Count on sprightly peppermint (Mentha piperita) as your go-to herb for easing upset stomachs and minor digestive woes. The oils it contains, especially menthol and menthone, relax the smooth muscles that line the intestinal tract, helping to relieve cramping. Menthol’s decongestant, mucus-thinning action makes it a smart addition to remedies for colds and coughs. Mint is also a wonderful ingredient in home remedies for soothing itchy skin irritations.
Conditions peppermint can ease
Colds and flu
Irritable bowel syndrome
Nausea and vomiting
Stings and bites
Rooted in history
As Greek myth has it, when the god Pluto fell in love with the nymph, Menthe, his wife, Proserpine, fell into a fit of jealous rage and — poof! She changed Menthe into the plant we now call mint. Based on the myth’s romance, the ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus officially gave mint its botanical name, Menthe. Early Romans cooked with mint, and the Greeks used it as a restorative, much like smelling salts. England’s great 17th-century herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper, called mint “singularly good” for some 40 different health problems. Among them, he recommended it for headaches, a use that one small 1994 study has confirmed.
What’s in it?
More than 100 components have been identified in mint. As with all medicinal plants, their exact composition varies somewhat, depending on where and how the plant was grown and its particular variety-there are hundreds of mints. In general, mints contain the volatile oil menthol, which relaxes intestinal spasms, eases abdominal pain, and acts as a decongestant and topical pain reliever. It also contains the flavonoids rutin, luteolin, hesperidin, and eriocitrin, which have antiviral and antioxidant properties.
What science says
As a digestive aid, mint is hard to beat-even though relatively few clinical studies have been conducted on the herb. Instead of looking at the herb itself, most studies have focused on peppermint oil and its ability to ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.
Most recently, researchers at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences gave 90 people with IBS a placebo or a specially coated, delayed-release peppermint oil capsule three times a day for eight weeks. At the end of the study, 14 people who took the peppermint oil reported that they were free of pain or discomfort.
And in a Taiwanese study, IBS patients given peppermint-oil capsules 15 to 30 minutes before meals experienced significantly less bloating, stomach rumbling, and gas. Abdominal pain was reduced or disappeared entirely in some cases.
Find peppermint tea bags in supermarkets and health food stores; peppermint essential oil is sold in health food stores.
Good to know
Peppermint is easy to grow-in fact, it’s too easy. Experts recommend growing it in pots rather than in a bed because the plant often takes over a garden. Peppermint plants prefer full or partial sun and loamy soil. Use the leaves to make tea, flavor ice water, top ice cream, or add zest to vegetables and stir-fries.