Just Aromatherapy - Health Benefits of Peppermint Essential Oil
Whilst not the easiest of oils to blend, peppermint essential oil is a useful remedy for the store cupboard.
The mint family contains 25 species and numerous natural hybrids. Although native to Mediterranean countries and western Asia, many varieties are now cultivated all over the world. These include water mint (mentha aquatica), field mint (M. arvensis) and spearmint (M. spicata). However, peppermint (M. piperita) - thought to be a natural hybrid between water mint and spearmint - is regarded as superior for medicinal purposes because of its high menthol content.
There are two forms of the plant - 'white' peppermint (with bright green stems and leaves) and 'black' peppermint (with purple stems and dark green leaves tinged purple-brown). Black peppermint yields the highest concentration of essential oil and is the favoured variety for commercial cultivation.
The ancient Egyptians were probably the first people to cultivate peppermint - the remains of the dried leaves from a bouquet have been found in a tomb dating from about 300BC. According to hieroglyphics found in the temple of Edfu, mint was also an ingredient in their sacred incense formula, kyphi. However, the generic name of the plant, Mentha, is thought to derive from the Greek and Roman myth in which Minthe, a beautiful nymph, was pursued by Hades (Pluto in Roman mythology), god of the underworld. Jealous Persephone found out about her husband's infidelity and turned Minthe into a herb to be trampled underfoot. Other sources report that the name derives from the Latin mente, meaning thought.
Certainly, varieties of mint were frequently mentioned by Dioscorides, Hippocrates and Pliny as strewing herbs which could dispel foul odours and prevent the spread of infectious disease. The piercing aroma of peppermint has always been credited with the ability to clear the mind and help concentration. Pliny (23-72AD) declared that 'the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes the spirits'.
The Greeks and Romans used teas made from the herb to scent their bath water and as a general restorative. They also used peppermint as a medicine for flatulence and headaches. And for centuries the Arabs have taken peppermint tea to stimulate their virility and as a social drink. By the 14th century peppermint essential oil was being incorporated in substances to whiten teeth, and later in mouthwashes to mask the smell of tobacco. According to John Gerard, the renowned Elizabethan herbalist, the smell of mint 'rejoiceth the heart of man'. He also considered it a 'good posie for students oft to smell', and especially beneficial for those of a weak constitution.
The Temple at Edfu, Egypt, where heiroglyphics refer to mint.
BLEDING NOTE: Top
MAIN BENEFITS: Indigestion, colds, and flu, headache, mental fatigue
USEFULNESS: A good basic standby
PERFUME GROUP: Minty
Cautions: Always use in low concentration. Do not use during pregnancy or if breastfeeding, and on babies and young children. Carry out a 24-hour skin test before use on sensitive skin.
The oil is an important flavouring in cordials, and the liqueurs Creme de Menthe, Chartreuse and Benedictine.
Peppermint oil is produced mainly in the USA, France, Bulgaria, Morocco, China and Japan, by steam distillation of the plant's flowering tops. The essential oil is colourless to pale yellow with an intense aroma - at first cooling and refreshing, and then giving way to a sensation of numbness. The oil owes its cooling and local anaesthetic effects to the aromatic compound menthol.
Unfortunately, most of the oil available has had a proportion of the menthol removed, as this is widely used by the pharmaceutical industry. Whole peppermint essential oil is much more expensive, and so seldom used in commercial products. Quite apart from its superior therapeutic properties, the whole oil has a more interesting aroma. Menthol on its own is extremely potent and has a higher risk of provoking skin reactons and respiratory problems in vulnerable groups.
Because of its powerful aroma peppermint doesn't blend easily. But if used sparingly it works well with rosemary essential oil, eucalyptus essential oil or tea tree essential oil, which reinforce its antiseptic and stimulating properties. To modify the piercing quality of peppermint essential oil and enhance its cooling effect, try blending it with lavender essential oil, clary sage essential oil, cypress or lemon essential oil. If you're feeling adventurous, mix a trace of peppermint essential oil with a few drops of geranium essential oil for a sweety refreshing effect. Try these oil burner blends to clear a stuffy atmosphere or aid concentration. Simply add the oils to the water and light a night light to heat.
