by Susie Ransom
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"Natural Healing with Herbs for a Healthier You"
Peppermint has many medicinal qualities that make it a useful and easy herb to use.  One of its paradoxes is that it is both a stimulant and a relaxant.  That means that peppermint is predominantly stimulating to the circulation yet soothing to the nerves, thus having both qualities at once.  It is possible, however, for one of these qualities to overwhelm the other, depending upon the type of preparation.  Peppermint oil is more stimulating and peppermint tea is generally more soothing.(13)

Peppermint is well known for its antispasmodic action to relieve nervous irritability and reduce or prevent muscle spasms.  This makes it useful when treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  In a 1996 German double-blind, placebo controlled trial, 45 subjects with IBS were treated with enteric coated peppermint capsules.  Pain symptoms, which were reported as being moderate to severe, significantly improved in 89.5 percent of the test group. (14)

Peppermint oil is frequently used as an anodyne or analgesic to ease headaches when applied across the forehead and temples.  The first report to suggest that peppermint oil helped to relieve headache was published in the British medical journal Lancet in 1879.  But the first double blind, crossover study on the effect of peppermint oil in tension type headache was conducted in Germany in 1996.  Researchers analyzed 164 headache attacks of 41 subjects and found that a locally applied ethanol solution of 10 percent peppermint oil significantly reduced pain in the experimental group within 15 minutes, and was as effective in relieving headache as the 1,000 mg. of acetaminophen given to the control group. (15)

Another use of the peppermint herb is to take advantage of its stimulating, stomachic, and carminative properties.  Thus the herb is used for the treatment of indigestion, alleviating the symptoms of flatulence and intestinal colic.

A major use of the peppermint herb is as an aid to the process of digestion. The volatile oil content of the herb is the primary agent responsible for this beneficial activity.  It increases the flow of all the digestive juices in the stomach and also promotes the flow of bile, at the same time it relaxes the main muscles in the gut.  Other digestion benefits lies in its soothing effects upon the lining and muscles of the colon, it alleviates cases of diarrhea and helps relieve a spastic colon.

The production of bile in the liver is increased by peppermint oil as well as the leaf based falconoid to a very significant degree.  The traditional use of the herb as a digestive aid is supported to a great extent by this modern evidential confirmation.  The peppermint based menthol also results in a lowering of the activity in a liver enzyme known as HMG CoA reductase and this compound may lower the elevated levels of cholesterol. (16)

Used as a rubefacient and applied directly to the skin for various disorders, this remedy helps relieve the pain and reduces sensitivity in the skin arising as a result of external disorders.  Used as a chest rub for the treatment of respiratory infections it brings relief.  The action of a rubefacient is that upon local application of the herb, it will stimulate capillary dilation and action, and cause skin redness from drawing blood from deeper tissues and organs and thereby relieves congestion and inflammation. (17)

As a sudorific, the essence of peppermint is both a cooling and warming agent.  Peppermint will induce the production of heat when it is taken internally and results in an improvement in the circulation within the body.  At the same time, the peppermint by dispersing blood to the surface of the body, also induces sweating in the skin.  When an herb that is classified as a sudorific is taken cold, it will act as a tonic for the body. (18)

Bitters are defined as herbs having a bitter taste and serving as a stimulant tonic to the gastro mucus membranes.  Peppermint derived herbal bitters help in stimulating and cleansing the liver and the gall bladder, and also help in the prevention of gallstone formations. (19)

Emmenagogues are herbs that are corrective to the female reproductive organs that stimulate and promote a normal menstrual function, flow, and discharge.  Peppermint is included in this category of medicinal qualities of herbs because it greatly relieves the cramping and pains that accompany this process. (20)

As far as the treatment of chills and fevers, and symptoms of cold and flu, the febrifuge ability of peppermint can be put to very good and effective use.  Peppermint possesses strong astringent and decongestant actions, which can help in relieving stuffiness and catarrh in many people who tend to suffer from these illnesses.

Another medicinal application of peppermint is as an antiemetic or to deter nausea.  In September of 1997, the Journal of Advanced Nursing reported success with gynecological patients who were given peppermint oil to relieve postoperative nausea.  The participating patients experienced less nausea and required less “contemporary” antiemetics. (21)

The aromatic quality of peppermint may be the most famous one of all its many other medicinal qualities.  This ability to stimulate the gastrointestinal mucous membranes through its spicy, pungent taste and to relieve headaches and other congestion with its fragrance is usually the first thought that comes to mind when someone mentions peppermint. 

(13)  Zak, Victoria. 20,000 Secrets of Tea p. 182
(14) Herbal Musings Peppermint: More than just another pretty flavor!  p. 1 paragraph 3
(15) Herbal Musings Peppermint: More than just another pretty flavor! p. 1 paragraph 5
(16)  herbs2000 Peppermint p. 2
(17) Christopher, John. School of Natural Healing p. 667
(18) Christopher, John School of Natural Healing p. 669
(19) Christopher, John School of Natural Healing p. 649
(20) Christopher, John School of Natural Healing p. 657-658
(21)  Herbal Musings p. 1 paragraph 6
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