Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is one of my favorite herbs, for a variety of reasons. Its ability to relieve headache pain is at the top of the list. Peppermint is able to calm and numb, both inside and out, making it one of nature’s most effective pain relievers. But peppermint can do much more than ease pain and discomfort. It’s been shown to treat many conditions and ailments. As an infusion, tincture, and essential oil, peppermint has been shown to be beneficial for the following ailments.
Ailments Relieved by Peppermint
- Tension headache
- Cough and cold
- Flatulence / bloating
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Skin Irritation caused by
- poison ivy
- poison oak
- Head lice
Peppermint has a natural ability to calm and soothe; which is why it has been used throughout the centuries to treat headaches, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety associated with depression, flatulence, menstrual cramps, indigestion, and irritable bowel syndrome.
I have used peppermint infusions (tea) for tension headache relief for many years. And I used to suffer from migraines, but never had success with peppermint infusions. I explain what did work in the article, ‘Natural Cures for Headaches”. But, according to an article on Migraine.com, migraine sufferers can benefit from peppermint oil.
Peppermint cures indigestion by calming the stomach muscles and increasing the flow of bile – which the body uses to digest fats; as a result, food passes through the stomach more quickly. Peppermint relieves flatulence the same way, by relaxing the muscles that allow painful digestive gas to pass.
Peppermint, when applied topically, has a soothing and cooling effect on skin irritations caused by hives, poison ivy, or poison oak. And one small study suggested that peppermint applied to the forehead and temples helped reduce headache symptoms. I have personally found this to be very true for the typical tension headache, but not so for the extremely painful migraines I used to suffer from. However, your own experience may differ.
Peppermint and its main active agent, menthol, are effective decongestants. Because menthol thins mucus, it is also a good expectorant, meaning that it helps loosen and breaks up coughs with phlegm. It is soothing and calming for sore throats (pharyngitis) and dry coughs as well.
Peppermint oil has a cooling effect on the scalp and fights both dandruff and head lice. Peppermint oil is widely considered very effective for hair growth because it binds the hair roots and increases blood circulation. One study, published in Toxicology Research, proved its benefits for hair growth.
“From week 2, [3% peppermint oil] grew hair more rapidly than [saline] and [jojoba oil]. At week 3, [3% peppermint oil] remarkably promoted hair growth than [saline] and [jojoba oil], even greater than [3% Minoxidil]. At week 4, [3% peppermint oil] showed hair growth about 92%, whereas [3% Minoxidil] about 55%. … Histological analysis showed that 4-wk topical application of [3% peppermint oil] and [3% Minoxidil] induced very thick and long hair growth and promoted the elongation of hair follicles from dermis to subcutis. These results indicate that the hair follicles of [3% peppermint oil] and [3% Minoxidil] groups at week 4 were in the anagen stage. We also observed a slight increase of epidermal thickness in [3% peppermint oil] group.”1
Despite the clinical evidence, it has been claimed that peppermint oil can have the opposite effect on hair. There used to be a link to the forum where this issue was discussed, but that page was deleted a few months ago. I could not find another example of someone making the same claims but felt I should mention it nonetheless.
Do I believe that peppermint could cause hair loss? No, not really. Unless you have an allergy to peppermint, it is highly unlikely that your hair would fall as a result of its use. Also, the enormous number of shampoos and conditioners that contain peppermint oil would have been removed from store shelves long ago if peppermint oil was actually capable of thinning hair and/or arresting its growth. A good example is Aveda’s Rosemary Mint line. Aveda is a well-known salon products company, that specializes in hair and skin products created with “pure flower and plant essences”. Their Rosemary Mint line – which, as the name suggests, contains rosemary and peppermint essential oils – has been on the market for decades.
5 Ways to Use Peppermint
As an infusion/tea
You can buy Peppermint tea in prepared tea bags anywhere tea is sold, but if you prefer to use your own dried Peppermint leaves, you’ll need ½ tsp leaves per 8-ounce cup boiling water. Steep leaves 10 minutes, strain, and cool. Peppermint tea, which is also called an infusion, is great for headaches and other aches and pains in the body.
As a tincture/extract
For severe tension headaches, use a tincture of 10% peppermint to 90% ethanol (alcohol); lightly coat the forehead and allow the tincture to evaporate. For digestion and upset stomach in older children, dispense 1-2 ml Peppermint glycerite per day, diluted in hot water; take before meals. Alcohol-free versions are also available online and in health food stores.
