Peppermint, or Mentha piperita, is an herb in the Lamiaceae family that is a hybrid of spearmint and watermint. Peppermint plants can grow to around one to three feet in height and, like other mint varieties, can spread quickly and aggressively both in the wild and when cultivated. The plant has smooth stems and small oval leaves with serrated edges. Peppermint plants produce small flowers that are pink to purple and grow in oblong clusters along the stem. Peppermint is native to the Mediterranean area but is also grown in the United Kingdom, Asia, and the USA. The plant flourishes in temperate regions near bodies of water or with high rainfall due to its need for higher amounts of water while growing.
Peppermint is one of the most versatile and beloved essential oils currently available and the many benefits of this powerful herb have been utilized in many cultures and regions throughout history. Peppermint was used by ancient Egyptians as a stomach-soothing remedy and dried peppermint leaves have even been found in tombs inside tombs in Egyptian pyramids. Peppermint is listed as a digestive and remedy to soothe flatulence in the ancient Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest surviving medical texts from 1550 BCE. Peppermint was also widely used in ancient Greece and Rome for culinary purposes as well as in remedies for stomach issues. It also played a role in ancient funerary practices as a way to scent the body. Peppermint is also mentioned in Greek mythology in the story of “Minthe,” a nymph who is transformed into the herb and releases a powerful, lingering aroma every time she is stepped on. In 1753 it was determined that peppermint was a hybrid of spearmint and watermint, a discovery made by a Swedish botanist named Carl Linneaus.
Peppermint became popular in western Europe during the 18th century where it was used as a folk remedy for nausea and other stomach issues as well as respiratory issues and menstrual disorders. Peppermint was first listed in the London Pharmacopoeia in 1721 and still currently appears in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia as a remedy for intestinal colic, gas, colds, morning sickness, and menstrual pain.
Peppermint began to be grown commercially in England by the middle of the 18th century. Early advertisements show that the American colonies were originally importing mint from England until early American farmers found that it could be grown easily in moist conditions. Peppermint reached a solid commercial market in the United States by the 19th century. The Hotchkiss Essential Oil Company, founded in 1839 in New York, was an early pioneer of peppermint essential oil production in the United States. Hotchkiss peppermint oil was widely known for its potency and purity during a time when peppermint oil was often diluted and adulterated and the company controlled the market for many years.
Peppermint that is cultivated for essential oil production is generally harvested when about 10% of the peppermint plants are in the flowering stage as this is the time when the optimum oil content is achieved. Harvesting is done on dry and sunny days with the use of mechanical harvesting mowers. Many producers will then leave the plants in the field to wilt and dry slightly, as it is more economic to distill the herbs with lower moisture content. Some essential oil content may be lost during this wilting process so some producers choose to distill peppermint as soon as possible after harvesting. Peppermint essential oil is extracted from fresh or partially dried leaves through steam distillation. The resulting oil is thin in consistency and clear to very pale yellow. Peppermint essential oil has an invigorating minty aroma that is both sweet and refreshing.
Benefits and Uses
When used in aromatherapy, Peppermint essential oil has a multitude of benefits for the respiratory system. The oil's expectorant properties allow it to help relieve congestion and clear nasal passageways for easier breathing. Peppermint can also help to soothe coughs and can be applied topically to help relieve congestion in the chest as well. It can also help ease headaches, reduce fevers and stimulate blood circulation for faster healing all over the body. Peppermint oil may also work to support changing eating habits by helping suppress the appetite and promote the feeling of being full. It can also help to soothe the stomach and alleviate feelings of nausea. When diffused and inhaled, peppermint essential oil can provide a much-needed mental boost. It can increase mental and physical energy while enhancing our mental focus and concentration. Peppermint may also ease feelings of irritability and help to improve memory and information retention.
Used topically, peppermint essential oil can be both cleansing and soothing to the skin. It works to eliminate bacteria from the skin while its astringent properties tighten and shrink pores. Peppermint can reduce inflammation and redness in irritated skin while also easing pain and providing a cooling sensation. Peppermint essential oil can work to release tension in muscles while also helping to relieve muscle spasms. These benefits combined with its ability to soothe pain in sore muscles and joints, make it great to use in conjunction with therapeutic massage. When used in natural hair care, peppermint stimulates the scalp and helps to eliminate dandruff and soothe a dry scalp. Peppermint essential oil has antimicrobial and antifungal qualities that make it a great addition to homemade cleaning products with the bonus of a fresh and clean scent. Peppermint also acts as an effective and natural deterrent for many pests and insects.
Here are some recipes using Peppermint essential oil that we love…
Alert and Energized Diffuser Blend
- 4 drops Peppermint Essential Oil
- 3 drops Grapefruit Essential Oil
- 2 drops Cinnamon Essential Oil
Add water to your diffuser up to the fill line. Add drops of the essential oil blend. This diffuser blend recipe is formulated for a 200ml ultrasonic diffuser. Adjust the amount according to size and directions of your diffuser
Headache Remedy Roll-On
- 10ml Amber Glass Roll-On Bottle
- 10ml Fractionated Coconut Oil
- 5 drops Peppermint Essential Oil
- 5 drops Lavender Essential Oil
Add the essential oils to the roller bottle and fill the rest of the bottle up to the neck with fractionated coconut oil. Attach the roller top and cap and shake well until ingredients are thoroughly combined. Roll on the temples and gently massage in circular motions.
Cough and Cold Soothing Shower Steamer
- Witch Hazel in a Misting Spray Bottle
- Hard Plastic or Metal Molds
- 1 cup Citric Acid
- 2 cups Baking Soda
- 10 drops Peppermint Essential Oil
- 5 drops Tea Tree Essential Oil
- 5 drops Lemon Essential Oil
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well using your hands. Spritz a small amount of witch hazel onto the top of the powder mixture and stir it in. Repeat this process until the mixture packs together easily. Scoop the mixture into each mold one at a time and pack them down tightly. Allow them to dry for at least 24 hours. Store them in an airtight container. To use, take 1 shower steamer into the shower with you and wet it under the stream of water to get it started. Place the steamer at the far end of the bath/shower stall. Not putting it directly under the water will help it last longer.
Cooling Facial Mist
- 4 oz Amber Glass Bottle with Spray Top
- 1 ½ oz Distilled Water
- 1 ½ oz Witch Hazel Extract
- ½ oz Jojoba Oil
- 10 drops Peppermint Essential Oil
- 10 drops Eucalyptus Essential Oil
- 5 drops Spearmint Essential Oil
Combine all ingredients in the bottle and shake well to combine. To use, shake well and lightly mist your face. Store in the fridge for an added cooling effect.
Sore Muscle Bath Salts
- 1 cup Epsom Salt
- ½ cup Coarse Mineral Sea Salt
- 10 drops Peppermint Essential Oil
- 10 drops Rosemary Essential Oil
- 10 drops Chamomile Essential Oil
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Store the bath salts in an airtight container. To use, add approximately ½ cups bath salts to warm running water and use your hand to stir the water to help dissolve all the grains. Soak in the tub for at least 20 minutes.