Peppermint Essential Oil
You’re probably pretty familiar with peppermint – a common ingredient and flavoring in foods, supplements, personal care products, and even beverages. But did you know that peppermint essential oil – the pure steam-distilled extract of this fragrant herb also has many potential health benefits? Read on to learn more about the many uses and benefits of peppermint essential oil!
What is Peppermint Essential Oil?
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita), also known as Mentha balsamea Willd, is an aromatic, rhizomatous, upright perennial herb in the mint family (Lamiaceae). The plant is a hybrid between water mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (Mentha spicata) and has square stalks, stolons (underground stems), flowers, and smooth, dark green leaves. It can grow up to 2 feet in height in rich, moist soils in full sun to partial shade. It is found in Europe, Asia, and North America. (1)
There are several types of peppermint, but only black peppermint (also called English peppermint or mitcham mint), which has purple stems, as well as white peppermint (which has a delicate odor) are recognized by most growers. Peppermint is most commonly grown as a culinary or medicinal herb and has a strong, sweet odor and a cooling aftertaste. It can be used in numerous forms but is typically cultivated for its leaves, its dried flowers, which are usually found in pinkish lavender clusters, and its steam-distilled essential oil.
How is Peppermint Used?
Dried peppermint flowers are used to flavor various desserts, candies, beverages, and more. Peppermint leaves are used in teas, capsules, and as liquid extracts. They are also used fresh or dried for culinary dishes. Peppermint leaves contain up to 1% volatile oil (essential oil). The peppermint herb’s volatile essential oil is steam-distilled and nearly colorless.
Other than as a food flavoring and for oral care products such as toothpaste and mouthwash, peppermint essential oil is used in enteric-coated capsule supplements and can also be found as a liquid extract for many uses, including aromatherapy, for which it is used to temporarily relieve headache symptoms, to support a positive mood and mental clarity, and to offer stress support. It is also taken as a dietary supplement to support a healthy digestive system, to calm an upset stomach, to support a healthy upper respiratory system, and temporarily relieve symptoms due to seasonal health challenges.
The main constituents of peppermint oil are menthol (55%), menthone (up to 32%), cineole (up to 14%), isomenthone (up to 10%), menthyl acetate (up to 10%), menthofuran (up to 9%), limonene (up to 5%), pulegone (4%), carvone (maximum 1%), and isopulegol (0.2%). (2, 3) Peppermint oil also contains essential vitamins (such as A and C), minerals, omega-3 essential fatty acids, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, manganese, and copper. (4)
The main active ingredient in peppermint essential oil, as noted above, is menthol (also called mint camphor or peppermint camphor). Menthol has long been used medicinally to soothe sore joints and muscles, usually in a balm, cream, or gel form. Menthol has a calming and soothing effect on the body. Many people may turn to acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen for temporary pain relief, but peppermint essential oil has a similar, natural pain-relieving effect when applied topically. (5)
So how does it work? “Menthol and methyl salicylate are known as counterirritants. They work by causing the skin to feel cool and then warm. These feelings on the skin distract you from feeling the aches/pains deeper in your muscles, joints, and tendons.” This is specific to what it feels like to use a muscle rub cream, gel, or lotion containing menthol. However, menthol can also be inhaled in small amounts to help support upper respiratory health and provide seasonal support. Peppermint oil is also used topically on the skin (when diluted) to relieve itching, to promote clear skin (especially for people with acne) due to its natural anti-microbial properties, and to temporarily relieve headache symptoms. (6)
Common Uses for Peppermint Essential Oil
- Fresh peppermint
- Food flavorings
- Soft gel
- Enteric coated soft gel
- Dissolvable tablet
- Liquid oil or extract
- Flavored syrup
- Concentrated drop
- Aromatherapy peppermint oil
- Cough drop
- Skin cream
- Topical gel
- Foot spray
- Aromatherapy stick
- Inhalation bead
- Air freshener
- Household cleaner
- Natural insect repellent
- And more (7)
Brief History of Peppermint Essential Oil
A popular herb used for health purposes for thousands of years – since as far back as 1,000 BCE – mint was mentioned in ancient records from Greece and Rome. These ancient civilizations used mint in their everyday lives, including for health, healing, and housecleaning support. (8, 9)
Mint is named after Minthe or Menthe, personified in Greek mythology as Minthe, a nymph who was transformed into a mint plant by Persephone as an act of revenge for Minthe’s ongoing affair with Hades (the husband of Persephone). (10) Mint leaves were even discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs. (11) It wasn’t until the 1700s when peppermint was recognized as its own distinct type of mint.
