Essential oils from the mint family (technically the “Labiatae” family) are among the most popular in aromatherapy, in part from their impressive diverse therapeutic applications. The mints include peppermint, spearmint and corn mint, along with a close cousin: catnip. Recently, there’s even been solid scientific research backing the use of these oils as medicines for both the mind and body. Here’s a look at the many important benefits of these oils, and how you can make use of them in your own life.
By far the most used of these essential oils is peppermint. It is by far the most popular “stimulating” essential oil, imparting this action both on the body and the psyche. It is also one of the first aromatics reached for to treat headaches and migraines, and has a topical pain relieving effect as well. A deep inhalation of peppermint is also one of the fastest ways to clear the sinuses, and clear the mind at the same time.
The most researched therapeutic activity of peppermint involves support of the digestive system. The oil exhibits very strong choleretic activity, meaning it stimulates the liver and gall bladder to release bile (supporting digestive activity). The oil also inhibits muscle spasms in the intestines. Combined with its antibacterial effect, peppermint essential oil becomes a genuine medicine to help all sorts of digestion-related issues. It is said to relieve dyspepsia, nausea, stomach pains, and diarrhea. It is now commonly available in enteric coated capsules specifically for support of irritable bowel syndrome. For use at home, one can ingest 1 to 3 drops in a warm cup of water, or dilute in a carrier oil and massage into the abdomen (essential oils are absorbed though the skin, and can help the targeted organs in this manner).
The mental stimulation of the mints is unsurpassed. There’s nothing quite like the “pick-me-up” of a deep inhalation from a bottle of peppermint (careful not to burn the tip of your nose though!). The clearly invigorating aroma supports mental focus in several ways: when the sinus passages are open, more oxygen gets to our brain. The oil also has the interesting feature of preventing the breakdown of certain neurotransmitters which serve to move information throughout our nervous system. And of course there’s the simply intangible feature of inhaling a bright, beautiful scent.
Headache relief can come from simply inhaling the oil as well, though the more common practice is topical application. Peppermint and spearmint are safe to apply small amounts directly to the skin, but because of the proximity to the eyes and the soft skin of the face, a moderate dilution of either oil is best. To help with a headache, simply gently massage the temples with a small amount of your formula.
While the common mint oils of peppermint, spearmint and corn mint share many properties, their are differences to be aware of. Corn mint is by far the most potent of the three, with a strong cooling and warming sensation (some therapists call it cooling, others insist it’s warming, and others believe it to be both). Spearmint and peppermint are both suggested as skin cleansers in very low dilutions.
When menthol is the ingredient providing the therapeutic action you’re needing — be it topical pain relief, or invigoration from that “minty” cooling effect, peppermint or corn mint should be used. Spearmint contains almost no menthol, where peppermint contains between 30 and 50%, and corn mint contains up to 95%. You’ll find both these mints in pain relieving blends, and in body creams and scrubs where the idea is to get a pleasant eye-opening action from the product.
The safety concerns of these essential oils are few. Peppermint and corn mint should not be used by those with epilepsy, as the aroma may be to simulating to the nervous system. For younger children, use spearmint in place of peppermint — whether there’s really a concern does not seem to be agreed upon, but where an adult or older child might quickly be able to say “that’s too much”, the same response may not come fast enough from younger kids. And finally, corn mint should only be used in applications where it is called for specifically, or by knowledgeable practitioners.
There’s a brief look at the most popular stimulating essential oils. A little mint doesn’t cost much, goes a long way, and might be a fun and effective addition to your natural medicine collection!
More on the healing effects of essential oils can be found at anandaapothecary.com/essential-oils.html.