Peppermint


Mentha x piperita
Family Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
 


ORIGIN OF THE NAME
 
The botanical name Mentha originates from Greek mythology where Pluto, the god of the dead, fell in love with Minthe, a beautiful nymph, causing great distress to Pluto’s goddess-wife Persephone. Persephone became jealous and changed Minthe into a sweet smelling herb.  Pluto could not bring Minthe back to life but he gave her plant a fragrant aroma. The Latin word mente means ‘thought’.

Mint was used in ancient Egypt as a stomach soother, in ritual perfume and as an ingredient in the sacred incense kyphi.  It spread from the Middle East to Greece and Rome where it was used in bathing water, wine making, bedding and medicine.  It is a traditional tea drunk in Egypt and Morocco where the fresh leaves are used to make a highly sweetened tea.  Delicious in both winter and summer.

The Japanese have been growing mint for its menthol content for at least 2000 years and in the Bible, the Pharisees collected tithes in mint, dill and cumin. Charlemange loved mint and ordered his people to grow it.

In the 14th century Mint was used to whiten teeth and later to mask the smell of tobacco. Today it is used for cosmetics, cooking, confectionery and drinks.

Peppermint is the most important commercial and medicinal mint in the genus consisting of about 20 varieties and hybrids. Other varieties of mint include Spearmint (Mentha spicata), Water Mint (Mentha aquatic), Filed Mint (Mentha arvensis), and Bergamot Mint (Mentha x citrate). Peppermint is thought to be a hybrid between the water-loving Water Mint and Spearmint.


THE PLANT

Although Peppermint is native to western Asia and the Mediterranean, it is cultivated in temperate climates the world over. It is found in most domestic gardens and seen as an essential culinary item.

The plant is a perennial herb which can grow as tall as 1 metre. It sends out runner underground and spreads rapidly, making it easy to propagate.  However it is generally planted in containers in gardens to prevent it becoming a pest as it can quickly overrun a herb garden or veggie patch.

The lanceolate leaves are sharply-toothed and vibrant green if left to flower, the white or occasionally pale purple flowers will attract bees and other beneficial insects to your garden.

Peppermint and Spearmint can be used in companion planting near roses, to deter aphids. Buddlei mint will deter hover flies.


THE OIL

The leaves and flowering tops are used for steam distillation with a yield between 0.3% and 1%. 

Annually, over 2200 metric tons of Peppermint and 1400 metric tons of Spearmint are produced. Mint oils are by far the largest items in the worldwide industrial aromatrade.  Industrial aldulteration is widely used to produce standarised products.  It is important to buy your Peppermint from professional suppliers who deal only with therapeutic grade peppermint.

Peppermint essential oil is typically a clear liquid with a strongly piercing menthol fragrance which is extremely cooling. The odour is fresh, airy, pungent-green and sweet, characteristically clean and minty.  Materia Aromatica source a Peppermint oil that has a definite sweetness to it which makes it a pleasure to use.

With regard to perfumery, Peppermint is refreshing, sharp and intense with predominantly top odour notes, although some middle notes. As it is such a distinctive and powerful oil, one would exercise moderation and use a single drop at a time. I t is strong enough in intensity that trace amounts(less than a drop) can be used to add sparkle to otherwise less exciting blends. To do this, you could dip a clean toothpick into the bottle, let any drops drain back into the bottle, then stir the toothpick through your blend.

The main chemical constituents are menthol (40%), menthone (18.7%), 1.8 cineole (7.3%), methyl acetate (3.8%), methofuran (3.0%), isomenthone (2.5%), limonene (2.5%), beta- pinene (1.8%), alpha- pinene (1.4%), germacrene-d(1.3%), trans-sabinene hydrate(1.0%), pulegone(0.8%).


MEDICINAL PROPERTIES

Analgesic, anaesthetic, antigalactagogue, antiphlogistic, antiseptic, carminative, antispasmodic, tonic, stimulant, stomachic, astringent, cephalic, cholagogue, cordial, decongestant, emmenagogue, expectorant, febrifuge, hepatic, nervine, sudorific, vaso-constrictor, vermifuge.


THERAPEUTICALLY

Useful for nausea, wind, vomiting and irritable bowel syndrome. There are several preparations on the market for IBS that use peppermint in enterically coated capsules designed not to dissolve until they reach the large intestine.

Peppermint oil can be used a drop at a time in a teaspoon of honey for stomach upsets. It tastes superb when combined with a drop of orange and is mixed into the honey. This aromatic honey can be added to a glass of warm water and sipped when one has consumed a meal that was too heavy or spicy. A most pleasant after effect is that the mouth tastes fresh and clean as one had brushed the teeth.

Gabriel Mojay has suggested using peppermint after hospitalisation to get the digestive system working again. Considering most hospital meals are of a heavy cooked nature it seems most sensible. Peppermint can be incorporated into a tummy massage blend, remembering to massage in a clockwise direction to stimulate peristalsis. Or one could try a drop in honey if stomach massage was not to your taste..

