Peppermint self-hybridized, probably in the 17th century. It now grows wild throughout Europe, North America and Australia. After the British Medical Journal noted in 1879 that menthol relieves headaches and neuralgia, menthol cones (which evaporate into the air) and scented candles became the rage. Peppermint is one of the few essential-oil plants grown and distilled in the United States where the light cloud cover over central Oregon and Michigan increases the production of oil, most of which is redistilled to produce a lighter mint flavor for candies and gums. Several mints are also distilled for perfumery.
Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae)
Extraction: Distilled from leaves. Peppermint has a powerful, minty-fresh odor.
Medicinal Action: Peppermint alleviates digestive-tract spasms, indigestion, nausea, ulcers and irritable-bowel syndrome, and helps destroy bacteria, viruses and parasites in the digestive tract. It also clears sinus and lung congestion, and is used to treat muscle spasms and inflammation.
Cosmetic/Skin Use: Peppermint stimulates the skin’s oil production. It also relieves the itching skin of ringworm, herpes simplex, scabies and poison oak. Because it is warming (especially the oil that isn’t redistilled), it is often used in liniments.
Emotional Attribute: As a stimulant, the scent counters insomnia, shock, mental fogginess and lack of focus. It also unblocks “stuck” emotions.
Considerations: Watch out-too much may burn the skin.
Spearmint (M. spicata) –Somewhat weaker in action, spearmint brings back childhood joy and memories. It is the mint of choice for pregnant women, with fewer irritating and toxic constituents.
Cornmint (M. arvensis) –This species is less sweet, but contains much more menthol, making it a good choice for liniments. Cornmint is the source of natural menthol crystals used in liniments and some lipsticks, in hair tonics and in other body-care products to produce a stimulating/cooling sensation. The herb is grown in China and Japan, and also in Brazil by descendants of the Japanese immigrants who introduced it.
Pennyroyal (M. pulegium) –The scent and oil are harsher than other mints, so pennyroyal must be used with care and never by pregnant women. It is used occasionally to treat fever, itching skin, indigestion, congestion from colds, scant, painful menstruation and to deter fleas, but it is potentially toxic because of its pulegone content. The scent relieves dizziness-the Romans even wore pennyroyal head garlands to dispel drunkenness. Culpeper dabbed the waters on headaches, the vinegar on bruises and burns. We recommend the much safer herb tea, but even that should be avoided by pregnant women.