Ah, peppermint. It’s a classic scent and flavor that almost everyone enjoys. What are your positive associations with peppermint? Candy your grandma snuck in for you, fresh mint breath, peppermint hot chocolate, or lattes on a cold winter morning?
And it’s not just for culinary treats and oral care. Oil distilled from the peppermint plant – scientific name mint x piperita—is widely useful for medicinal and aromatic purposes. Peppermint oil contains beneficial compounds, including high levels of menthol, which give it antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.
I’m not really an essential oil guy, but lavender oil and peppermint oil are two that we usually have on hand because they are so multifunctional. Here are some research-backed peppermint benefits.
6 reasons to use peppermint oil
Peppermint oil helps with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
I know from personal experience how IBS symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation and cramps affect daily quality of life. For me, cutting out the grains and adopting a Primal lifestyle made all the difference, but if you’re still struggling with IBS symptoms, peppermint oil might help.
Two recent meta-analyses have concluded that enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules are significantly better than placebo in relieving pain and overall symptoms of IBS. It is also effective for children. Maybe it works by decreasing muscle spasms, killing pathogens, directly relieving pain, and/or reducing inflammation.
Peppermint oil for headaches
This might be one of the oldest traditional uses for peppermint. Contemporary studies confirm that peppermint oil applied topically or intranasally can relieve headaches in the same way as traditional painkillers or lidocaine.
Mix a drop or two of peppermint essential oil in a carrier oil like jojoba. Use your fingertips to massage the oil into your temples, being careful not to get too close to your eyes. (Believe me, peppermint and eyeballs aren’t a good combo.) Or add 5-10 drops of peppermint oil to a diffuser and practice a few resonance breathing. This is especially useful if you suffer from tension headaches.
Prevent nausea and vomiting
A friend of mine had surgery some time ago. As part of post-surgery care, the hospital offered him the option of aromatherapy, choosing between a few different scents, including peppermint, which he could sniff to control post-surgery nausea and vomiting. . And it worked, which he thought was pretty cool. I have since heard of other hospitals that have started using this approach. In a few studies I reviewed, peppermint oil not only alleviated nausea and vomiting, but patients preferred it over antiemetic drugs.
Peppermint oil aromatherapy has been shown to be effective after surgery, as my friend can attest, during pregnancy and during chemotherapy. Products containing peppermint oil can also help with motion sickness.
May relieve itching
Chronic itching, called pruritus, can drive you up a wall. Two small studies suggest that peppermint oil may help. In one, participants applied peppermint oil or petroleum jelly to chronically itchy areas twice a day for two weeks. In the other, pregnant women took either a placebo or peppermint oil diluted in sesame oil twice a day by mouth for two weeks. In both studies, peppermint oil provided better itch relief than the alternative.
Some people also use peppermint oil topically to relieve symptoms of skin disorders such as eczema. However, peppermint may be too harsh for some people’s sensitive skin., so approach with caution. Always mix it in a carrier oil, and before spreading it on already inflamed skin, take the time to do a patch test. Apply a small amount of diluted peppermint oil to an area of skin where you do not have eczema or psoriasis rash (inside your arm if possible). Dab on the oil mixture morning and night for a week. If everything looks good, apply a small amount to the affected area and see how it reacts.
Peppermint oil for allergies?
I know a few people who swear by the “allergy trio” for seasonal allergies – peppermint, lavender, and lemon essential oils. I couldn’t find any real research on its effectiveness, but it’s clear that many people believe it helps with their allergy symptoms. Placebo? Maybe, but if it works… Next time allergies strike, add a few drops of these oils to a diffuser and see if you notice any benefit.
Peppermint oil for insects and pests
Peppermint oil may be a safer alternative to chemical insect repellents in certain circumstances. It is particularly effective in getting rid of aphids in your garden. Peppermint (and many other plants) produce a chemical called (E)-beta-farnesene which acts as a chemical messenger between flora and fauna. (Technically (E)-beta-farnesene is a olefin if you need a factoid for your next dinner and the ants produce it to use as a trail pheromone to mark the food routes of other ants.)
I digress. You can make a DIY pest spray by filling a spray bottle with
- 2 cups of water
- 10 to 15 drops of peppermint essential oil
- A few drops of dish soap (optional)
Shake it. Before spraying it on all of your plants, test it on a few leaves and wait a few days. Tomatoes and radishes, in particular, may not like being sprayed with peppermint oil.
You can also use this spray on countertops to discourage ants from entering your kitchen. Or, put a few drops of peppermint oil on a cotton ball and place it where ants enter your home. Anecdotally, some people also manage to get rid of spiders and mice this way. Do not leave peppermint oil on if you have dogs or cats, as it can be toxic.
Peppermint Oil Safety
Peppermint oil is generally considered safe for humans to use topically (when appropriately diluted), aromatically (diffused), or when taken as directed in coated capsules enteric prepared. Some people are more sensitive to it than others, so always test your reaction.
Peppermint oil may also interact with the drug Cyclosporine. Talk to your doctor before taking enteric-coated capsules if you have low stomach acid or are taking PPIs or H2 blockers.
And keep peppermint oil away from pets.
Dissemination is a great starting point. Try it the next time you have a headache, allergies or nausea, or are stressed or need to do a concentrated job. Let me know if that helps.