This post was last updated on August 30th, 2014 at 05:47 am
When most of us think of peppermint, we think of the striped Christmas candy we hang from trees, but peppermint is an actual plant that not only imparts a great minty flavor in candy but also has medicinal properties. We keep peppermint in our herb garden along with its siblings spearmint and lemon balm. It is simply one of the better flavor agents around and we would not be without it. My sons love to pinch off a leaf, rub it between their fingers, and take a deep whiff. So do I! I suppose they learned it somewhere.
You may not have peppermint or spearmint outside your door but it is widely available fresh or as an extract that you can begin to benefit from its flavor and its medicinal properties today. If you do have access to fresh or dried peppermint, read on for its benefits but also for how to use the whole plant and turn it into a flavor or health tool.
While the health impact of peppermint is not a brisk area of research, there is some evidence for using it to relieve the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, nausea, and migraine headaches. There is also a long use of peppermint oil in relieving more general nausea. In all of these cases, the potential risk in trying peppermint oil is small. Peppermint oil is generally recognized as safe if used in amounts typically found in food (in pregnancy, always check with your doctor). The enteric coated supplements used for IBS do use higher levels of peppermint oil, but do have clinical trial evidence to support the usage.
Peppermint Oil for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Research on IBS and peppermint oil showed mixed results through the 1980s and 1990s but, increasingly, there is evidence to suggest it is worth the bucks to give it a try. One study of the use of peppermint oil for IBS in adults (here) found a significantly improvement in the severity of abdominal pain, reduced flatulence, and reduced stool frequency. A study of children found similarly encouraging results (here).
In both studies, researchers used enteric coated capsules to ensure that the peppermint survived the stomach and made it into the intestines where it could provide its benefit. This product at Amazon (here) is an example of the type of supplement used in the studies. Print out the research articles for your doctor and discuss trying this basic remedy.
Peppermint for Nausea, Stomach Upset, and “Morning Sickness”
Researchers have used peppermint in reducing post-operative nausea. (Check out these studies here and here). Using peppermint essential oil or inhaling an alcohol-based peppermint extract is a common method of nausea-control in research.
In my second pregnancy I had moderate problems with “morning sickness” (all day long) and peppermint oil was actually a great relief. It may help you with mild queasiness, pregnant or not. Add a drop of extract to tea or, as I did, put a drop on the back of your hand and lick it. It’s that simple.
In pregnancy you want to be careful with anything “different” that you take but peppermint extract is considered “likely safe” which means there is no reason to think that in reasonable quantities (the amount usually found in food) is a problem. If you plan to consume large quantities, consult your obstetrician or midwife.
Peppermint Oil for Migraines
If you suffer from migraine headaches, a trial run of peppermint oil may be in order. A 1996 study found that peppermint oil was as good as acetaminophen in relieving migraine symptoms. Using both peppermint oil and acetaminophen may provide the most relief, though this result did not reach statistical significance in the study. (Read the abstract here.)
A 1994 study had similar results, applying peppermint oil to the forehead and temples using a sponge. Read more here.
In the studies of migraine relief with peppermint oil, the peppermint oil was applied directly to the temples and forehead. Consider administering it in these ways — whichever suits your routine:
- Massage a drop of peppermint essential oil into the temple area on one side and then the other.
- Dilute the peppermint oil with a carrier oil and massage it into your skin in the area of the temples and across the forehead. Our carrier oil of choice is jojoba as I describe below.
You can also make a tincture from the peppermint itself. In fact, you can combine other potential headache-relieving herbs to the mix, a process I describe in detail in another post (here).
Getting the Peppermint Benefits Out of the Plant
Before delving into more detail about this useful plant called peppermint, there are some simple ways to get the benefits from the plant into your body besides simply chewing on a leaf, though that is certainly one way.
A Peppermint Infusion and Syrup
The best way to think of a peppermint infusion is as a “strong tea.” A tea itself will aid in your digestion and it may help with nausea and stomach upset as well. (Find the tea here.) I also use an infusion for fun: I make peppermint syrup to use in sodas.