Creams and ointments
For itching and skin irritations, massage a small amount of peppermint cream or ointment into the affected area and reapply as directed, by the package label. The most effective peppermint creams and ointments contain about 16% methanol (the active ingredient in Peppermint). These products are also used to treat muscle pain and arthritis.
Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands before and after use.
Adults can take 1-2 Enteric-coated capsules (0.2 ml of peppermint oil) two or three times per day for IBS. Enteric-coated capsules are specially coated to allow the capsule to pass through the stomach and into the intestine (0.2 mL of peppermint oil per capsule is standard).
As an essential oil
To stimulate your scalp for increased hair growth, add 6-15 drops of Peppermint essential oil to every tablespoon of base oil. Many sources suggest jojoba (which is actually a wax) is the best base oil for hair growth, and almond oil’s hair growing abilities have also been extolled over the years, but you should choose whichever base oil works best for you.
You can also massage the same diluted peppermint essential oil into the temples, neck, and nape to relieve tension headaches.
Although Peppermint is perfectly safe for most people 99% of the time, below are instances in which you should limit or avoid its use.
- If your symptoms of indigestion are related to a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
- By relaxing the sphincter (The muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach), peppermint may actually make the symptoms of heartburn and indigestion worse.
- If you have a hiatal hernia.
- Pregnant or nursing mothers should avoid peppermint and peppermint tea.
- Never apply peppermint oil to the face of an infant or small child, as it may cause spasms that inhibit breathing.
- Do not give peppermint tea to an infant or small child. Peppermint tea may cause a burning sensation in their very tender mouths.
- Peppermint may make gallstones worse. It also may not, but why take the chance? I hear gallstones hurt like hell.
- Large doses of peppermint oil can be toxic. Pure menthol is poisonous and should never be taken internally. It is important not to confuse essential oil and tincture preparations.
- Menthol or peppermint oil applied to the skin can cause a rash, if not diluted in a carrier oil, lotion or cream.
Peppermint Drug Interactions
- Cyclosporine – This drug, which is usually taken to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ, suppresses the immune system. Peppermint oil may slow down the rate at which the body breaks down cyclosporine, meaning more if it stays in your bloodstream. Do not take peppermint oil if you take cyclosporine.
- Drugs that reduce stomach acid – If peppermint capsules are taken at the same time as drugs that lower the amount of stomach acid, then the enteric-coated peppermint capsules may dissolve in the stomach instead of the intestines. This could mean the effects of peppermint are lessened. Take peppermint at least 2 hours before or after an acid-reducing drug.
- Drugs that treat diabetes – Test tube studies suggest peppermint may lower blood sugar, raising the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
- Anti-hypertensive drugs (blood pressure medications) – Some animal studies suggest that peppermint may lower blood pressure. If you take medications to lower blood pressure, taking peppermint also might make their effect stronger.
Even if you’re taking prescription medications not listed above, you should consult your physician before consuming peppermint or any herb or supplement. You’d be amazed by how many herbs, and even foods, interact with certain drugs.
For most people, peppermint (in its many forms) is perfectly safe and effective for a variety of afflictions. Peppermint can even be used to keep blood-sucking pests like mosquitoes and spiders at bay. However, if you’ve never used peppermint before, you should start with the smallest useful amount. This precaution should be exercised when using any herb for the first time because an allergic reaction is possible. It’s possible to be allergic to anything. Possible, but not probable. That being said, the next time you’re suffering from a headache, tummy ache, or want to grow out a bad haircut faster, I hope you’ll give this wonderful herb a try.
1 “Peppermint Oil Promotes Hair Growth Without Toxic Signs”. Toxicology Research, December 2014. Web. October 2016
Ehrlich, SD, NMD. “Peppermint”. University of Maryland Medical Center, July 6, 2014. Web.
Ehrlich, SD, NMD. “Pharyngitis”. Penn State Hershey, September 24, 2013. Web.
Falsetto, Sharon. “Peppermint Oil & Lice”. Livestrong.com, June 24, 2015. Web.
Worwood, Valerie Ann. The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy, 1991. Print
Kligler, Benjamin, MD, MPH, Chaudhary, Sapha, D.O.. “Peppermint Oil”. American Family Physician, April 1, 2007. Web.
“Peppermint”. WebMD, n.d.. Web.
“Peppermint Oil”. Migraine.com, n.d. Web. October 2016
This article was originally published on June 1, 2011, on (the old) Holistic Health & Living.