Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is an aromatic herb in the mint family that is a cross between watermint and spearmint. Native to Europe and Asia, it has been used for thousands of years for its pleasant, minty taste and health benefits. Peppermint leaves contain several essential oils including menthol, menthone and limonene. Menthol gives peppermint its cooling properties and recognizably minty scent. It is often consumed for its flavor, but you should keep in mind all those peppermint tea benefits the next time you’re preparing tea in your home.
Peppermint has long been used to relieve digestive symptoms, such as gas, bloating and indigestion. Animal studies indicate that peppermint relaxes your digestive system and may ease pain. It also prevents smooth muscles from contracting, which could relieve spasms in your gut.
Benefits of Peppermint Oil
A review of nine studies in 926 people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) treated with peppermint oil for at least two weeks concluded that peppermint provided significantly better symptom relief than a placebo. In one study in 72 people with IBS, peppermint oil capsules reduced IBS symptoms by 40% after four weeks, compared to only 24.3% with a placebo.
Additionally, in a review of 14 clinical trials in nearly 2,000 children, peppermint reduced the frequency, length and severity of abdominal pain. Furthermore, capsules containing peppermint oil reduced incidence and severity of nausea and vomiting in a study in 200 people undergoing chemotherapy for cancer.
Peppermint has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Because of this, peppermint is also beneficial in treating clogged sinuses caused by infections, the common cold and allergies. Additionally, research demonstrates that menthol — one of the active compounds in peppermint — improves the perception of airflow in your nasal cavity. Therefore, steam from peppermint tea may help you feel as though your breathing is easier.
The powerful oil of peppermint has been shown to effectively kill bacteria. In one study, peppermint oil was found to kill and prevent the growth of common food-borne bacteria including E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella in pineapple and mango juices. Peppermint oil also kills several types of bacteria that lead to illnesses in humans, including Staphylococcus and pneumonia-linked bacteria. Additionally, studies indicate that peppermint reduces several types of bacteria commonly found in your mouth. Furthermore, menthol has also demonstrated antibacterial activity.
Peppermint also contains rosmarinic acid, a plant compound found in rosemary and plants in the mint family. Rosmarinic acid is linked to reduced symptoms of allergic reactions, such as runny nose, itchy eyes and asthma. In one randomized 21-day study in 29 people with seasonal allergies, those given an oral supplement containing rosmarinic acid had fewer symptoms of itchy nose, itchy eyes and other symptoms than those given a placebo. In another study involving rats, peppermint extract reduced allergic symptoms, such as sneezing and itchy nose.
Peppermint also acts as a muscle relaxant and pain reliever, and may diminish certain types of headaches. The menthol in peppermint oil increases blood flow and provides a cooling sensation, possibly easing pain. In one randomized clinical study in 35 people with migraines, peppermint oil applied to the forehead and temples significantly reduced pain after two hours, compared to a placebo oil. In another study in 41 people, peppermint oil applied to the forehead was found to be as effective for headaches as 1,000 mg of acetaminophen.
Peppermint is an aromatic plant with many natural compounds that are beneficial to health. Peppermint may help improve digestion and respiratory health, reduce congestion and seasonal allergies, and prevent infections. Another benefits of peppermint are related to antibacterial properties. After all, this plant may improve allergy symptoms, headaches and clogged airways.