1 drop pure peppermint essential oil
4 drops pure lemon essential oil
3 drops pure geranium essential oil
2 drops pure peppermint essential oil
2 drops pure eucalyptus essential oil
2 drops pure lemon essential oil
2 drops pure cypress essential oil
Peppermint essential oil is powerful, so please observe the following guidelines.
- Don't use the oil undiluted on the skin, as it may cause severe irritation.
- Never use more than 3 drops in a foot - or full-size bath. High concentration causes a tingling sensation on the skin and possibly a rash
- Never use more than 2 drops in steam inhalations as any stronger dilutions can catch the breath.
- Never use peppermint essential oil on babies; its menthol content may cause breathing problems. Never give babies and young children peppermint tea.
- Avoid using during pregnancy altogether.
- Avoid using peppermint essential oil with homeopathic remedies. The oil (and the herbal tea) may act as an antidote.
Modern research confirms the therapeutic value of peppermint, which is best known for its beneficial action on the digestive system - hence the tradition of after-dinner mints and liqueurs. Peppermint tea makes an effective remedy for nausea, indigestion, heartburn and flatulence, and helps to relieve stomach ache and colic. The tea also acts as a pick-me-up and can alleviate tension headaches. The oil, taken internally in capsule form (available from health stores), can be an effective remedy for irritable bowel syndrome.
Externally, diluted peppermint essential oil can be used in pain-relieving balms and massage oils. Its menthol content is cooling to skin and muscles; it's also a mild local anaesthetic. Cold peppermint essential oil compresses can help reduce bruising, muscular pain and swelling from injury. Applied to the forehead and temples, a compress can banish a headache, and migraine if used at the onset. A few drops inhaled from a tissue can alleviate mild indigestion as well as headaches.
Peppermint oil steam inhalations are good for catarrh and blocked sinuses, and for cold and flu symptoms. Steam your face with peppermint il to cleanse oily skin with spots and blackheads. Or apply a warm compress soaked in tolerably hot peppermint tea. Used in moderation, peppermint essential oil can treat inflamed skin conditions and is a beneficial ingredient in home-made aftersun lotions. Vaporize in a oil burnr for a quick fix for mental fatigue: its refreshing and piercing aroma will swiftly awaken the senses.
Seven great ways to benefit from peppermint essential oil, plus tips on growing your own.
This is a refreshing cleansing bar for oily, combination or acne-prone skin. It has a gentler effect than commercial 'medicated' soaps. These often contain harsh chemicals such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, which can cause skin flaking and irritation when used regularly. The green olive oil soap used in this recipe comes originally from France, but it can be found in health stores. Witch hazel is a gentle astringent and is available from chemists.
150g soft olive oil soap (plain or lavender)
25ml witch hazel
25ml distilled water
6 drops pure peppermint essential oil
10 drops pure lavender essential oil
1 tsp almond or grapeseed oil (to grease moulds)
Chop the olive oil soap into very small pieces, or use a course grater. Place the soap in a small saucepan and melt over a moderate heat. In a jug, mix together the witch hazel and distilled water, then gradually add them to the melted soap, beating continuously with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the essential oils.
Press the soap mixture into greased moulds (e.g. jelly moulds or ramekin dishes) and smooth the top with a knife. The soap will take several hous to harden. Remove it with a sharp knife and wrap in tissue paper if not being used straight away.
Save used peppermint tea bags and apply them as eye compresses to lessen redness from fatigue and eye strain. The treatment is also good for puffy eyes. The tea bags will keep fresh for up to 24 hours (store in a sealed food container in the fridge). To apply, lie down, then place a cool, damp tea bag on each eye, leaving them in place for 10-15 minutes.
