Those Ancient Greeks were a hot-headed lot weren’t they?! Greek mythology is so full of intrigue, passion and power, and I am a bit of a sucker for interesting myths and legends that explain why certain words and names exist today. Exploring the origins of peppermint, it seems even the plants got wrapped up in the myth-making!
According to mythology, Hades (God of the underworld) seduced the nymph, Minthe. In doing so he betrayed his wife, Persephone (Goddess of nature). In a jealous rage, Persephone turned Minthe into a plant, so that people would forever trample on her love rival. Hades was furious at Persephone, not least because he was powerless to undo the transformative spell. But wanting Minthe to be remembered always for her beauty and vivacity, Hades bestowed the peppermint plant with a heavenly aroma, released each time the leaves are crushed. In a cruel twist for the slighted wife, Persephone could never forget her husband’s duplicity, because having turned Minthe into an aromatic plant, the lingering scent of peppermint was present evermore as an inescapable reminder.
Long before the Ancient Greeks and their myth-making, people started to appreciate the health and medicinal properties of peppermint. As far back as 1,000 BC, Ancient Egyptians valued peppermint as a treatment for stomach and digestive problems. Although the Ancients did not have fancy technology and scientific laboratories to prove their theories about medicinal plants, in the case of peppermint, they were definitely on to something.
Peppermint, and peppermint essential oil in particular, is invaluable in treating digestive problems. But is also a star performer for a whole host of other common ailments. It is an incredibly versatile essential oil!
Peppermint oil has a strong menthol aroma which is wonderfully uplifting and invigorating. It also has powerful decongestant, anti-spasmodic, analgesic, anaesthetic, and antiseptic properties. It is a very stimulating and energising oil, which makes it great for waking you up and getting you going (the flip-side being that you should avoid it near bed time if you are prone to insomnia, as this pepped-up oil won’t help matters!). It should be avoided altogether by people using homoeopathic remedies as the two don’t mix.
There are hundreds of ways to use peppermint essential oil, but here are some of the ones I find most routinely useful:
- Hammer headaches by applying a couple of drops directly to the temples and firmly massaging around the temple area, at the base of the skull and over the scalp.
- Cool a fever by applying a few drops to an icy cold damp washcloth and then applying to the forehead and torso. This is also great for just cooling down on really hot sticky days!
- Relieve stomach ache by drinking one drop of peppermint oil (it must be therapeutic grade oil – it will say if it is on the bottle) in a large glass of water. If you don’t have therapeutic grade peppermint oil, try shop-bought peppermint tea. Or make your own by bruising a couple of stems of peppermint leaves and infusing them in boiling water for a couple of minutes before drinking.
- Nausea and travel sickness can be tackled very effectively using peppermint essential oil. I used it during my pregnancy to quell nausea, rubbing one drop into my abdomen and inhaling deeply when it was particularly bad. Not every essential oil is safe for use during pregnancy, but provided your pregnancy is going well, peppermint oil is one of the essential oils that is generally considered safe in small quantities. However, if in doubt it is always best to seek advice first.
- A drop of peppermint oil directly applied to mosquito, ant and sandfly bites is a great anti-itch treatment. Making it worth its weight in gold out here in the tropics!
- Feeling stressed out, anxious and exhausted? Add a couple of drops of peppermint oil to a diffuser or oil burner and enjoy the menthol vapours. Expect to feel uplifted, energised and refreshed. If you can, at the same time take the opportunity to sit, relax, breath deeply, and let go of your physical and mental tensions. It works, I promise!
- A few drops scattered over the shower floor in a steamy bathroom will help you breathe easier if you are suffering with a cold and feeling woolly-headed, bunged up and breathless.
Peppermint oil is a real mainstay in my bathroom cabinet. But as with most essential oils, a little goes a long way. If you want to try it for yourself, use this oil in tiny quantities, especially if applying to the skin, so as to avoid skin irritation. And avoid using peppermint oil with young children and babies as it is too powerful for their little bodies.
Perhaps you already have a bottle in your home? If so, how do you use it? I’d love to hear if you’ve got any tips on getting even more aroma-benefit from peppermint!