Peppermint is a relative of numerous wild mint plants, deliberately bred in the late 1600s in England to become the delightful tasting plant so well known today. It is widely used as a beverage tea and as a flavoring or scent in a wide variety of products.

Peppermint tea also has a long history of medicinal use, primarily as a digestive aid and for the symptomatic treatment of cough, colds, and fever. Peppermint oil is used for chest congestion (Vicks VapoRub), as a local anesthetic (Solarcaine, Ben-Gay), and most recently in the treatment of irritable bowel disease, also known as spastic colon.

Peppermint oil has shown promise for a variety of conditions that involve spasm of the intestinal tract. Most studies have involved irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), for which peppermint oil has shown considerable promise. Peppermint oil may also be helpful for reducing the pain caused by medical examinations of the colon and stomach, as well for decreasing the intestinal gas pain that frequently follows surgery.

Peppermint oil may also be helpful for dyspepsia (a condition that is similar to IBS, but involves the stomach instead of the intestines).

Weak evidence, far too preliminary to rely upon at all, hints that peppermint oil might help dissolve gallstones.1

Peppermint oil is also used in another way: as aromatherapy. This means that it is inhaled, often by adding it to a humidifier. Weak evidence hints that inhaled peppermint oil might be helpful for relief of mucus congestion of the lungs and sinuses.21,22 Even weaker evidence hints that inhaled peppermint oil might relieve postsurgical nausea.2Peppermint was associated with improved nausea symptoms in a small randomized trial of 35 women after nonemergency cesarean section compared to placebo aromatherapy and standard antiemetic drugs.3737

Similarly weak evidence hints that peppermint oil, applied to the forehead, might relieve tension headaches.23,24

Finally, a study performed in Iran reported that applying peppermint water (essentially, lukewarm peppermint tea) directly to the nipples helped prevent dryness and cracking caused by breastfeeding.33