Peppermint essential oil is made from steam distilling mature peppermint (Mentha piperita) plants in full bloom. The result is a clear to pale green-yellow liquid that smells truly minty, just like the familiar candy. With a piercing and pungent aroma, pure peppermint essential oil has an aromatic coolness that’s felt as much as smelled. It sometimes seems so cold that it’s actually warming, and must be properly diluted before use to diffuse some of its strength.
Often described as sharp, intrusive and even overwhelming, the oil’s menthol aroma cannot be mistaken. Though more expensive than other types, French peppermint oil seems to be of higher quality. If it smells more like pennyroyal or mint, the oil is likely low-quality. Healers have used peppermint oil for a variety of purposes, and it’s believed to have numerous medicinal, cosmetic and emotional effects.
History and Folklore
Peppermint has a long history of use in cultures around the world. For thousands of years, the Egyptians, Asians and Native Americans used the plant’s oil to soothe digestive problems and freshen the breath. The ancient Hebrews used it in perfumes, and the Greeks and Romans utilized the oil during religious rites.
During the 18th century, essential peppermint oil became a well-known medicine in Europe and North America. It was used to relieve colic and other intestinal complaints, such as gas and indigestion. For decades, the plant has been used in commercial products including toothpastes, mouthwashes, mints and chewing gums. It is still used today for many of these same purposes.
Modern Medicinal Uses
Some evidence suggests that peppermint essential oil is antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic and antiviral. It stimulates the nervous system and counteracts drowsiness by increasing alertness. Today, herbalists and aromatherapists use the oil for soothing the digestive tract, stimulating the appetite, balancing intestinal flora and relieving spasms of the colon. It may relieve irritable bowel syndrome and reduce inflammation caused by stomach ulcers and gout. In addition, pure essential peppermint oil helps ease motion sickness, nausea, jet lag and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Other modern medical uses include relaxing muscles, easing painful menstrual cramps, cooling hot flashes and reducing fevers. In some cases, the oil is used to relieve itching and swelling caused by sunburn and dermatitis. It’s also used to treat migraine and tension headaches. It clears sinuses and improves breathing, especially in individuals with asthma or bronchitis. Peppermint oil can even serve as an insect repellent and treatment for painful, swollen or itchy insect bites.
One of the most effective home acne remedies, peppermint essential oil reduces oiliness of the skin and fights bacterial infections. It also stimulates circulation and helps revive dull, lifeless skin. When used externally, the oil leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth, and normalizes oily skin and hair. It also constricts the capillaries and helps minimize the redness of broken skin, spider veins and varicose veins. Peppermint oil is commonly used in natural soaps, shampoos and other cosmetics. It’s a primary ingredient in mouthwashes, toothpastes, foot baths for smelly feet, and facial astringents.
In aromatherapy, peppermint essential oils are often used to revitalize the spirit, cool emotions, dissipate anger and hysteria, stimulate the the mind and diminish depression. Some believe that the oil instills confidence and increases self-esteem. Other emotional effects include decreasing indecision, increasing alertness, improving concentration and memory, clarifying the thought process, and inspiring new thoughts and ideas.
Peppermint essential oil should not be used by pregnant or nursing women, individuals with high blood pressure, and people using homeopathic remedies. Also, do not give the oil to children for internal use. Externally, the oil is typically regarded as safe, as long as it’s diluted prior to application. Use internally only under the supervision of a qualified medical doctor, aromatherapist or herbalist, as consuming too much can cause illness.
Peppermint oil may be used in a variety of different ways. The easiest way to use the oil is to place a single drop on a tissue and inhale as needed to lift the spirit, ease congestion and improve breathing. The oil is very strong, so don’t inhale directly from the bottle. Other suggested uses include:
- For a refreshing and cooling bath, especially useful during sickness, when you have a fever or after a day’s work in the heat, add 2 to 4 drops of the oil to a tub full of water.
- For sore muscles, prepare a massage oil by diluting a base oil with 1 percent peppermint and rubbing into the affected muscles. This also works well for warming the body.
- For smelly feet, add 2 to 4 drops peppermint essential oil to 1 gallon of water in a basin and soak the feet for at least 20 minutes at a time. Repeat daily for the best results.
- For a facial astringent, combine 4 ounces apple cider vinegar or pure grain alcohol with 2 drops peppermint essential oil and apply directly to the face after washing with a mild cleanser. Follow with a moisturizer for the best results. This is one of the best natural remedies for oily skin.
- For relieving congestion, place a few drops of the oil into a vaporizer and run near your bed. The oil is too stimulating for overnight use, so discontinue a few hours before bed.
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