Soothing but invigorating, peppermint is just one of many varieties of the well-known mint family. Although spearmint was used more in early Greek and Roman times, peppermint gained notoriety around the 18th century for its use as a stomach aid, and before that, during the Middle Ages, it was used to freshen breath and whiten teeth.
Today peppermint is still used in widely used. Thanks to menthol, the active ingredient in peppermint, this plant can alleviate a number of health and beauty problems.
Digestion: Peppermint is most famed for its use in relieving stomach problems. Both a carminative and an antispasmodic, peppermint can help disorders of the digestive system including gas, bloating, nausea, indigestion and cramps. Studies have even shown peppermint effective at relieving irritable bowel syndrome; 75 percent of participants in the study showed a reduction in IBS symptoms after taking peppermint oil capsules for four weeks. Peppermint helps relieve stomach problems by relaxing the smooth muscles in the digestive track. Make a cup of peppermint tea, or chew on peppermint leaves.
Headaches: Another of peppermint’s big “claims to fame” in the health department is its ability to relieve headaches. Peppermint can soothe headaches in two ways. If rubbed on the skin at strategic points, such as your temples, peppermint oil can relax the muscles causing tension headaches. If inhaled, peppermint can relieve sinus pressure and induce calm.
Colds and Flu: Menthol, the active ingredient in peppermint, thins mucus, helping to reduce sinus and chest congestion and remove mucus from the body. Peppermint can also soothe irritated throats. Add a couple drops of peppermint oil to a humidifier and breathe deeply.
Skin Irritation: Thanks to its cooling properties, peppermint can soothe irritated skin caused by insect bites, burns, rashes, and poison ivy and poison oak. (Like all essential oils, peppermint oil can irritate the skin and should be diluted before applied topically.)
Bad Breath: Because peppermint is also antibacterial and antimicrobial, chewing on peppermint leaves or rinsing with a peppermint-based mouthwash can keep bad breath at bay and prevent dental hygiene problems caused by an overabundance of bacteria in the mouth.
Susan Melgren is the Web Editor of Mother Earth Living. Find her on Google+.