Fresh mint leaves (usually spearmint or peppermint) are sold in grocery stores alongside other kitchen herbs. Most of us tend to think of mint as just an ingredient in mouthwash, breath fresheners, gum, or toothpaste.
Mint leaves do indeed help to control the bacteria responsible for bad breath, but they can be useful for management of a wide variety of other symptoms as well. Delivery mechanisms for its medicinal properties range from capsules to tea to topical or inhaled essential oils.
Mint for Digestion
Peppermint essential oil is probably best known as a digestive aid for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or IBS. The primary constituent in peppermint essential oil is menthol, which has anti-spasmodic effects. Peppermint oil has also been shown to increase gastric emptying.
These properties may be why peppermint oil capsules seem to be so helpful for IBS patients. This study shows a 75% reduction in symptoms for IBS patients. Animal studies also show that it can decrease diarrhea. Mint also helps to curb nausea.
While the real treatment for IBS is (as always) to find and treat the cause, natural symptom management can certainly be helpful along the way. Since the menthol is the constituent most helpful for GI support, and it’s one of the essential oils, peppermint essential oil capsules are perhaps the best delivery method for this issue.
One caveat here: mint has been associated with relaxation of the esophageal sphincter, so it’s possible it may worsen GERD symptoms.
Mint for Mood and Cognition
The smell of mint just seems kind of stimulating. And indeed, this study shows that the odor of mint tends to increase alertness while decreasing anxiety and fatigue.
This study, meanwhile, shows that the odor of mint improves memory.
If you’re in need of a pick-me-up, or prepping for an exam, consider carrying a bottle of peppermint essential oil and taking a whiff before the big moment.
Mint for Headaches
Topical peppermint essential oil has been used for headache relief, as well. It’s particularly indicated for tension headaches, when applied to the temples, the base of the skull, or under the nose.
Several studied mechanisms of action imply that peppermint essential oil might be helpful for other types of headaches, too, though. It’s analgesic, and has anti-inflammatory and vasoconstriction properties as well.
Mint for Hormone Balancing
Spearmint tea (or spearmint capsules) is one of my go-to recommendations for lowering the elevated androgen levels of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS. That’s because this study specifically studied spearmint tea for this purpose, and showed a significant reduction in abnormal hair growth.
But presumably peppermint tea should have a similar effect, since the constituents are similar between peppermint and spearmint. This study showed that in rats, peppermint tea also decreased testosterone levels.
If you don’t like tea, you might get a similar effect from making your own “virgin” mojito: muddle some mint leaves in a glass with ice, and top off with carbonated water, a dash of lime juice, a pinch of salt, and stevia to taste.
As with nearly all of the common kitchen herbs, mint is more than just a flavor enhancer: it has a number of medicinal uses, too. Choose your delivery mechanism according to the symptom you intend to address.