Peppermint does not only work on the stomach area. Its refreshing aroma helps clear the head and refresh the spirits. It helps people who are trying to concentrate for example students preparing for exams, or those who are working long hours and suffering mental fatigue. It makes a useful addition to blends in offices, meeting rooms and places where concentration and clear headedness are required. The advice given earlier about using it a drop at a time is applicable here. It only takes a drop too much peppermint before the entire blend smells of mint! Other cephalic oils to consider when studying could be rosemary, the herb of memory, basil and lemon. A drop or two can be applied to a handkerchief and sniffed during the exam or meeting.

Kurt Schnaubelt writes favourably about Peppermint, describing its effective analgesic properties especially when used for treating migraine headaches.  He describes research where a fifteen percent dilution in rubbing alcohol was applied liberally tpo the forehead, neck and shoulders to treat migraine headaches and where the relief was equivalent to that of conventional drugs.

In addition, the cooling anti inflammatory nature of peppermint makes it useful for opening congested sinuses, relieving PMS symptoms and to help eye problems originating from the liver. Schnaubelt says of Peppermint that it is the most effective stimulating liver tonic of all the essential oils. This oil should most definitely be in your collection!

In Oriental Medicine, the oil is classified as cool and dry. Its key actions are to regulate Qi in the Stomach and intestines where it clears Phlegm-Heat and promotes digestion and bowel function. It also restrains infection and can be used for dyspepsia, epigastic and abdominal distention or pain, nausea, travel sickness, flatulence, constipation, spastic colon , colitis and irritable bowel.

It also regulates Liver-Qi so helps relieve pain eg in the sides or the head. It clears Phlegm Heat from the Lungs and disperses Wind-Heat, again it restrains infection and is indicated for thick or yellow catarrh, colds, ‘flu, bronchitis and laryngitis. It raises Qi to the head and stimulates the nerves and uplifts the Spirit. Useful for poor concentration, mental fatigue, nervous debility or depression.

It clears Damp Heat and circulates the Qi as well as alleviating Bi (Painful Obstruction) and provides pain relief so suitable for neuralgia, joint pain, osteoarthritis And Rheumatoid arthritis..

It is also useful as an insect repellent eg against mosquitoes and gnats. Add it to your mixes to deter the flying and biting insects when you are walking outdoors, gardening or picnicking.

Peppermint stimulates the mind and stomach when one is concentrating or studying, and on a deeper level it assists the digestion of new ideas and impressions. It is said to work on our psychological or emotional stomach where we are learning and developing emotional acceptance and tolerance. Think of peppermint when you faced with a situation that ‘ you just can’t stomach’. Peppermint is also useful for those feeling frustrated, agitated and obsessive and can work with you when you are faced with a situation that requires inspiration and insight.


CAUTIONS

Due to its intense cooling sensation may cause shock in children under two and a half years. Peppermint oil is contraindicated on pregnant or breast feeding mothers, or children under 5 years of age. Avoid using on individuals with epilepsy, fever or heart disease. 

Do not use whilst taking homeopathic medicines as it could interfere with the remedies.  Do not use at more than 1% dilution on the skin or use more than 1ml (20-30 drops) per 24 hours (adult dose). Do not use immediately before going to sleep as it might keep you awake.


SUGGESTIONS FOR USE

Peppermint blends well with citrus oils as well as basil, cajeput, cedarwood, cypress, eucalyptus, marjoram, niaouli, pine, rosemary and thyme.

Dr Penoel recommends one keeps a small flask of peppermint oil handy for emergencies.
The book 'Natural Home Health Care with Essential Oils', lists several highly practical uses for peppermint: For immediate pain relief caused by a blow to the shin or a hit to the hand or fingers for instance, lightly apply a trace amount of undiluted peppermint oil to the area. Once the pain has reduced, apply a trace of high quality lavender. Note: if there is any bleeding, apply the oil AROUND the area, not into the cut or sore.

To avert a headache, apply a trace amount to the temples, forehead and back of ears. If you have any lavender handy, massage the neck with this. Peppermint can be used for nausea, or motion sickness, digestive problems after a heavy or rich meal, a stuffy nose, temporary fatigue or lack of energy and for hiccups.

Peppermint can be blended with lemongrass or citronella to repel insects and when added to a foot scrub can revive tired or achy feet or legs.

And for those who have access to fresh leaves, why not make your own peppermint iced tea or add to Pimms or glass of apple juice. What about a smoothie? Adds a fresh tang along with a twist of lime or fiery ginger root to a mango and apple smoothie.
Decorate your strawberries or add some finely chopped leaves into a green salad. Chew some fresh leaves after a meal spiced with garlic or brew a pot of mint tea. A lovely way to enjoy the power of aromatherapy!


References:
The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy by Salvatore Battaglia
ITHMA Course Notes
Jekka’s Complete Herb Book by Jekka McVicar
Medical Aromatherapy by Kurt Schnaubelt
Natural Home Health Care Using Essential Oils by Daniel Penoel and Rose-Marie Penoel


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