For the infusion and resulting syrup, I follow a simple process:
- Add about two cups of peppermint (stem and leaf) to a saucepan.
- Cover with two cups of water.
- Bring to a boil.
- Cover with a lid and remove from heat.
- Let the mixture sit for a few hours or overnight. Strain out the herb and retain the liquid.
- The liquid is your peppermint infusion. Turn it into a syrup by adding one cup of sugar (or more, to taste). A honey syrup works just as well. Mint is a strong enough flavor that the honey will not cover it.
Dilute your infusion for a convenient peppermint tea. Use your syrup in sodas or as the sweetener in custards and other desserts.
A Peppermint Extract
Another herbalist approach to preserving and using peppermint is to make a liquid extract that retains the flavor and medicinal benefits of the plant. We use alcohol to make the extract but you could use glycerin instead. Alcohol will work better and you are not going to use so much extract that you end up with some sort of peppermint moonshine (unless, of course, you choose to do that).
I outline the process in some detail in the migraine post (here). Follow those detailed directions for both fresh and dried herbs, simply leaving out the feverfew and lemon balm and replacing them with peppermint.
The basic process is quite simple however: Place your clean peppermint in a jar and cover with vodka or bourbon, shake it daily or as often as you remember for six weeks or longer. Strain out the green and retain the alcohol for your extract.
Peppermint Essential Oil
Your third peppermint tool is essential oil which you could actually distill if you happen to have a distiller at home. For the three of you who do have an in-home distillation system, be sure to invite me over to check it out. For everyone else, you will likely just buy the oil. This is our go-to shop (here). We’ve been satisfied customers for over five years and we now partner with them on this website. Our Amazon partner has a great option as well (here).
Peppermint in the Home
Peppermint and Other Mints in Cooking
If you are looking for a fresh minty flavor in your cooking, you will be reaching either for peppermint extract or fresh peppermint (or some other mint). We do not use peppermint essential oil (or any other essential oil) in cooking — it is not clear how much (if any) is safe for internal consumption. It’s powerful stuff.
For the most part, you will use peppermint extract in beverages and baking when you want that distinct minty freshness. Here are some minty recipes to get you started:
- Homemade Coffee Creamer from us here at Fresh Bites Daily (this one will give you a double-wake-up. Whew.)
- Peppermint Ice Cream from Simply Recipes
- Peppermint Fudge from Don’t Waste the Crumbs
- Homemade Peppermint Marshmallows from Oh Lardy!
- Homemade Peppermint Patties from The Nerdy Farm Wife
- Peppermint Bark Chocolate Chip Cookies from 101 Cookbooks
- Double Chocolate Peppermint Cookies from Tasty Yummies
Many savory recipes that call for “mint” typically use other mint varieties, such as spearmint. The flavor is a bit less sharp and strong but still adds a brightness to the dish. Our own garden includes both peppermint and spearmint plants to take advantage of these flavor differences. Here are some savory recipe ideas to get you started.
- Lamb Rib Chops with Parsley and Mint Sauce from Mark’s Daily Apple
- Pea, Mint, and Feta Fritters from Gourmande in the Kitchen
- Chicken Pasta with Thyme-Mint Cream Sauce from Simply Recipes
- Mint Jelly (typically used with savory recipes) from Simply Recipes
- Cilantro Mint Guacamole from Recipes to Nourish
Peppermint in Body Care Products
Peppermint is a great addition to many body care products, giving them a bright, uplifting scent. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Peppermint Candles at GNOWFGLINS
- Peppermint Mouthwash from The Dabblist
- Peppermint Lip Balm from Nourishing Minimalism
- Magnesium peppermint foot scrub from Wellness Mama
- Peppermint Lip Balm (in gift packages) from Modern Alternative Mama
- Homemade Lemon Peppermint Toothpaste from Nourishing Days
- Peppermint and Lemon Face Wash from Home Grown and Healthy
Peppermint to Repel Mice
It may not be a surprise that using peppermint oil to keep away mice is not a burgeoning area of research. I would love to say that there is exhaustive research on the topic but there is not. There are testimonials that mice hate peppermint. Using peppermint to deter mice may be effective and there is certainly no draw back. I am working on “pepperminting” my pantry and, as I do so, I wonder to what degree the peppermint itself is effective, as opposed to my renewed interest in actually having a clean pantry. In any case, the pantry smells minty fresh.
