When I think of peppermint, I usually envision candy canes hanging on the Christmas tree, boxes of Altoids and Tic Tacs, and of course, Charlie Brown’s baseball playing pal Peppermint Patty. But in reality, peppermint is an herb that is a naturally-occurring hybrid of spearmint and water mint. It contains a bunch of compounds and chemicals that have been found to have a pretty impressive effect on our health. From irritable bowel syndrome and nausea to gallstones and even herpes, peppermint is definitely more than a flavoring for candy.
Menthol is one of the key therapeutic natural ingredients in peppermint, and menthone and menthyl acetate are others. Overall, 40 different compounds help make peppermint the impressive and nice-smelling herb that it is. Menthol is typically made into a volatile oil by steam-distilling the fragrant leaves and stems.
Peppermint oil can work as a muscle relaxant, especially in our digestive tracts. It may be very helpful for digestion. In fact, some people report having a lot of success adding a few drops of peppermint oil into a glass of water and drinking it after meals to help improve their digestion. It may also have anti-flatulence powers. If you suffer from painful gas and intestinal cramps peppermint may help you feel better. It may also be useful if you have diverticulosis, which in turn will cause gas. In this case, drinking peppermint tea may be especially effective. The menthol in peppermint can also help digestive juices flow better and calm digestive spasms. I always thought that restaurants offered peppermints at the door as a breath freshener, but maybe they are also hoping we have a nice smooth digestion experience which in turn will cause us to want to return for another meal!
Speaking of breath mints, the wonderful and refreshing natural smell of peppermint makes it a popular ingredient in things like mints, shampoos, soaps, toothpaste, and mouthwash. I recently heard of a study that linked the aroma of peppermint to an increase in concentration and mental ability, but I want to read up on this more before I go out and bury my head in my box of Altoids.