Issue: 72 Page: 1,4-5
HerbalGram. 2006; 72:1,4-5 American Botanical Council
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
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
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
1. Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckmann J, eds. Herbal Medicine:
Expanded Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council;
Newton, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.
2. Onstad D. Whole
Foods Companion. White River Junction, VT:
Chelsea Green Publishing Co.; 1996.
3. Grieve M. A
Modern Herbal. Vol. 2. New York: Dover
4. 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.
5. Wood R. The
New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. Middlesex,
UK: Penguin Books; 1999.
6. Leung AY,
Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Foods, Drugs,
and Cosmetics. New York: John Wiley & Sons,
7. Bruneton J. Pharmacognosy:
Phytochemistry Medicinal Plants. 2nd ed.
Paris: Lavoisier Publishing; 1999.
8. 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.
9. 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
10. May B, Kuntz H, Kieser M,
Köhler S. Efficacy of a fixed peppermint oil/caraway oil combination in
non-ulcer dyspepsia. Arzneimittelforschung.
11. 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,
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. Rees WDW, Evans BK,
Rhodes J. Treating irritable bowel syndrome with peppermint oil. Br Med J. 1979;6:835-836.
21. Pittler M, Ernst E.
Peppermint oil for irritable bowel syndrome: a critical review and
meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol.
22. McKenzie J, Gallacher M.
A sweet smelling success: use of peppermint oil in helping patients accept
their colostomies. Nurs Time.
23. Sparks M,
O’Sullivan P, Herrington A, Morcos S. Does peppermint oil relieve spasm
during barium enema? Br J Radiol.
24. Jarvis L, Hogg J,
Houghton C. Topical peppermint oil for the relief of spasm at barium enema. Clin
25. Duthie H. The effect of
peppermint oil on colonic motility in man. Br J Surg. 1981;68:820.
26. Leicester R, Hunt R.
Peppermint oil to reduce colonic spasm during endoscopy. Lancet. 1982;2(8305):989.
27. 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.