermint oil increased accuracy of recall and patients showed improvement when it came to learning and memory retrieval. In vivo research demonstrated the effect of peppermint oil as a protective agent that could limit neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
For the mind-boosting powers of this essential oil, use peppermint oil in a diffuser as aromatherapy. Alternatively, you can put one to two drops of peppermint oil in your hands, cup them together and inhale deeply. To help you stay alert, you can also dab a drop of peppermint oil on your wrist or on your neck just behind your ear. Peppermint oil blends well with frankincense and citrus oils to awaken your mind and increase awareness.
4. Cures Bad Breath
Peppermint oil can help cure bad breath thanks to the presence of menthol, which offers an odor-fighting component and tingling, effervescent finish that leaves your mouth feeling fresh.
An Iranian study examined the ability of peppermint to treat halitosis, or bad breath, on high school students. The study comprised of 84 students who had halitosis and were between the ages of 14 and 18.
Students were randomly divided into two groups, with 43 students who received a peppermint mouth rinse and 41 students who were given a placebo. The participants rinsed their mouths the solution three times in one week. Of the 43 individuals who received peppermint mouthwash, only 23 still had halitosis after the experiment.
To treat bad breath, add one drop of peppermint oil and one drop of lemon essential oil to a small glass of water. Swig the water and swirl around your mouth for 30 seconds to one minute, just as you would a mouthwash. Spit the water and oil blend into the sink and enjoy the cooling, breath cleansing effects of the menthol in peppermint oil. For fresh breath all day, add one drop of peppermint oil to your water bottle and enjoy as usual.
5. Treats Respiratory Problems
Peppermint oil can be used to treat respiratory tract infections that lead to excess mucus and chest congestion. The menthol works to open up throat and nasal passages to alleviate nasal congestion and clear airways. While research is still ongoing, there is also evidence that peppermint oil can be used to minimize the characteristic wheezing and other symptoms of asthma and other respiratory diseases.
A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care examined the effects of peppermint inhalation during loaded breathing delivered through a resistive breathing unit. Eleven normal subjects received either strawberry-flavored air or menthol through a ventilation machine and were monitored for breathing responses.
The eight participants who received strawberry-flavored air showed no improvement or changes in loaded breathing. The participants who inhaled menthol, however, showed a significant reduction in the sensation of respiratory discomfort. Researchers believe menthol works to stimulate the cold receptors in the upper airway to improve breathing and decrease discomfort.
A Russian study also examined the impacts of peppermint oil on the pulmonary systems of tuberculosis patients. Scientists used peppermint aromatherapy on participants in the penitentiary system and found that patients saw a more rapid regression of inflammation, which allowed for easier breathing. Researchers believe peppermint oil’s ability to decrease inflammation may be able to help treat asthma and other illnesses.
6. Repels Insects
If you want to get rid of bugs fast, grab a bottle of peppermint essential oil. Commonly used in mosquito sprays, peppermint oil is also effective in getting rid of a variety of other pests including ants, spiders, mice and cockroaches.
An Israeli study published in Atca Tropica compared the effectiveness of seven different bug repellant sprays. Researchers found that Terminix AllClear — a mosquito repellant that contains natural ingredients including lemongrass, peppermint and geranium oil — had a 95.26 percent bite rate reduction when used against mosquitos. This all-natural essential oil repellant was only 1 percent less effective than the leading repellent, which contains toxic chemicals such as DEET.
Another study published by the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine examined the efficacy times of peppermint oil against mosquito bites. The scientists found that 0.01 milliliters of peppermint oil offered 150 minutes of protection before it needed to be reapplied. These studies demonstrate that you can fight off mosquitoes bites without having to resort to using toxic chemicals.
To get rid of insects in your home, add a couple drops of peppermint oil to cotton balls or cotton pads and place in areas frequented by bugs throughout your home. Typically, you should place the cotton balls along window sills, in corners and in harder-to-reach places that creepy crawlies like to call home.
You can also use peppermint oil as part of an essential oil blend to create a bug repellent when you’re heading out into the great outdoors. Combine two teaspoons of witch hazel, 25 drops peppermint essential oil, 10 drops lemongrass oil, 10 drops eucalyptus oil, 10 drops clove essential oil and 1/4 cup boiled water in a spray bottle. Use liberally and make sure to always use 100 percent essential oil for the best results.
7. Promotes Hair Growth
Peppermint oil is widely used in hair care products such as shampoo and conditioner as it can help to thicken and replenish damaged hair. Studies have also shown the efficacy of peppermint oil in treating common hair loss disease such as male-pattern baldness and thinning hair.
A study published in Toxicology Research examined the effects of peppermint oil on hair growth in mice. The mice were separated into four groups, one of which was given peppermint oil while the others received jojoba oil, minoxidil (known commonly as Rogaine) and a saline control solution. Each group received topical treatment daily for four weeks.
At the conclusion of the study, the mice that received peppermint essential oil showed the highest rate of increased hair growth. The mice also demonstrated increased dermal thickness, an increase in the number of hair follicles and improvement of depth of follicles.
This study shows that peppermint essential oil can help not only increase hair growth, but also thicken hair. When compared to common hair growth medications, peppermint oil did better.
To improve the growth of your hair, just add a few drops of essential oil to the bottle of your existing shampoo or conditioner. Daily use is recommended and you may need to continue use for a few months to see the best results for preventing hair loss and increasing growth.
Side Effects of Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint oil has been shown to be safe when consumed in proper amounts either orally, topically or in aromatherapy. There are still some minor side effects for certain individuals. Remember that the Food and Drug Administration does not certify or regulate essential oils. Make sure to always use therapeutic-grade oils if you choose to use peppermint oil, particularly when using as part of aromatherapy.
As with most products derived from botanical plants, peppermint essential oil can cause skin irritation or allergic reactions in some individuals. Make sure to test the oil on a small portion of your skin before applying liberally. Also, be sure to apply topically using carrier oil and always follow recommended dosage and uses.
Oral consumption of peppermint essential oil can lead to heartburn or acid reflux. These symptoms typically only occur when used in large doses of by individuals who suffer from GERD or other acid reflux type diseases. If you have stomach acid sensitivities, discuss with your doctor before using peppermint oil orally.
Invigorate Your World With Peppermint Oil
Keep a bottle of peppermint essential oil on hand in your medicine cabinet to treat digestive issues or store a bottle right on your nightstand to help invigorate your senses and wake up easier in the morning. Use peppermint oil topically to directly alleviate aches and pains or put a few drops in your diffuser to relax with a cooling aromatherapy session.
You can also take peppermint oil orally to help freshen your breath before a big day or to enhance the flavor of your ordinary glass of water. With health benefits ranging from better hair and skin to improved digestive and treatment of respiratory ailments, peppermint oil is an essential oil that can make every day a little brighter. Whatever you prefer to use peppermint oil for, this botanical blend can help you live a healthier, happier life.