All the mints, including peppermint, are among the oldest herbs used for medicinal purposes. Peppermint was cultivated by the Egyptians and is mentioned in Icelandic herbal pharmacopoeias of the 13th century.
Peppermint is one of the main herbs for digestion and contains between 0.5% and 1.5% of volatile oil, found in all parts of the plant. The oil content is highest just before flowering. The quantity of oil in the plant can vary depending on the variety of mint, the soil it is grown in and the climate. The oil consists of about 50% menthol.
The reason peppermint is such a valuable herb for the digestive system is because of this oil. It has a carminative action, helping to relax sphincters and the smooth muscles of the digestive system, assist in the expulsion of intestinal gas, tone mucous membrane surfaces and increase peristalsis. Peppermint oil is sometimes administered to people in capsules for irritable bowel syndrome.
The oil has a cooling, soothing and anesthetic effect on the smooth muscles of the stomach and intestines, which makes it one of the key herbs to choose when dealing with horses prone to colic, gastric or duodenal ulceration, smooth muscle spasm, trapped gas, digestive cramping or poor appetite.
Peppermint contains a bitter quality that increases bile secretion and helps stimulate the appetite as well as tannins, which can help with horses who suffer from loose droppings or bouts of diarrhea.
Other internal and external benefits
For the respiratory system, antibacterial peppermint oil can be added to a pad or steam inhalant and used to help loosen residual mucus/catarrh, relieve and reduce the frequency of a troublesome cough, encourage perspiration in the early phases of colds and flu, or help combat lung infections.
The menthol content of the plant is antiseptic and when used in high concentrations can act as a disinfectant. The oil has been extensively trialed and shown to offer very significant antimicrobial and antifungal effects against over 25 bacterial and 20 fungal species.
Externally, peppermint oil can be sparingly added to topical lotions or blended with a carrier oil (such as almond oil) and applied directly on the skin or mucus membrane. The oil can act as an insect repellent and is often used to reduce the sensitivity of skin receptors, helping to reduce pain, itching, or sensitivity to temperature, making it fantastic for topical use on skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and neuralgia.
Next time you brush past some peppermint and smell that fresh aroma, remember how many benefits this humble herb has to offer.