Peppermint, Mentha x piperita belongs to the Labiatae family, is an herb, and grows to a height of 30 cms – 1 metre. It has sharply toothed lanceolate leaves and white, or occasionally mauve flowers. Mentha x piperita belongs to a genus, which consists of around 20 different varieties and hybrids, all of which contain essential oil in their stems and leaves. Although native to the Mediterranean and western Asia, mints are now grown in temperate regions all over the world. Peppermint is the mint most commonly cultivated commercially and is thought to be a hybrid between spearmint (Mentha viridis or spicata) and water mint (Mentha aquatica).
A colourless – pale yellow essential oils is steam distilled from the fresh or partially dried flowering tops and leaves. The plant contains the maximum amount of essential oil at full bloom, which is when it is most optimally harvested. After harvesting the plants are dried or partially dried prior to distillation. This is because the dry material is easier to handle and a larger amount of material can be distilled at one time. The distillation time for dried peppermint is shorter than for wet or fresh plant material and takes around 45 – 60 minutes. The average oil yield is about 0.4% although can be as high as 1%. Peppermint has a fresh, piercing and minty odour and is highly odoriferous. It is therefore wise to use it sparingly. It blends well with clary sage, eucalyptus, geranium, lavender, lemon, rosemary, benzoin, marjoram and other mints. Its major chemical component is menthol (40%- 59% depending on country of origin).
Psychologically peppermint can clear the mind and stimulate clear thinking. It can be helpful when one has difficulty in concentrating and for those who are suffering from mental fatigue. It can be invigorating to the mind. Peppermint is also considered to be cooling to the emotions and helpful in dissipating anger, hysteria and nervousness.
On the physiological level it has analgesic, expectorant, digestive and cooling properties and its use could be considered for headaches, nausea and travel sickness and muscle aches and pains. Its use can also be considered when suffering from colds and flu that are characterized by sore throats, fever, congestion and headaches and it is often very helpful with any digestive complaints. It can also be cooling to the skin.
Contraindications: Avoid in pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Avoid with homeopathic remedies. Do not use with epileptics. Do not use on children under 5 years or animals.
Gabriel Mojay, Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit, Gaia Books Limited, London, 1996. John Kerr, Essential Oil Profile Peppermint, Aromatherapy Today, Vol 9, March 1999 Beverley Hawkins, Aromatherapy 101 Course 2000