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.
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.
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.
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:
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).
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.
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:
Dilute your infusion for a convenient peppermint tea. Use your syrup in sodas or as the sweetener in custards and other desserts.
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.
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).
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:
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.
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:
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:
Grab the oil from our partner if you need it (here).
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:
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 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.
Go forth and mint the world!
A Pineapple Refresher and a Dessert Drink (with a Secret Ingredient) from the Half Pint Hacks
This peppermint tea will lift you up and even aid your stomach
Homemade mint/peppermint extract: You’re making it all wrong! Two key tips you probably do not know
This will help keep mice out of your pantry. Who knew.
Have some awesome beverage tools on hand for your holiday entertaining…