This delightful mist spray can help cool your skin on hot summer days. It's especially suitable for oily to combinationskins. Ideally, use the fresher straight from the fridge.
Make a cup of peppermint tea - use a tea bag or put 2tsp of dried peppermint into a teacup and top up with boiling water. If using fresh peppermint, you will need 3-4tsp of chopped leaves. Allow the peppermint to infuse for 10 minutes before removing the teabag, or pouring through a tea strainer. Let the tea cool, then pour into an atomizer, or cosmetic bottle with a fine spray, and use as required.
Make a fresh batch every 24 hours (or every 48 hours if stored in the fridge), as herb tea is an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.
This is a cooling, revitalising mask for oily skin. Cucumber is astringent and is also high in silicone and sulphur which promote healthy skin. Green clay has a clarifying, deep cleansing and tightening effect. Buy it n chemists and shops specializing in herbs and natural remedies.
1/4 of a cucumber (with skin)
5ml diluted peppermint essential oil
4tsp green clay
Chop the cucumber and toss into a blender with the oil. Blend until smooth and pour into a bowl. Stir in enough green clay to make a paste, apply to your face and neck and leave on for 10-15 minutes. Rinse off with tepid water and pat dry.
30ml base or unperfumed shoer gel
2 drops pure peppermint essential oil
3 drops pure rosemary essential oil
4 drops pure lemon essential oil
Mix the gel and oils together. Step into the shower, pour a little of the gel onto a sponge and massage onto your skin.
3 tbsp fresh mint
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp Epsom salts
5ml diluted peppermint essential oil or 2 drops pure peppermint essential oil
2 drops pure lemon essential oil
Put the mint leaves and water in a saucepan and simmer for 3 minutes. Strain and stir in the sea salt and Epsom salts to dissolve. When the liquid is bearably hot, pour into a large bowl. Add the essential oils and soak your feet for at least 10 minutes. Pat dry and massage with foot lotion (below).
A tingly foot lotion to apply to tired feet. Luxury in hot weather!
30ml unperfumed body lotion
4 drops pure peppermint essential oil
3 drops pure cypress essential oil
3 drops pure lavender essential oil
Put the lotion into a clean glass, pot add the essential oils and stir well.
All varieties of mint are easy to grow and handy for use in the kitchen as well as for health.
Mint likes all types of soil and can be grown in the shade or open. However, although it will grow anywhere - it's useful for filling round pavings and patios - the flavour is enhanced if it's planted in moist, rich soil in a sunny patch.
If the plant's tangle of creeping root systems is left unchecked it can take over the garden, so it's really ideal for container planting. If you do want to plant mint in a bed, plant the roots in a large plant pot or bottomless bucket, then bury this in the bed.
All mints are perennials that die back in winter. From late summer to mid-autumn, spikes of pinkish or mauve flowers are borne at the tips of long stems. Pick the leaves just before the flowering time for the best flavour.
Cooling and invigorating, the minty aroma of merely the minty aroma of merely the smallest quantity of peppermint essential oil can help clear the head, cool sundrenched skin and lift a headache.
ON THE BODY
Peppermint can be helpful for indigestion, colic, flatulence and nausea. It can also lower a high temperature and clear catarrh from the upper respiratory tract. When inhaled in steam it is often an excellent remedy for coughs, bronchitis, sinusitis, colds and flu. Its ant-inflammatory, analgesic and local anaesthetic properties make it a useful remedy for muscular pain, headaches and toothache. Used in moderation, it can improve oily skin and acne.
ON THE MIND
Peppermint essential oil's piercingly refreshing aroma clears the head and facilitates clarity of thought.
This aromatic lotion cools overheated skin and soothes areas of mild sunburn. It is vital though to cool the skin under cold or tepid shower for 10 minutes before applying the lotion. Oils, creams and lotions tend to 'fry' on hot skin, causing further discomfort. Alternatively, take a cool bath, adding 40ml of cider vinegar if there are signs of burning.
