known and most cultivated members of the fragrant mint family
are peppermint and spearmint. Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a
hybrid between M. spicata (spearmint) and M. aquatica
(watermint). The essential oils of peppermint and spearmint are
extracted from the leaves and flowering tops of these plants.
Both are members of the mint family. They are native to Europe
and widely cultivated in the United States and in Canada.
oil is a volatile oil composed primarily of menthol. Menthol
stereoisomers include neomenthol, menthone, menthofuran,
eucalyptol, and limonene. Other components are methyl acetate,
piperitone, tannins, flavonoids, and tocopherols. The most
popular types of peppermint are white peppermint (M. piperita
var. officinalis) and black peppermint (M. piperita var
vulgaris). More than 1000 other chemical components are found
but vary with growth stage, cultivation method, and geographical
location. Spearmint oil contains carvone, limonene,
phellandrene, and pinene; menthol is absent. Fresh leaves are
reported to contain as much vitamin C as oranges and more
provitamin A than carrots.
essential oil is reported to have in vitro antibacterial and
antiviral activity. It also relaxes the sphincter of Oddi by
reducing calcium influx and stimulates bile flow by the
choloretic action of its flavonoid components.
Most of Peppermint’s pharmacologic activity is caused by
menthol, which, in concentrations of 0.1% to 1%, depresses
sensory cutaneous receptors and alleviates itching and
irritation. In higher concentrations, it acts as a
counterirritant by stimulating the nerves that perceive cold
while depressing the nerves that perceive pain and itching. When
applied to the skin, menthol produces an initial feeling of
coolness followed by a sensation of warmth. The cooling effect
may result from direct desensitization of warmth receptors, and
warming follows vasodilation of small blood vessels under the
Menthol also has a direct spasmolytic effect on smooth muscles
of the digestive tract. Its spasmolytic activity is reportedly
mediated through a calcium antagonist effect. The medicinal
action of spearmint is reported to have antispasmodic and
antiflatulent properties similar to those of peppermint, but its
effects are weaker.