As I sit down to write about peppermint, it is early in the morning in late autumn during the early onset of winter. We have had snow and freezing temperatures at least two weeks ahead of schedule and it is incredibly clear to me at this moment why peppermint is an essential scent during the cold, dark months of winter.

Without being able to use the sun to put a shine on the day but still needing to get things going, I’ve dowsed myself in the energizing scents of peppermint essential oil and my brain has sparked to life. Gone is the early-morning brain fog and faint headache. I feel right in tune with the tasks and challenges on my to-do list. Is this just placebo effect from having heard peppermint is helpful at times like these or is there science behind this stimulating plant? As a committed research junky, I decided to dive into some of the research.

Science-based benefits of peppermint essential oil

peppermint oil

Can using peppermint essential oil jump start your brain?

Turns out cognitive function is improved with the use of peppermint essential oil[1]. Studies show that people using peppermint essential oil outlasted mental fatigue and performed better on mental testing in the placebo-controlled study. They determined that it was due to the menthol/menthone component found in peppermint essential oil.

Does using peppermint essential oil really reduce headaches?

Yes! The good news is using peppermint essential oil can reduce headaches[2]. Particularly when partnered with ethanol and essential oils of eucalyptus, tension headaches show improvement. Exciting news for headache sufferers, studies also show that headache improvement[3] was equal to using acetaminophen, or paracetamol, so you can miss out on some of the side-effects associated with using this medicine. Even migraine headaches were helped significantly with the use of peppermint essential oil[4].

Is mood also improved with using peppermint essential oil?

Being in a good mood helps us feel more relaxed and less stressed out. Finding little ways to boost our mood makes everything more enjoyable and the uplifting scent of peppermint can brighten an otherwise dreary day.

What else does peppermint essential oil do?

Fight cold and flu symptoms

Peppermint essential oil can help fight cold and flu because it can help clear sinuses [5]. It is antimicrobial [6] which will help fight infections, and it fights free radicals with its antioxidant compounds.

Aids digestion

A well-known, but often overlooked benefit of peppermint essential oil is its beneficial effects on digestion. Peppermint has shown favorable, safe, effective treatment for many aspects of irritable bowel syndrome[7], and other gastrointestinal issues including abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bloating. Incredibly, studies show it is effective in managing chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting[8]. This could be extremely important as often treating chemotherapy-related side effects is difficult and expensive, while peppermint essential oil is reportedly safe, effective, and cost efficient.

The benefits of peppermint tea

Peppermint Tea

Nothing beats a warm cup of stimulating peppermint tea when coming in from the cold. The components and benefits of peppermint essential oil are incorporated in the lovely, invigorating tea. The active ingredients may not be concentrated and powerful enough to provide scientific proof but certainly, after drinking a cup, I feel refreshed and clearer with much more digestive comfort.

Peppermint has innumerable uses and is easily found in many commercial products which of course include herbal teas, tea blends, essential oils, essential oil products and blends. It has skin care and cosmetic uses and of course, culinary uses too, from mint sauces to familiar holiday candies.

Growing as a hardy herbaceous perennial, the peppermint plant, Mentha x piperita is a natural hybrid of spearmint, Mentha spicata, and an aquatic mint, water mint, Mentha aquatica. There are peppermint cultivars to choose from if you are thinking about growing your own plants. Chocolate mint is a favorite and makes wonderful tea, but there is also citrus flavors and variegated options. It grows quickly and spreads in moist, partly shaded areas. It is considered invasive in some countries including New Zealand, Australia, and parts of the US. Because of its ability to spread, it might be best to grow it in a container. It will need to be repotted often as it outgrows its restraints easily and can strangle itself.

Peppermint can grow inside and out. Since it is in containers, you might easily move your plants inside for the winter and continue to make tea from fresh leaves or add leaves to your favorite recipes. I love the fresh leaves when making tzatziki or other refreshing yogurt-based dips such as raita.

Best harvested before the plant starts to flower, you can cut large amounts to store for future use. Peppermint leaves store well in the freezer, often maintaining the volatile oils and flavor better than drying. For longer storage, drying leaves is certainly an option.

To harvest

With scissors, cut the stems 2 to 3 inches above the ground before the plant starts to make flower buds. Dunk the stems in a cold salted water bath to remove any little insect friends. Rinse and dry the stems.

To store in the freezer

Gently remove the washed leaves from the stems. You might use scissors or pinch them off. Two ways I have successfully stored peppermint are finely chopped leaves in reusable glass jars, not too tightly packed, or whole leaves in resealable freezer bags. The chopped leaves are great to use as tea, mix with other herb teas, or to add into a soup or sauce.

Two drying methods

  1. First method is to take your washed stems and tie several together and hang upside down in a clean, dry, dark, place that has excellent air flow. Check on them often. When fully dry, the leaves will crumble right off the stems. Best stored in an airtight container such as a reusable jar.
  2. Second method is to use the residual heat from your oven, so at an extremely low temperature. Take the leaves off the stems like you would for fresh use or freezing and spread in a single layer on a sheet and put in a recently used oven overnight. This can be a bit risky as you will probably lose the vibrant green color, and could slightly “cook” the leaves, losing some of the healthful benefits. In areas with high humidity, drying herbs can take too long, or plants can become moldy, so this is a good alternative. Of course, if you have a dehydrator there may be settings appropriate for drying herbs. I like the residual heat from the oven because it doesn’t require any addition electricity.

A valuable herb in the kitchen and medicine cupboard. I’m looking forward to using peppermint to make the winter months ahead more enjoyable, cozy, invigorated and without any headaches or digestive complaints.

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