30ml unperfumed body lotion
10ml diluted peppermint essential oil
8 drops pure lavender essential oil
4 drops pure clary sage essential oil
Put the lotion into a glass pot, stir in the essential oils and mix well.
Peppermint's local anaesthetic and anti-bacterial properties makes it a useful first aid remedy for toothache. While awaiting dental treatment, put a few drops of neat peppermint oil on a tiny twist of cotton wool and place on the tooth. A drop of oil may also be massaged into the gums around the affected tooth.
10ml diluted peppermint essential oil
1 drop pure sweet marjoram essential oil
1 drop pure rosemary essential oil
Helpful for bronchitis, coughs, colds and flu, rub this decongestant blend over your chest once or twice a day.
10ml diluted peppermint essential oil
1 drop pure eucalyptus essential oil
2 drops pure lavender essential oil
If you don't have an essential oil burner, or if circumstances prohibit the use of such a gadget, you might like to try one of the mentally stimulating properties of peppermint. These suggestions are ideal, say, for a student sitting an examination. The same methods can be employed using other mentally stimulating oils such as rosemary, eucalptus, lemon and pine.
- Put a few drops of peppermint essential oil on the outside of a sweatband (available from sports shops) and then wear it on the wrist or head. The heat of your body will encourage the fragrance to waft around you. If using a wristband, inhale the aroma at intervals from time to time too.
- Put a few drops of peppermint essential oil on a handkerchief or tissue and inhale as required.
- Provided you do not have sensitive skin, apply a little peppermint balm (see Headache balm, right) to the pulse points on the inside of your wrists, temples, the sides of the neck and behind the ears. It is said that the pulse points (including those in the elbow creases, backs of the knees and around the ankles) are fractionally warmer than most other parts of the body and help to radiate the aroma.
Headaches are extremely common ailments with numerous possible causes, ranging from nervous tension, lack of sleep and eye strain through to food allergy, structural misalignment, muscular spasm at the base of the neck, constipation, inhalation of toxic fumes, and so on. For the occasional tension headache, a touch of the following balm usually brings speedy relief. However, persistent headaches, especially of the migraine type, should be investigated by your doctor.
20g unperfumed skin cream
8 drops pure peppermint essential oil
Put the cream into a clean glass pot, add the essential oil and stir well with the handle of a teaspoon. Apply a small amount to the temples and back of the neck. The balm gradually loses its piercing quality, and thus its potency, depending on how often the product is exposed to the air. So ensure that the jar has a tightly fitting lid and use within 6 weeks.
For less piercing aroma use 3 drops each of pure peppermint essential oil, rosemary and lavender essential oils.
This, massage is specifically for the scalp, brings in some Indian head massage techniques. The mixture of both firm and gentle strokes is especially good for helping loosen tension in the muscles covering the scalp, which is so often a cause of headaches.
Areas worked on in this massage
Headaches have many different causes. They may be associated with hay fever, sinusitis, a hangover, a general fever such as that accompanying flu, eye strain, injury, hunger, dehydration and organic disease. These headaches usually disappear when the condition they are associated with clears up. However, the causes of some headaches, such as migraine, are more difficult to pinpoint. Although sufferers know their migrain will eventually pass, they can have a very disruptive effect on their life in the meantime. Head massage may help ease the pain and reduce anxiety and tension. If you do not know the cause of your headache, and it is making you anxious, don't ignore it - seek your doctor's advice and put your mind at rest.
- Massage gently at first, gradually increasing the pressure.
- If you do use oil be very sparing.
- Avoid any inflamed areas.
- If headaches disrupt your daily life, or have altered in character, see a doctor.
A stimulating head massage is just the thing to get you going if you don't have time for a full energizing massage. The sequence here will have both a calming influence and revive flagging energy.
This massage sequence incorporates some Indian head massage techniques and should help release tension in the scalp and ease a headache. Whilst there is no proof that massage will help make hair grow, it stimulates the circulation to the scalp and hair roots to give potential new growth the best chance. Indian women use regular scalp massage to make their hair lustrous and heathy.