Today “in Eastern and Western traditional medicine, peppermint and its oil have been used as an antispasmodic, aromatic, antiseptic and also in the treatment of colds, cramps, indigestion, nausea, sore throat, and toothaches.” (12)
Potential Health Benefits of Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint Essential Oil Health Benefits
- Supports Alertness and a Healthy Mood
- Supports memory
- Provides stress support
- Promotes a healthy mood
- Promotes focus and concentration
- Supports energy levels
- Supports Healthy Digestion and Detoxification
- Soothes an upset stomach
- Supports a healthy digestive system
- Promotes detoxification
- Provides Natural Pain Relief
- Provides temporary relief from symptoms related to headaches
- Provides natural pain relief
- Soothes muscle discomfort
- Promotes healthy joints
- Supports Upper Respiratory System Health
- Provides temporary relief from symptoms related to seasonal health challenges
- Supports healthy sinuses
- Supports a healthy respiratory system
- Supports Healthy-Looking Skin, Hair, and Scalp
- Soothes symptoms related to itchy or irritated skin
- Naturally repels bugs like mosquitoes
- Provides temporary relief from sunburns or skin burns
- Promotes healthy-looking skin
- Provides acne support
- Supports blood flow for healthy-looking hair and scalp
Supports Alertness and a Healthy Mood
Peppermint is one of the most commonly used essential oils in aromatherapy, according to The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA). (13) Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants for health and healing purposes. The oils are inhaled using an aromatherapy diffuser or inhalation beads, or they are diluted with a carrier oil such as jojoba oil, grapeseed oil, or coconut oil and massaged gently into the skin during an aromatherapy massage.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, essential oils have been used for thousands of years in cosmetics, perfumes, and drugs. They are most commonly used for spiritual, therapeutic, hygienic, and ritualistic purposes. It is believed that breathing in essential oil molecules may stimulate the parts of your brain that influence physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Essential oils such as peppermint are used in aromatherapy for stress support, mood support, and to promote mental clarity or alertness. (14)
A 2006 study found that peppermint oil supports mental clarity and memory by supporting blood flow and triggering the brain’s limbic system, which controls emotions and long-term memory. (15)
Supports Healthy Digestion and Detoxification
In addition to memory and mood support, peppermint is considered by herbalists to be an effective “astringent, antiseptic, antipruritic, anti-spasmodic, analgesic, and antimicrobial.” (16) Scientific studies have shown that menthol from peppermint essential oil has natural antibacterial properties. It is these properties that make it a useful ingredient in dietary supplements for immune support and healthy digestion, oral hygiene products, household cleaners, as well as in natural insect repellents. (17)
According to the University of Michigan Health System, a blend of peppermint oil and caraway oil may ease intestinal cramping, gas, and soothe the intestinal tract. A separate double-blind study found that a combination of peppermint, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, and wormwood was effective for easing gastrointestinal discomfort, including minor symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In addition, a blend of peppermint oil, sage oil, chamomile tincture, Echinacea juice, myrrh tincture, clove oil, and caraway oil has been used to support oral health as a mouthwash. (18)
Provides Natural Pain Relief
When it comes to peppermint essential oil providing temporary, natural pain relief, it is considered useful for headaches, as well as muscle and joint discomfort.
When applied topically, peppermint essential oil “acts as an analgesic and reduces pain.” When applied to the temples, a trial study found that it has “muscle-relaxing action and decreased tension.” This includes tension headaches. (19)
It’s important to note that there are generally two categories of headaches. A primary headache is caused by overactivity of or problems with pain-sensitive structures in your head, such as your brain, nerves, blood vessels, or muscles. A secondary headache is caused by a disease that can activate the pain-sensitive nerves of the head. However, most headaches are generally the result of poor blood flow due to poor diet, stress, exhaustion, illness, genetics, aging, dehydration, or an injury. When peppermint essential oil is applied topically with a carrier oil, or inhaled as steam, vapor, or a light mist, it promotes blood circulation by relaxing and widening the blood vessels and provides temporary relief of the symptoms related to headaches. (20)
In 1996, a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind German crossover study found that a locally applied solution of 10% peppermint oil in ethanol significantly reduced the intensity of a tension headache in only 15 minutes. (21)
When it comes to providing temporary relief from muscle and joint pain, peppermint essential oil is relied upon for its active menthol ingredient, which is an ingredient used in muscle rub creams and joint pain relief gels, for example. It can be used to support muscle and joint comfort and mobility in aging bodies, or after physical activity.
