- Karen Haralson
Cool Peppermint Benefits
Winter is upon us, which means we’re in peppermint season. Between peppermint ice cream, peppermint bark and peppermint mochas, it’s not hard to find something peppermint-flavored at this time of year. However, these annual peppermint goods tend to be loaded with artificial sugars and flavors and void of the benefits of peppermint. Peppermint is not only a natural ache-soother, but it also promotes good digestion and circulation.
Fortunately, you can enjoy peppermint with all the health benefits and none of the refined sugar and artificial flavors.
How did peppermint become winter’s official flavor? It all started with the candy cane.
In 1670 in Germany, a choirmaster came up with the idea to give impatient children “sugar sticks” to help them sit through church services.
This idea got picked up across Europe and eventually arrived in the US in the late 1800s, with red stripes and peppermint flavor. By the 20th century, candy cane mass production ramped up and inspired the creation of other peppermint-flavored treats made during wintertime.
Peppermint (Mentha + Piperita) is a hybrid between spearmint and watermint. The earliest documented use of peppermint dates back to 1500 B.C.
The earliest known uses of peppermint are referenced in writings from Africa, Egypt and the Mediterranean. The herbaceous plant gets its name from Greek mythology and is now cultivated in many regions across the world.
Peppermint has several culinary and medicinal benefits. Peppermint oil is recommended to help soothe muscle aches (joint aches, headaches) and itchy skin. The peppermint leaf can help improve digestion, increase circulation, boost your immune system and ease IBS symptoms.
Some research has suggested that the anti-bacterial compounds in peppermint–carvone and limonene–can help protect the human body from potentially harmful bacteria in foods. According to further research, these compounds are also thought to reduce risk of foodborne illness if they are incorporated into food storage. This doesn’t mean that you should stop washing your hands and food accordingly, but that peppermint can help you in food safety and cleanliness.
The soothing and pain-relieving properties of peppermint makes it perfect for easing digestive issues. Peppermint calms the stomach muscles and loosen the bowels because of its antispasmodic properties, which makes this herb perfect for counteracting all those indulgent holiday meals.
Thanks to menthol, peppermint can also help with circulation. Menthol is the main component in peppermint oil and has been proven to increase blood flow. Peppermint acts as a “peripheral vasodilator,” which is a fancy way to say that it relaxes and dilates muscles of capillaries and blood vessels. This is how peppermint improves circulation.
Boosts Immune System
Given the anti-bacterial elements of peppermint discussed earlier, it should come as no surprise that peppermint can help boost your immune system. Peppermint can help your immune system when you are feeling well, helping to keep disease at bay. Again, this is not to say stop washing your hands, but the antioxidants and calming qualities of peppermint help the immune system and protect against free radicals. Peppermint can also help after you’ve caught a cold. Menthol, the powerhouse element in peppermint, is commonly used in lozenges because of its ability to quiet coughs and soothe a sore throat.
Eases IBS Symptoms
Considered an antispasmodic medicine, peppermint can relieve the stomach cramps and bloating associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. One study in particular shows that peppermint reduces the severity of IBS-related pain, as peppermint is a natural muscle relaxer. Peppermint oil capsules are recommended for combating IBS, there is no evidence that peppermint tea, which is derived mostly from the leaf of the plant, will provide the same benefits.
Clears Up Nasal Congestion
Clearing the airways is another peppermint specialty. Again, menthol comes to the rescue with its sinus-clearing and nasal decongestant qualities. Merely inhaling peppermint oil can help clear up clogged nasal passages. Peppermint can help clear away mucus, which helps open nasal airways.
Ways to enjoy peppermint
Your toothpaste is likely peppermint flavored due to peppermint’s antibacterial properties, but there are many more ways to incorporate peppermint into your day.
Peppermint oil can be used on the skin directly or added to the bathtub for nasal-clearing and pain relief. This essential oil can also be inhaled through a vaporizer.
Peppermint leaves can be added to your lemon water or smoothie for a cool and cleansing zing. Peppermint tea–hot or cold–has incredible soothing and digestive benefits.
Peppermint together with citrus and mint culminate in an invigorating combination for both taste and senses. Check out this recipe on our site that combines fresh citrus with peppermint leaves in a beautiful, healthy dessert salad.