Think of peppermint and you are likely to evoke its distinctive sweet, menthol aroma. The pure oil itself, as well as extracts of the oil, is widely used in food flavorings. Most of us have encountered the cool, refreshing aroma and flavor of peppermint essential oil in chewing gum, candy, breath mints, toothpaste and mouthwash.
Peppermint belongs to the labiatae family of plants, along with other well known herbs like lavender and rosemary. Although up to 600 kinds of mints have been classified, most are probably variants and hybrids of around 25 well-defined species.
Mint plants are popular as ornamentals, often cultivated as fragrant herb garden plants. The two primary cultivated mints are peppermint (Mentha piperita) and spearmint (Mentha spicata.) Spearmint has a strongly sweet aroma, almost creamy and candy-like with a sharp menthol undertone.
Most botanists agree that peppermint is a hybrid of the sharply scented water mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint. Its balance of sharp and sweet aroma characteristics support this classification.
Peppermint originated from the Mediterranean in Europe and West Africa. Currently, large-scale commercial cultivation occurs in the US and South-East Asia.
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The primary constituent of peppermint oil is menthol, which causes a physical reaction when inhaled or applied to the skin. Menthol produces an immediate and pronounced sensation of coolness which the body reacts to quite strongly, producing its own 'warming effect' as blood flows into the area of application. This physical sensation impresses the senses as a 'medicinal' effect and is partially responsible for peppermint's long history of use as medicine. Today menthol is often found in sports creams and chest rubs. Pure menthol is extracted from the flowers, leaves, stems and roots by distillation with water. Peppermint leaves yield approximately 0.1-1.0% volatile oil which is composed primarily of menthol (29-48%) and menthone (20-31%).
Many menthol products in the market are made of petroleum with a synthetic menthol scent. These substances are widely utilized in daily and household products. The difference between the natural essential oil and the synthetic is the loss of health benefits.
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Applications of peppermint
Peppermints have found application in household / personal care, food and health products. Examples are:
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- Personal care:
toothpaste, mouthwash, shaving gel, soap, shampoo, shower gel, perfume, deodorant as well as household products, namely, dishwashing detergent, laundry powder, air freshener and floor detergent.
Chewing gum, beverages, candy, seasoning. Also commonly used in cigarettes (although that is a less healthy application!!). Peppermint tea is very refreshing after a heavy meal.
Cough syrup, throat lozenges, antiphlogistic for laryngitis, and spray for asthma patients. Peppermint is also added in herbs, essential oils and other materials for reducing inflammation, local anesthesia and stimulating the nerves. According to the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, peppermint is categorized as an herbal medicine for easing alimentary functional disorders, flu, nausea and discomfort caused by pregnancy.
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Peppermint helps relax muscles, especially the muscles of the alimentary canal. It eases abdominal angina and discomfort caused by intestinal disorder, gastric discomfort, constipation and diarrhea. It is also a natural gastric sedative which is beneficial to minor enteritis and food poisoning, no matter what form it is utilized in (dietary or external application).
Another significant function of peppermint is in improving the respiratory system. Phlegm can be removed with the help of peppermint. Headaches and respiratory difficulties caused by asthma, rhinitis, nasosinusitis, flu and respiratory discomfort can be eased by peppermint aromatherapy. Drinking peppermint tea or water with one or two drops of peppermint essential oil can soothe nasal and throat inflammation or seasonal respiratory allergies.
External application of menthol can reduce nausea caused by digestive problems, fatigue, and pregnancy or traveling. Many medicines for external use have added peppermint for its aroma and its soothing function.
Peppermint products for external application can be massaged on areas where there is discomfort (such as muscular pain). With rapid penetrating power, menthol reduces the sensitivity of pain sensors.
With its unique scent, applying peppermint on the skin can prevent insect bites, and diminish inflammation.
The Peppermint aroma is both calming and uplifting. Peppermint oil can be both energizing and soothing. This isn't as contradictory as it seems. At first cooling and bracing, then warming and comforting, the body and mind seem to tune into and benefit from the needed characteristic.
The cool minty aroma of peppermint essential oil invigorates, revitalizes, refreshes and inspires. It mixes well with other essential oils to create excellent blends for massage, bath inhalation or air diffusion.