Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is an aromatic plant of the mint family growing abundantly in the Mediterranean region. I remember growing up plucking and eating peppermint leaves growing in every garden. In retrospect, it was probably peppermint’s properties that allowed me to eat unwashed leaves without ever developing a tummy ache. Peppermint has been used as medicine for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks regarded peppermint as such a powerful aphrodisiac that Alexander the Great forbade his soldiers to use it. Nowadays, peppermint is one of the most used and most researched herbal remedies. Peppermint is appreciated for its anti-pyretic properties, and it is a helpful headache remedy. Its menthol content makes it suitable to the treatment of colds and coughs. In vitro studies also show that it has anti-oxidant and anti-tumor properties (McKay & Blumberg, 2006).
It is, however, its use in digestive disorders that really makes peppermint shine. Both peppermint leaves and peppermint oil (PO) are used as remedies for the treatment of gastrointestinal conditions, and peppermint tea is a staple in every kitchen in Italy where it is a common after meal drink. Peppermint has analgesic, anti-spasmodic, anti-viral and anti-microbial properties that make it a wonderful remedy to soothe the digestive tract. Clinical trials show that peppermint oil has beneficial effects on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In double-blind studies IBS sufferers reported that using PO reduced gas, abdominal pain, distention and bowel movements (Cappello G. et al., 2007).
Peppermint oil is not only effective on the large intestine, but it has also demonstrated effectiveness in addressing general indigestion, and it has shown beneficial activity on the esophagus, stomach and small intestine (Mizuno S. et al., 2006).
Peppermint has antibacterial, antifungal and antimicrobial properties. In vitro studies have shown peppermint oil’s activity against Candida albicans, Listeria monocytogenes, E. Coli and H. Pilori. This adds to the list of positive effects that PO has on digestive disorders and imbalanced gut flora (Bone & Mills, 2013).
A study from Vo et al. (2003) was performed in rats and in vitro on human liver cells using peppermint oil and valerian. The study showed this combination increased production of bile acids (Vo et al., 2003).
This review shows that peppermint’s mechanisms of action have beneficial effects on the entire gastrointestinal tract, as well as on the composition of bowel flora; for this reason, in my opinion, peppermint’s most compelling clinical uses are in the treatment of digestive disorders.
Bone, K., & Mills, S. (2013, pp 270-276, 699-700, 923-926). Principles and practice of phytotherapy modern herbal medicine (2nd ed.). Edinburgh Churchill Livingstone, Elsevier.
Cappello, G., Spezzaferro, M., Grossi, L., Manzoli, L., & Marzio, L. (2007). Peppermint oil (Mintoil) in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a prospective double blind placebo-controlled randomized trial. Digestive and liver disease : official journal of the Italian Society of Gastroenterology and the Italian Association for the Study of the Liver, 39(6), 530–536. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dld.2007.02.006
McKay, D. L., & Blumberg, J. B. (2006). A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of peppermint tea (Mentha piperita L.). Phytotherapy research : PTR, 20(8), 619–633. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.1936
Mizuno, S., Kato, K., Ono, Y., Yano, K., Kurosaka, H., Takahashi, A., Abeta, H., Kushiro, T., Miyamoto, S., Kurihara, R., Hiki, N., Kaminishi, M., Iwasaki, A., & Arakawa, Y. (2006). Oral peppermint oil is a useful antispasmodic for double-contrast barium meal examination. Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology, 21(8), 1297–1301. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1440-1746.2006.04131.x
Vo, L. T., Chan, D., & King, R. G. (2003). Investigation of the effects of peppermint oil and valerian on rat liver and cultured human liver cells. Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology, 30(10), 799–804. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1440-1681.2003.03912.x