Here are a few ideas on how to get peppermint oil into your mousy areas:
- Use the “cotton ball” approach in your mousy areas. The pantry is an obvious place in our house. Put a couple of drops of peppermint oil on a cotton ball or a piece of a sponge and place them throughout your pantry. The cotton ball or sponge absorbs the oil and acts as a little mouse repeller.
- When you actually clean your pantry out, add some peppermint oil to your cleaning water. In our case, we scrub the shelves once and then wipe them again. It’s the second wiping where we add the peppermint oil, so that there is a coating of peppermint oil on the shelves themselves. Alternatively, you could spritz your clean shelves (or I suppose even your dirty shelves) with a minty spray diluted (about ten drops in a kitchen spray bottle filled with water). You can use this same idea on any large mousy area in your house.
- If you have a room where mouse traffic is particularly bad, use the cotton ball concept but you can also add come peppermint oil to your mop water or spritz a bit on the carpet with a spray bottle — ten drops of oil in a regular kitchen-sized spray bottle.
Grab the oil from our partner if you need it (here).
Peppermint for Spiders
As with mice, there is no research on using peppermint oils to keep away spiders. With all of the spiders we have here in the Sequoia National Forest, however, I say bring on the peppermint. You don’t need more than one spider bites in bed to realize that something has to change.
If spiders and I end up living alongside each other, the worst that has happened is that I’ve used up an ounce or two of peppermint oil and have a peppermint scent amongst my spider traps.
This is how we are using peppermint oil to repel spiders:
- Use the “cotton ball” approach in your big spider areas. Put a couple of drops of oil on a cotton ball or a piece of a sponge and place it in or near a nook or cranny that spiders like. We have cupboards and dressers that spiders like to nest under — that is the sort of place to stuff a cotton ball under. Certain windows in our house or corners lend themselves to spiders. In the same corner areas that the spiders like, stuff in a cotton ball. (Of course it’s most effective if you also clean up the corner should it be a mess. Spiders love mess.)
- Use a spray bottle spiked with peppermint (ten drops in a regular kitchen spray bottle filled with water) and spray the corners and entry areas that are fun paths for spiders.
- If you have had spiders in your bed (shudder), consider spraying your sheets with your peppermint water. Best yet, wash all of your bedding thoroughly and clean under the bed itself to clear out areas where spiders hang out. Throw some peppermint-spiked cotton balls under there and then add the fresh, peppermint-sprayed bedding back to your bed.
Peppermint for Ants
As with spiders and mice, there are some great testimonials about peppermint and ants. I will use it in our next invasion and report back but here is a great testimonial about carpenter ants (here) in the meantime.
To fight ants, use the spray bottle method and spray the ant trail areas every few hours until the ants find someone else to bother. (About ten drops of oil in a regular kitchen spray bottle of water.)
Peppermint in Children Areas
Peppermint oil appears to be effective enough at discouraging mice, spiders, ants, and maybe even roaches and more, it is a key oil to involve in a child’s bedroom or play area. Find a black widow spider in your child’s sand toys or even in their play room (yes, I have) and it is time to do things differently. As I mention above, cleaning is a really great first step. Pepperminting the area is another.
- In a child’s room, you could use the “cotton ball” approach if the child is old enough that it would not present a choking hazard.
- Peppermint spray is a versatile idea for these situations. Spritz the areas of toys.
- Add peppermint oil to mop water or use the spray solution to mist your carpet lightly.
Go forth and mint the world!