According to the University of Michigan Health System, a topical application of peppermint essential oil and eucalyptus may promote blood flow to an afflicted region, allowing for temporary relief from pain. (22)
For people with joint pain in their hands or knees, short-term pain relief comes in the form of products containing salicylates or counterirritants. Salicylates reduce swelling, irritation, pressure, and pain in the joints. Many of these types of over-the-counter medications also contain substances known as counterirritants, which includes menthol from peppermint essential oil, camphor, eucalyptus oil, and cinnamon oil. They work by warming or cooling the skin and distracting the brain temporarily from pain. (23)
According to a small scientific study, a topical gel containing 3.5% menthol served as an analgesic and decreased perceived discomfort to a greater extent than using ice alone on sore muscles. (24) In another triple-blind, randomized placebo-controlled trial, the use of the topical menthol gel successfully decreased pain intensity of the arms/hands for workers with chronic pain from carpal tunnel syndrome. (25)
Supports Upper Respiratory System Health
Peppermint oil vapor has been used to help alleviate respiratory congestion, and peppermint tea has been used by herbalists as a remedy to temporarily relieve upper respiratory discomfort of the oral mucosa and throat. (26) A study on athletic performance found that inhalation of peppermint aroma improved the lung capacity and inhalation ability in healthy participants. (27)
And when seasonal health challenges trigger upper respiratory irritations and uncomfortable symptoms like nasal stuffiness or coughing, some people turn to over-the-counter medications, but there are helpful natural solutions that may make a difference to your health. For instance, inhaling small amounts of menthol from peppermint essential oil affects receptors in the nasal mucous membranes, promoting clearer breathing pathways. (28) Browse your local natural health food aisle, or shop Natural Healthy Concepts, for such seasonal support products.
Supports Healthy-Looking Skin, Hair, and Scalp
With so many potential health benefits for oral and topical uses of peppermint essential oil, you can’t leave out its effect on the health of skin, hair, and the scalp.
Peppermint oil contains antioxidants (specifically flavanones and phenolic acids) that help neutralize free radicals and protect the skin through the aging process. (29) In addition, menthol, the active ingredient in peppermint essential oil, acts as a gentle cleanser and discourages the growth of bacteria to promote clear skin. Add a few drops of peppermint essential oil to your face wash to gently clean your skin without drying it out. Peppermint oil may also be used as acne spot treatment by blending equal parts of peppermint essential oil with vitamin E and grape seed oil, and placing a small drop on the blemish. In addition, peppermint essential oil may be mixed with water and apple cider vinegar as a clarifying toner mist. (30)
Peppermint oil may also support healthy-looking hair and scalp by combating dryness, itching, or other scalp issues. Menthol is a vasodilator that naturally supports blood flow. When blood circulates through the scalp, healthy hair follicles get the nutrients necessary for growth.. (31)
Peppermint essential oil should be used with caution. It is highly concentrated, so only a few drops should be used. While peppermint oil is considered relatively safe for oral and topical use, excessive doses may be toxic or cause unwanted side effects such as allergic reactions, heartburn, or skin rashes. Never apply peppermint essential oil to the face, chest, or feet of infants or toddlers. Never ingest pure menthol, because it is poisonous. (32)
To make your own peppermint tea, pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of dried peppermint leaves and steep for 5 to 10 minutes. You may drink up to four cups of peppermint tea daily between meals to ease an upset stomach and support digestion. Or, take 1–2 enteric-coated capsules of peppermint oil up to three times per day for gut health support. You could also try taking up to 3-6 grams of peppermint leaf tablets or capsules can be taken daily. When in doubt, follow the instructions on the nutritional supplement label.
To temporarily relieve the symptoms of a headache, dilute peppermint oil and eucalyptus oil with a base oil and apply the mixture lightly to the temples (stay away from the eyes) every hour until symptoms subside. (33)
Some supplements can interact with prescription medicine. Always talk to your healthcare provider before adding a supplement such as peppermint essential oil to your health care routine.
How to Buy Peppermint Essential Oil
For high-quality peppermint essential oil, always look for USDA certified organic formulas, or shop with a safe store that has already vetted its products for quality and safety standards, such as Natural Healthy Concepts. NHC’s website has all its essential oil products and accessories, such as diffusers, organized by helpful categories. To get started, browse the aromatherapy section. (34)
Now that you know more about peppermint essential oil, are you curious about other essential oils? Read our in-depth article, “Essential Oils: A Guide to Potential Benefits & Uses,” for more information! (35)