The holiday festivities are over but don’t throw out the candy canes. Peppermint (Mentha piperita), a hybrid of water mint and spearmint, is one of the most widely consumed herbs. The leaves are commonly used fresh or dried in teas, but it can also be purchased as an essential oil or in capsule form. A review article about the potential health benefits of peppermint found that it is a very useful, multipurpose herb.
Peppermint tea and the essential oil of peppermint have long been used medicinally. It is often indicated to treat a variety of conditions, ranging from treatment of gastrointestinal problems to pain and migraines.
The peppermint research review suggests the mint may improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Of eight randomized controlled trials using peppermint as a treatment for IBS symptoms, they found a significant positive effect compared with placebo for five of the eight studies. It is thought that peppermint relaxes the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, thereby relieving the pain or bloating associated with IBS and allowing for more regular contractions.
In Germany, peppermint leaf is licensed for use as a standard treatment for indigestion (also known as dyspepsia). Peppermint calms the muscles of the stomach and improves the flow of bile, which the body uses to digest fats. It is assumed then, that as a result, food passes through the stomach more quickly. According to the research review, studies found that peppermint oil, in combination with caraway oil, helped relieve indigestion. This evidence is preliminary, however, and more research is needed. It should be noted that if symptoms of indigestion are related to a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), peppermint should not be used. Peppermint may interact with antacid medications (such as Nexium or Pepcid).
Peppermint oil appears to be safe for most adults when used in small doses. As with any alternative or complementary therapies you may use, always inform your health care provider of anything you are taking. This does not include, of course, an occasional cup of peppermint tea, or all those leftover candy canes. Peppermint tea, unlike the more concentrated oil, is generally safe in large doses. If you are using a tincture or oil, however, it would be wise to inform your physician.