scientific name: Mentha piperita other common names: Menta, mentha montana growing
areas: Thought to have originated in the Middle East; grows in tropic and temperate zones around the world
physical description: A perennial plant, Mentha piperita grows to a height of about 2 feet. It has a squarish stem and leaves that are serrated on the edges. It produces a light purple flower in the summer months. It also produces rhizomes, which are used for cultivating additional plants.
traditional uses: Peppermint is widely used in traditional medicine around the world as a digestive aid, having a long history of such use dating back to the Roman era. Historians say it was also used in the ancient world to prevent the spoilage of milk.
In modern herbal practice, Mentha piperita is used to treat colic, indigestion, and colds, as well as minor wounds and burns. Some experts say it is used by women to bring on menstrual flow. Among Hispanics, another member of the mint family, spearmint, is used as a home remedy to treat colic, diarrhea, ai/d upper respiratory tract infections. Mexicans use varieties of mint to treat children for the folk illness known as empacho or blocked intestine.
Commission E lists both the leaf and oil of peppermint among the plant substances deemed acceptable for human consumption. The commission reports that peppermint leaf acts as an antispasmodic on the smooth muscles of the digestive tract and is useful as a chola-gogue. Peppermint oil, obtained from the stem of the plant by a distillation process, is also used for treating discomfort of the upper gastrointestinal tract and bile ducts, as well as for catarrh and inflammations of the mucous membranes of the mouth, the commission stated.
availability and dosage: Peppermint is available as an essential oil and in leaf form in health food stores and botdnicas. The essential oil is also available in enteric-coated pill form.
Commission E recommends a dose of 6 to 12 drops a day of peppermint oil for internal use or 0.6 milliliters in enteric-coated capsules daily for irritable colon. For inhalation, 3 or 4 drops of essential oil in hot water is recommended; However, other experts say there is no consensus for the oil's internal use and recommend against taking it in that fashion. An infusion can be made by pouring half a cup of hot water over a teaspoon of the dried pulverized herb.
Peppermint is also available as a tea, either on its own or in combination with other herbs. Menthol, the major component of peppermint oil, is used in lozenges, sprays, and other cold and cough remedies. Menthol is also available in creams and skin ointments for external use as an analgesic.
contraindications: Commission E notes that peppermint oil should not be used without a doctor's permission in individuals with obstructions of the gallbladder, gallstones, or severe liver disease. The commission states the same caution for peppermint leaf in cases of gallstones. Experts also caution against pregnant women using strong infusions of peppermint, undoubtedly because it is reputed to stimulate menstruation.
special precautions: Consult your physician before beginning any use of an ethnobotanical substance for medicinal purposes.
Peppermint and menthol are reported to have caused allergic reactions in some adults and children, the latter sometimes known to suffer gagging reflexes. Doctors also warn about applying peppermint oil or products containing it to broken skin. The PDR for Herbal Medicine states that doses of menthol as low as 2 grams can be lethal, although some survive doses as high as 9 grams.
medical research: Peppermint and menthol have been the subject of a number of studies by medical researchers. Peppermint has been found in some studies to have an antiviral effect, which may explain its usefulness as a cold remedy. As noted, peppermint is also reported to act as an antispasmodic on certain smooth muscles in the gastrointestinal tract, an effect that researchers believe stems from the way it interferes with the flow of calcium into muscle cells. Other studies have shown that menthol helps to dissolve gallstones.