This month's feature herb brings you Peppermint!
Mentha piperita or more commonly known as peppermint, brandy mint or lamb mint is a plant most people will have seen and heard of and may even grow their own, it is a wonderful flavour often used for cooking, in drinks and in cosmetics but has a wide range of medicinal properties also. It is mainly the leaves and essential oil that is used in medicine; its main constituents being the volatile oils containing menthol and menthone, flavonoids, vitamin A and some trace elements (iron and cobalt).
Its primary and most recognised use is as a digestive aid, when ingested peppermint can relieve spasms, bloating, heartburn, nausea and therefore can treat a variety of conditions such as IBS, gallbladder inflammation and morning sickness. It is thought to have an analgesic effect which is dose-dependent and mainly due to the menthol content which works by travelling along the thermal-sensitive nerve pathways. This is why peppermint feels cooling but then leaves a warm sensation and is thought to have a direct local anaesthetic effect and relaxes smooth muscle cells that line the digestive tract.
This analgesic and cooling effect can help relieve period pains, migraines and headaches and could have greater effect if the essential oil is inhaled through steaming, diffusing or diluted with a base oil and massaging the affected area. Furthermore steaming or diffusing can greatly help with colds and blocked sinuses, again mainly due to the menthol which is decongesting and peppermint is thought to have antimicrobial properties too.
How to use:
Peppermint tea is one of my favourite ways to take peppermint as it so delicious and refreshing and is perfect throughout the day and especially after meals. The fresh leaves can be picked and infused in boiled water for 10 minutes (as pictured above; I used around 7-8 leaves and popped into a decafetiere, you can use a teapot or mug and strain once infused) or the dried herb can be used, just bear in mind dried herbs are more concentrated and less is needed when compared to the fresh equivalent (1 tsp of dried herbs will be strong enough). The pure essential oil is for external use only and should be diluted to 10% i.e for every drop of peppermint essential oil add 10 drops of a neutral carrier oil such as almond oil for contact on the skin or to use as in an oil burner add a 1-2 drops into a small amount of water, to use a facial steam which is especially useful for headaches, colds or sinus pain, add 2-3 drops into a bowl filled with boiled water and hover your face above the bowl with a towel covering your head so the steam is contained for 5-10 minutes (don't allow your face to get too close to the water as you may burn your skin).
Please do be cautious when taking herbs especially if you are currently on any medication as there may be interactions and when treating children or if you are pregnant/breast-feeding. Double-check with a Medical Herbalist such as myself to be safe!
My name is Helen Davison and I'm a NIMH registered practising Medical Herbalist based in Ramsbottom, Lancashire. I've had a keen interest in herbal remedies since my early teens and would experiment creating my own balms and bath bombs using natural ingredients, which prompted me in discovering and pursuing a career in Western Herbal Medicine.