Peppermint is one of the most popular herbs used in today’s society.1 A summer-growing, perennial aromatic herb, peppermint is a hybrid of Mentha spicata (spearmint) and M. aquatica (watermint). The plant grows wild throughout Europe and North America in moist areas and is thought to be of Mediterranean origin. The leaves and stems of peppermint contain volatile oils that give the plant its pungent fragrance and taste. The oil contains menthol, which is responsible for the sensation of coolness that is characteristic of peppermint.1
History and Cultural Significance
The genus Mentha was named after the Greek nymph Minthe.2 Legend has it that Minthe was the lover of Pluto, the God of the Greek underworld. When Pluto’s wife heard of the affair, she murdered Minthe in a fit of rage and jealousy. In remembrance of Minthe, Pluto brought her back to life as a fragrant plant. The name peppermint is from the species name piperita meaning “peppery,” which distinguishes peppermint from other forms of mint.2
The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder (circa 23-79 CE) wrote that Greeks and Romans used peppermint to adorn themselves and their tables at feasts, and that their cooks used it to flavor both wine and sauces.3 There is some evidence that M. x piperita was cultivated by Egyptians, and it appears in 13th century Icelandic medical documents. However, it was not used medicinally in Europe until the mid-18th century.3
Peppermint has a long history of unique uses. Aristotle (circa 384-322 BCE) referenced peppermint in his writings as an aphrodisiac.2 Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) forbade his soldiers to have peppermint because it was thought to promote erotic thoughts and deplete soldiers of the desire to fight. Arabs used peppermint in their social drinks as a virility stimulant and Romans would spread peppermint on their floors to help get rid of pests.2
Peppermint has many modern uses worldwide.4 Leaf preparations are made from either fresh or dried leaves, while the oil is distilled from freshly-harvested sprigs.4 Many believe that peppermint is too intense for subtle dishes, but leaves or their essential oil are commonly found in tea, chocolate, confections, chewing gum, jellies, and sauces.5 Peppermint can also be added to chilled soups or rice on warm days to help cool down the body.5
In traditional herbal medicine peppermint has reportedly been used as a tonic for preventing gas, relieving spasms, and other stomach ailments.3,6 Its traditional use also includes treatment of cholera and diarrhea, to raise body heat and induce perspiration, to treat colds, flu, hysteria and nervous disorders,3 as well as to assist in alleviating tension headaches.4 Today, the peppermint plant is commonly added to cough and cold remedies because of its high menthol content, which provides a sensation of coolness and easier breathing.7
The tobacco industry uses peppermint oil largely as a flavoring and for its high concentration of menthol and cooling sensation in filtered cigarettes, cigars, and both chewing and pipe tobacco.6 Due to its unique fragrance, peppermint is often found in soaps, detergents, creams, lotions, and perfumes.6
Studies have been conducted to evaluate peppermint’s documented and potential effects on various gastrointestinal and neurological conditions such as dyspepsia8,9,10,11 and tension headaches (oil used topically).12,13 Peppermint’s antispasmodic and antidiarrheal effects are topics of continued research.14 Enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules have been shown to be effective in clinical trials for treating irritable bowel syndrome15,16,17,18,19,20,21 and the oil has been used effectively to reduce fecal odor in cholostomy bags22 and to reduce colonic spasms during barium enema23,24 and colonoscopy.25,26
The world production of peppermint is more than 4000 tons per year with the United States accounting for over 90% of the production.27 There has been a steady increase in demand for peppermint because of its many uses and because of recent expansion into the Asian market. The plant requires certain environmental conditions that greatly limit suitable areas for cultivation. Because of the high demand and climatic constraints, it is becoming common for peppermint crops to be harvested twice each season (double harvesting) in the United States. Double harvesting can lead to rootstock depletion and can diminish the quality of oil produced. Horticulturists have also encountered a growing pest infestation that is leading to excessive leaf loss and consequently lower oil quality.27
—Gayle Engels, Meredith Podraza, and Adrian Sierant
- Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
- Onstad D. Whole Foods Companion. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Co.; 1996.
- Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. Vol. 2. New York: Dover Books; 1971.
