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 mentally-stimulating action of the mint essential oils is also the result of several interactions with our body concurrently. Inhaling the aroma quickly opens the sinus passages, delivering oxygen to our gray matter. Researchers have discovered peppermint has the ability to prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine, the primary information-processing neurotransmitter. On an esoteric level, therapists believe the aroma enhances concentration, while enabling our ability to work with new ideas and generate creative concepts. One does need to be careful inhaling the oil directly from the bottle however, as it is easy to burn the tip of the nose where the mucous membranes are exposed.
Peppermint is commonly used to help with headaches, with the simple application massaged into the temples. A three to ten percent dilution in any carrier oil can be used, adjusted to personal preference of potency. Do avoid the eyes and try spearmint instead with children. The clarifying, cooling effect of both these oils may just do the trick when a natural remedy is what you're seeking.
In many cases, the mint oils can be used interchangeably. Both spearmint and peppermint are called for to support healing digestive difficulties — though for the young ones, the softer spearmint is the better choice. Both these oils are noted by Salvatore Battaglia to cleanse the skin, though only peppermint is recommended (in a 1% concentration) to relieve itching and skin irritation.
The essential oil distilled from corn mint (also found as “Wild” mint) is almost completely made up of menthol. Its use is best reserved for formulas where a small amount of the oil is added to impart that special “zing”! This is popular in invigorating body care products like foot creams and stimulating shampoos and conditioners. Otherwise, peppermint and spearmint are the better selections for therapeutic applications.
From a safety point of view, the oils have very few cautions. Peppermint is to be avoided by those prone to seizures, as it can be too stimulating to the nervous system. Corn mint clearly should be avoided for the same reason. Spearmint is nearly always recommended for use with younger children anytime peppermint would be used. All the oils should be diluted prior to topical application, though are otherwise considered non-toxic and non-irritating.
The mints are very popular essential oils for a reason: they work! Aromatherapists will always find a use for aromas at both ends of the spectrum: calming and stimulating. These oils clearly fulfill the need for stimulating aromatics, and with their fun, pleasant scents, you're likely to find a use for them in your life too.