18 October 2021 / Caitlin Devlin
Peppermint Essential Oil: History, Uses and Benefits
Discover how peppermint essential oil can soothe the gut, benefit the skin, and repel pests.
This versatile herb has been used in food, medicine and cosmetics for hundreds of years.
Peppermint is one of the oldest herbs used for medical purposes, with earliest recorded uses dating all the way back to 1000BCE. It was a key ingredient in much of Japanese and Chinese folk medicine, and has been found in several Egyptian pyramids.
There are two main variations of peppermint essential oil: piperita and arvensis. Peppermint piperita is more commonly used and has a stronger, more recognisable peppermint smell, whereas peppermint arvensis has a lighter, slightly sweeter scent. The differences are slight, however, and they both have the pain-relieving, skin-soothing, antispasmodic properties than make peppermint such a useful oil.
Peppermint oil is an athlete’s best friend.
For thousands of years peppermint has been employed as a natural painkiller and muscle relaxant. Its cooling, antispasmodic qualities are mainly due to the combination of two chemical constituents: limonene, which has anti-inflammatory properties, and menthol.
Menthol is the main constituent of peppermint oil and has a wide range of benefits, including its ability to act as . It has been shown to be effective in treating tension headaches, and menthol and limonene together are able to sooth inflamed joints and tired muscles.
A 2013 study also showed that peppermint oil was effective in improving exercise performance and breath flow in athletes. It is theorised that this is because peppermint oil is able to relax bronchial smooth muscles and increase ventilation and brain oxygen concentration. This is what allows peppermint oil to invigorate us and make us more alert and energised.
It can relieve IBS symptoms.
In the last couple of decades, peppermint oil has emerged as an effective treatment for irritable bowl syndrome. A study in 2007 found that peppermint oil can cause up to a 50% decrease in IBS symptoms, soothing the gut and reducing pain. Menthol’s antispasmodic properties allow it to reduce spasms in the colon, and it is also able to excite the anti-pain channel TRPM8 which temporarily causes pain-sensing fibres in the gut to become less sensitive.
Whilst peppermint oil can be very useful for anyone suffering any form of gastric distress, it is important to use it safely in order to feel the effects. Peppermint oil should not be taken orally unless ingested in capsule form – adding it to water may not disperse it properly and can cause heartburn.
It is also possible to feel the effects of peppermint oil on the gut by diluting with a carrier vegetable oil and rubbing on the abdomen.
It's good for your skin.
As well as being anti-inflammatory, peppermint oil is also anti-septic and anti-microbial, which makes it great for soothing and cleaning skin. It has a higher SPF value than other essential oils and can therefore help to heal and protect against sunburn.
The soothing properties of menthol also allow it to treat itchiness – a 2012 study found that diluted peppermint oil significantly reduced symptoms of pruritis in pregnant women.
It can clear your sinuses.
Peppermint oil can also be used to help treat a number of respiratory conditions including colds and coughs, the flu, bronchitis, and sinusitis. The oil acts as expectorant, which means that it helps to loosen the mucus in the throat and sinuses so that it can be dispelled. This also makes it useful for allergy relief, as peppermint oil can help to clear out pollen from sinuses and relax muscles in the nasal tract.
It can repel spiders.
Peppermint oil is a very popular solution to ‘spider season’, which encompasses the weeks in which spiders come indoors. Peppermint oil has been found to be repellent to spiders – it is theorised that this is due to the monoterpenoids in the oil acting as fumigants. Mixing a few drops of peppermint oil with a spray bottle of water and spraying in corners can help to deter spiders.
Other kinds of mint oil:
- Spearmint – Known for being the ‘sweeter’ variety of mint, spearmint has many of the same benefits as peppermint: it relieves pain, improves gastric health, and decongests. It is, however, found to be more relaxing than stimulating peppermint oil.
- Garden mint – Garden mint shares spearmint’s more sugary notes, and is near identical in benefits to peppermint oil.
Whilst research into the role of aromatherapy in modern medicine is still ongoing, the many benefits of peppermint oil are some of the most well-documented. Whether you prefer the scent of peppermint arvensis or peppermint piperita, both are incredibly effective in not only relieving pain and providing bodily comfort, but also invigorating the mind and body and increasing our physical and mental capabilities.
Shop our peppermint essential oil here.