- Blumenthal M, Hall T, Goldberg A, Kunz T, Dinda K, Brinckmann J, Wollschlaeger B, eds. The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 2003.
- Wood R. The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books; 1999.
- Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 1996.
- Bruneton J. Pharmacognosy: Phytochemistry Medicinal Plants. 2nd ed. Paris: Lavoisier Publishing; 1999.
Friese J, Köhler S. Peppermint oil-caraway oil fixed combination in non-ulcer dyspepsia comparison of the effect of two Galenical preparations. [in German]. Pharmazie. 1999;54(3):210-215.
- Madisch A, Heydenreich C, Wieland V, Hufnagel R, Hotz J. Treatment of functional dyspepsia with a fixed peppermint oil and caraway oil combination preparation as compared to cisapride. A multicentre, reference-controlled double-blind equivalence study. Arzneimittelforschung. 1999;49(11):925-932.
- May B, Kuntz H, Kieser M, Köhler S. Efficacy of a fixed peppermint oil/caraway oil combination in non-ulcer dyspepsia. Arzneimittelforschung. 1996;46(12):1140-1153.
- May B, Köhler S, Schneider B. Efficacy and tolerability of a fixed combination of peppermint oil and caraway oil in patients suffering from functional dyspepsia. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. December 27, 2000;14(12):1671-1677.
- Göbel H, Fresenius J, Heinze A, Dworschak M, Soyka D. Effectiveness of Oleum Menthae piperitae and paracetamol in therapy of tension headache. [in German]. Nervenarzt.1996;67(8):672-681.
- Göbel H, Schmidt G, Soyka D. Effect of peppermint and eucalyptus oil preparations on neurophysical and experimental algesimetric headache parameter. Cephalalgia. 1994;14(3):229-234; discussion 182.
- Micklefield G, Jung O, Greving I, May B. Effects of intraduodenal application of peppermint oil (WS(R) 1) and caraway oil (WS(R) 1520) on gastroduodenal motility in healthy volunteers. Phythother Res. 2003;17(2):135-40.
- Liu J, Chen G, Yeh H, Huang C, Poon S. Enteric-coated peppermint-oil capsules in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a prospective randomized trial. J Gastroenterol. 1997;32(6):765-768.
- Carling L, Svedberg L, Hulten S. Short-term treatment of the irritable bowel syndrome: a placebo-controlled trial of peppermint oil against hyoscyamine. Opuscula Medica. 1989;34:55-57.
- Lawson M, Knight R, Tran K, Walker G, Robers-Thomson I. Failure of enteric-coated peppermint oil in the irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized double-blind crossover study. J Gastroent Hepatol. 1988;3:235-238.
- Nash P, Gould S, Barnardo D. Peppermint oil does not relieve the pain of irritable bowel syndrome. Br J Clin Pract. 1986;40:292-293.
- Dew M, Evans B, Rhodes J. Peppermint oil for the irritable bowel syndrome: a multicentre trial. Br J Clin Pract. 1984;38(11-12):394,398.
- Rees WDW, Evans BK, Rhodes J. Treating irritable bowel syndrome with peppermint oil. Br Med J. 1979;6:835-836.
- Pittler M, Ernst E. Peppermint oil for irritable bowel syndrome: a critical review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 1998;93(7):1131-1135.
- McKenzie J, Gallacher M. A sweet smelling success: use of peppermint oil in helping patients accept their colostomies. Nurs Time. 1989;85(27):48-49.
- Sparks M, O’Sullivan P, Herrington A, Morcos S. Does peppermint oil relieve spasm during barium enema? Br J Radiol. 1995;68(812):841-843.
- Jarvis L, Hogg J, Houghton C. Topical peppermint oil for the relief of spasm at barium enema. Clin Radiol. 1992;46:A435.
- Duthie H. The effect of peppermint oil on colonic motility in man. Br J Surg. 1981;68:820.
- Leicester R, Hunt R. Peppermint oil to reduce colonic spasm during endoscopy. Lancet. 1982;2(8305):989.
- Peterson L, Bienvenu F. Peppermint Oil. The New Rural Industries: a Handbook for Farmers and Investors. Available at: http://www.rirdc.gov.au/pub/handbook/peppermint.html. Accessed August 1, 2006.