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| What is it?
In herbal medicine we use the leaves of this famous mint. Getting up close to the leaf of a Peppermint plant and smelling it is probably the best way to know it's what you have. Mint leaves have similar, smooth looking characteristics but their smells are different enough to place them apart.
How has it been used?
Peppermint has many historical and current indications. The 'after-dinner mint' of today has roots in ancient customs of concluding feasts with a sprig of Peppermint to soothe the stomach.
Dioscorides, a famous Greek physician who lived over 2000 years ago wrote that a spray of Peppermint worn on his cloak raised his depressed spirits. The Roman naturalist Pliny wrote that Peppermint 'reanimates the spirit' and he recommended 'hanging it in sick-rooms to assist convalescence'.
The oldest surviving medical text, the Egyptian Ebers Papyrus, describes the virtues of Peppermint as a stomach soother. The herb was so valued in ancient times that it was accepted as a payment for taxes (just try doing that now!) In Luke (11:39) Jesus scolds the Pharisees "you pay tithes of Mint and Rue but have no care for justice and the love of God".
Archaeological evidence would suggest that Peppermint (or at least 'Mint' as there are actually many hundreds of different kinds of mint) has been known and used by people for at least ten thousand years.
Peppermint has been used since ancient times to assist a wide variety of digestive disorders where a mildly sedative and anti-cramping remedy is required. Such conditions include; colitis, travel sickness, excess gas, colic, nausea, vomiting and poor appetite.
Peppermint also has a traditional use in fever treatments where its cooling effects can be very soothing in the ‘hot’ stage of a fever when the patient feels restless, agitated and overheated (notably distinct from when they feel cold and shivery)
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Science on Peppermint
~ The external application of Peppermint oil (10% mixed with ethanol) reduced headache sensitivity and intensity comparable with the drug acetaminophen (equivalent to 1 gram or two capsules of Paracetamol) in a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover trial (Gobel H, Fresenius J, Heinze A et al. Nervenarzt 1996;67(8):672-681)
~ In a randomised, double-blind, multicenter, plabebo-controlled trial 75% of children with irritable bowel syndrome who received enteric-coated peppermint oil experienced reduced severity of pain after two weeks of treatment (Kline RM et al.J Pediatr 138(1):125-128, 2001)
~ A 4 week study done with patients with asthma showed that daily inhalation of menthol (from Peppermint) significantly decreased airway hypersensitivity (Tamaoki J, Chiyotani A, Sakai A et al. Respir Med 1995;89(7):503-504)
~ Peppermint was tested in a large double-blind, placebo-controlled study with people suffering from severe indigestion where it was compared with a motility drug called cisapride. Significant pain relief was achieved with both the drug and the Peppermint over the 4 weeks of the trial (Madisch A et al. Arzneim Forsch 49(11):925-932,1999)
~ A liquid herbal formula containing Peppermint, Fennel, Caraway and Wormwood was significantly superior to the drug metoclopramide (a drug used to reduce spasm) in terms of relieving symptoms in a randomised, double-blind, controlled study in patients with dyspepsia i.e. painful indigestion (Westphal J, Horning M, Leonhardt K. Phytomed 1996; 2(4):285-291)
~ A similar study that used a tablet form of the above herbs (with Gentian instead of Wormwood) also had excellent results in patients with chronic digestive problems such as flatulence or bloating (Silberhorn H, Landgrebe N, Wohling D et al. 6th Phytotherapy Conference, Berlin, Oct 5-7, 1995)
Safety of Peppermint
It is thought that Peppermint may dry up milk secretions so it is best to avoid in quantity during breastfeeding. Peppermint was found to reduce the absorption of iron by 84% in a test of adult volunteers so it is best avoided taken at the same time of day as taking iron supplements.
High doses of Peppermint oil are to be avoided and any amount of the oil should be used with caution for the very young. Aside from that Peppermint is very safe to use for pregnant women and for the young and old.
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Peppermint oil has a paradoxical nature when used on the skin. It seems both cooling and warming at the same time and I have found it to be a wonderful addition to external treatments when I really want to help move a 'stuck' condition. For example it can usually relieve a bad headache if used judiciously around the top of the back of the neck or the temples (just a drop per area, lightly massaged in and then the hands carefully cleaned so as not to contact the eyes!)
Taken internally it is quite clearly a cooling herb and I use as a lot of Peppermint in formulas where I want to improve the flavour at the same time as providing a gentle digestive tonic for someone who has a bit too much fire in their belly! I have also widely used Peppermint oil in an enteric coated capsule (meaning it only gets digested after it passes through the stomach) for excess gas and cramping in the intestine. It has been quite successful in this regard (very for some people) but on balance I find using a blend of digestive herbs rather than just the Peppermint oil alone has been more successful and reliable on average.
If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or just have your own reasons to want to know this ancient plant ally at a much deeper level then I urge you to make a cup of peppermint tea (or take a small dose of its tincture) and then, with a quiet and attentive mind, observe for yourself how it makes you feel. This old form of experiential learning is a wonderful way to appreciate the 'action' of the herb and having done this myself as well as with colleagues and students I think that if you do this you will get a real appreciation of how much in times past it was regarded for 'lifting the spirits'. If you are quite a 'cool' constitution (more about that here) then you might find you only want small doses of Peppermint, conversely if you are clearly a 'hottie' you will hardly be able to have too much of it...
Peppermint does not need to be in large doses to work and in fact I personally feel it works better in subtle amounts where the smell and feel is obvious but not overpowering. I guess I would add about 10-15 mls to a 200 ml tincture formula. Not more than a half a gram or so in a tea. Peppermint combines perfectly with Licorice root and Ginger root for many functional digestive disorders and discomforts.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Peppermint is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Peppermint can particularly offer its benefits when a relaxing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898.
Peppermint is a powerful diffusive stimulant, antispasmodic, carminative and stomachic. It undoubtedly possesses marked antiseptic properties.
Used in the treatment of gastrodynia, flatulent colic, hysteria, spasms or cramps of the stomach, to allay the griping of cathartics, to check nausea and vomiting, and to disguise the unpleasant taste of other medicines.
Equal parts of the essence and alcohol, used by atomization, relieve the cough of bronchitis and pneumonia. The fresh herb, bruised and applied over the bowels, will often allay sick stomach, and is efficient in cholera infantum. The same kind of application sometimes relieves headache.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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