A friend of mine is an elementary school nurse who sees more than her fair share of “tummy aches” in children. Since most digestive problems are temporary, she often gives her sore-stomached students a little sympathy and a piece of peppermint candy before sending them back to class. While the placebo effect is in play somewhat, particularly with younger children, peppermint does positively affect the stomach tract and digestive process thanks to its menthol. Peppermint is regularly employed to treat digestive problems, and the potent but pleasant plant is used to make teas, oils, and capsules that soothe stomachs (and sometimes cleanse palates). Peppermint is one of the few herbs that even skeptics agree has postitive health benefits, with digestive uses topping their lists.
About the Peppermint Plant
Once upon a time, there was no such thing as peppermint! Spearmint and water mint plants existed for some time and eventually got their reproduction crossed, creating a hybrid which gained popularity as peppermint. Once its spiffy flavour and medicinal value was discovered, peppermint plants were intentionally cultivated. The herb’s scientific name is Mentha piperita. The most active ingredient in peppermint is menthol, but the herb contains other vitamins, including A and C. Peppermint plants are harvested for their leaves during the summer months, around the same time the plants begins to flower.
Peppermint as a Digestive Aid
Peppermint makes a cheap and pleasant-tasting treatment for nausea and upset stomach. Many people report that peppermint, especially in tea form, is a great alternative to Pepto-Bismol and other thick, chalky stomach settlers because it has a lighter, cleaner feel. People with more consistent digestive problems, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diverticulosis also use peppermint to mollify their discomfort. And if you’re gassy, peppermint can reduce your flatulence.
Depending on how potent you like your peppermint, the tea can be prepared several ways. Dried peppermint leaves, available at many grocery stores, can be placed directly in a cup and steeped for several minutes and then strained (with a fine strainer, obviously). Alternately, commercially prepared peppermint tea is also sold in bag format, though not always as “pure” peppermint tea. A third method of tea preparation involves buying peppermint oil and adding it to hot water. My personal preference (taught to me by a country uncle when I was a pre-teen) is the first method: direct steeping and straining.
Other Uses of Peppermint
Beyond its use for digestive problems, peppermint advocates use the herb to help people breathe deeper. Remember: many over-the-counter cough and cold medications use menthol as an active ingredient. A hot cup of peppermint tea often helps clear nasal passages, even if temporarily. In addition, peppermint lotions and oils are used topically to soothe and relax muscles, so consider offering your significant other a peppermint oil massage when they’re stressed. The spiffy herb also appears frequently in aromatherapy concoctions. One surprisingly pleasant combination is that of grapefruit oil and peppermint oil (along with other ingredients) to create a citrus mint lotion.