A great advantage of this massage is that it can be done anywhere - you don't even need any oil. However, a very small amount of your diluted essential oil massaged well into the hands will give the hair a subtle fragrance and can help the relaxation process. But first check that your partner is happy for you to use oil.
Before starting, find out if your partner has any inflammation of the scalp such as eczema or psoriasis. Some of the more brisk or deeper strokes may aggravate these conditions. The scalp can still be massaged, but avoid working directly over inflamed areas.
As you do the massage, take note of areas where the scalp is more tense. It will feel tighter and may be tender in these places. Become aware of the natural contours of the skul, too - you'll feel slight indents as you work. Some will be acupressure points and may be quite painful, so ask for feedback and use lighter pressure if necessary.
These steps work just as well as a self massage sequence. Use them any time you feel the need to be revived - after lunch at work, for instance, or at the end of a busy day. Make time to massage your scalp in the shower or bath in the morning when you are washing your hair. Add a drop of pure peppermint essential oil to the shampoo if you wish.
Extend the basic massage sequence by adding this step at the end, or adapt it as a valuable self-help technique.
1. Fold a damp cloth towel into a long strip. Put 2 drops of pure peppermint essential oil onto the middle. With your partner lying down, place the area with the essential oil over their forehead. Put your hands on the ends of the towel and lean foward, using your body weight to compress the towel against the head. Hold for about 5 seconds, then release. Repeat 3 times.
2. Alternatively, as a self-help technique, fold the towel in the same way and wrap it around your own head. Make sure the area onto which you have put the essential oil is over your forehead. Cross the ends over behind your head. Now pull on the ends of the towel to exert pressure on your forehead. Release after 5-0 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Ask your partner to sit on a cushion on the floor and seat yourself behind them. Let them rest against your legs to stabilize themselfs. Start by gently placing your hands on your partner's shoulders to make initial contact. Now move your hands to the top of their head and stroke down to their shoulders. Repeat this stroking movement 3 times.
With your fingers 'comb' the hair. Start at your partner's forehead and comb towards the back of the head, allwing your fingers to comb right to the ends of the hair. Repeat several times, changing the starting position each time until the whole head has been covered. This tecnique feels marvellously soothing and is a great stress-reliever.
If you wish, put a little of your diluted peppermint essential oil onto your hands. Starting with your thumbs at the centre of the forehead apply pressures to the scalp, working from the front hairline to the base of the skull. Repeat, but with your thumbs about 3cm apart. Now do the pressures again with your thumbs a further 3cm apart. Repeat until the whole scalp has been covered.
With the forehead supported with your left hand, place the palm of your right hand on the scalp. Using the flat part of the palm, rub vigorously all over the scalp in backwards and forwards motion. Continue until the whole scalp has been covered, and then repeat. A variation on this stroke is to use your fingertips to create the frictions.
Using your fingers, lightly ruffle the hair. The aim is to do this with a gentle backwards and forwards action without applying any pressure to the scalp. Continue for a few minutes as this stroke feels very calming after step 4.
Grasp the hair very firmly at the roots and move the scalp in a gentle circular motion. Avoid pulling the hair, as this can hurt. Work over the whole scalp. Tense muscles and a tight scalp should slowly start to release as you progress. Either support the head with one hand and use the other to massage, or use both hands together, depending on how loose the acalp is and what feels easier.
Stroke the hair using the flat of your hands. Start at the hairline at the front and work your way to the hairline at the base of the skull at the back. Use both hands together in a gentle sweeping motion, or one hand after the other. Continue for several minutes until you feel your partner's scalp has been 'calmed' after the previous, more invigorating, strokes.
You don't have to make small circular movements for pressures to be effective. This step uses static pressures instead to release tension. With the heel of your hands over the temples press in, lift slightly and release. Move your hands up to above the ears, press in, lift and release. Repeat, this time with one hand on the forehead and one at the back of the head. Repeat the sequence twice. Finish with more combing and repeat step one.