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PEPPERMINT
Taxonomic
class
Lamiaceae
Source
The best
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.
Chemical
components
Peppermint
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.
Actions
Peppermint
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
skin.
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.

Peppermint is a popular medicinal and commercial mint with
several uses. It is considered an anesthetic, an antiemetic, an
antiflatulent, an antiseptic, an aromatic, a diaphoretic, a
digestive aid, a flavoring agent, and a stimulant. The leaf is
also a classic folk remedy for stomach cancer.
Peppermint’s antiflatulent and antispasmodic activities have
been used for abdominal pain, colic, diarrhea, dyspepsia,
flatulence, and indigestion. Peppermint oil has demonstrated
effectiveness in reducing colonic spasms during barium enema and
endoscopy. Enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules have been
reported to be effective for reducing symptoms of irritable
bowel syndrome.
Menthol has been used traditionally to relieve the pain of
headache, neuralgia, rheumatism, throat infections, and
toothache by acting as an antipruritic, an antiseptic, a
counterirritant, a disinfectant, a local anesthetic, and a
vascular stimulant. It used externally in liniments, rubs, and
ointments to treat the itching, minor pain of sunburn and the
musculoskeletal pain of arthritis, neuralgia, and rheumatism.
Menthol is also used in inhalant preparations to alleviate
bronchitis, chest complaints, cold, cough, laryngitis, and nasal
congestion. As a local anesthetic, menthol is used in sprays and
lozenges for sore throat, and it is occasionally used to
anesthetize gastric nerve endings in motion sickness and nausea.
Peppermint oil is widely used in cosmetics, flavoring,
mouthwashes, pharmaceuticals, and toothpastes as well as in
anesthetic, antipruritic, and local antiseptic preparations. It
is gaining popularity in aromatherapy to increase concentration
and stimulate the mind and body and has even been used topically
for headaches.
Spearment is mainly used as a flavoring agent, but it is also
considered a milder antispasmodic and antiflatulant for colic
and other digestive problems and is claimed to be useful in
tumors and stomach cancer. Spearmint is thought to whiten teeth,
cure mouth sores, alleviate nausea and vomiting, heal the bites
of rabid dog, relieve pain wasp stings, and repel rodents.