‘Tis the season for all things peppermint. From lattes to candy and baked goods, refreshing, sweet yet herbaceous peppermint takes the stage in the winter. A hybrid of spearmint and wild mint, peppermint boasts a rich history, valued by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Peppermint has also been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2000 years. By the 18th century, it gained recognition in Western Europe, and in the 19th century became popular in the United States, particularly as peppermint oil. It’s easy to grow indoors, too, and after we discuss the great health benefits of peppermint, you’ll likely want to!
Today, peppermint is a globally cherished herb, extensively used in food, aromatherapy, and cosmetics. Thriving naturally in Europe, North America, and Mediterranean regions, it is a perennial herb with enduring popularity. Peppermint serves diverse purposes across culinary and medicinal realms. In the culinary domain, it provides a cool, menthol flavor, enhancing dishes like candies, salads, and teas. Medicinally, peppermint has been traditionally used to alleviate digestive issues like indigestion and upset stomach, and it could also help reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The essential oil extracted from peppermint is a favorite scent used in aromatherapy to enhance alertness and concentration. While peppermint offers a range of potential benefits, be sure to chat with your physician who can help you consider individual health conditions and appropriateness of using it for medicinal applications.
Peppermint contains compounds like menthol that have a muscle-relaxant effect. This includes relaxing the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, like the esophagus and stomach, supporting good digestion. Peppermint oil has been found to reduce spasms in the smooth muscles of the digestive tract which is particularly beneficial for people experiencing symptoms of IBS, where intestinal spasms can lead to pain and discomfort.
Peppermint is considered generally safe to use and is well tolerated. It’s important to note that while peppermint can be beneficial for many people, it may not be suitable for everyone. Some people can be sensitive to it and could experience abdominal pain, anal burning, belching, diarrhea, dry mouth, heartburn, nausea, and/or vomiting as a result of the muscle relaxation effect. In fact, people with acid reflux shouldn’t use peppermint products because it can make symptoms worse.
Peppermint stands out as a botanical gem, weaving its legacy in culinary and medicinal use from ancient civilizations to contemporary life. Today, peppermint is commonly associated with winter holidays and is used as a flavoring for many cold weather treats and beverages. Consider using it in different ways – like in tea or salad – for a healthy holiday boost.
Have you ever used peppermint for gut health? What are some of your favorite ways to use it?