Ah, peppermint. It’s a classic scent and flavor that just about everyone enjoys. What are your positive associations with peppermint? Candies snuck to you by your grandmother, minty fresh breath, peppermint hot chocolate or lattes on a cold winter morning?
And it’s not just for culinary treats and oral care. Oil distilled from the peppermint plant—scientific name Mentha x piperita—is broadly useful for medicinal and aromatic purposes. Peppermint oil contains beneficial compounds, notably high levels of menthol, which give it antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.
I’m not really an essential oils guy, but lavender oil and peppermint oil are two we usually have on hand because they are so multifunctional. Here are some research-backed benefits of peppermint.
6 Reasons to Use Peppermint Oil
Peppermint Oil Helps with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
I know from personal experience how IBS symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and cramping affect day-to-day quality of life. For me, removing grains and adopting a Primal lifestyle have made all the difference, but if you’re still dealing with IBS symptoms, peppermint oil might help.
Two recent meta-analyses concluded that enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules are significantly better than placebo at relieving pain and global IBS symptoms. 1 2 It’s also effective for kids.3 Possibly it works by decreasing muscle spasms, killing pathogens, relieving pain directly, and/or reducing inflammation.
Peppermint Oil for Headaches
This might be one of the oldest traditional uses for peppermint. Contemporary studies confirm that peppermint oil applied topically or intranasally can provide headache relief on par with traditional pain relievers4 or lidocaine.5
Mix a drop or two of peppermint essential oil in a carrier oil like jojoba. Use your fingertips to massage the oil into your temples, being careful not to get too close to your eyes. (Trust me, peppermint plus eyeballs is not a good combo.) Or add 5 to 10 drops of peppermint oil to a diffuser and practice some resonance breathing. This is especially great if you have a tension headache.
Prevent Nausea and Vomiting
A buddy of mine had surgery a while back. As part of the post-op care, the hospital offered him the option of aromatherapy—choosing between a few different scents, including peppermint, which he could sniff to control post-surgical nausea and vomiting. And it worked, which he thought was pretty cool. I’ve since heard of other hospitals starting to use this approach. In a couple studies I looked at, not only does peppermint oil mitigate nausea and vomiting, patients preferred it to antiemetic drugs.6
Peppermint oil aromatherapy has proven effective postoperatively,7 as my friend can attest, during pregnancy,8 and while undergoing chemotherapy.9 Products containing peppermint oil can also help with motion sickness.
Possibly Relieve Itching
Chronic itching, called pruritus, can drive you up a wall. Two small studies suggest peppermint oil might help. In one, participants applied either peppermint oil or petroleum jelly over areas of chronic itch twice daily for two weeks.10 In the other, pregnant women took either a placebo or peppermint oil diluted in sesame oil twice a day orally for two weeks.11 In both studies, peppermint oil provided better itch relief than the alternative.
Some people also use peppermint oil topically to relieve symptoms of skin disorders like eczema. However, peppermint can be too harsh for some people’s sensitive skin, so approach with caution. Always mix it in a carrier oil, and before slathering it all over already inflamed skin, take the time to do a patch test. Apply a small amount of diluted peppermint oil on a patch of skin where you don’t have an eczema or psoriasis rash (the inside of your arm if possible). Dab on the oil mixture morning and night for a week. If everything seems good, apply a small amount to the affected area and see how it responds.
Peppermint Oil for Allergies?
I know a few people who swear by the “allergy trio” for seasonal allergies—peppermint, lavender, and lemon essential oils. I couldn’t find any actual research on its effectiveness, but it’s clear that many people believe it helps with their allergy symptoms. Placebo? Maybe, but if it works… Next time allergies strike, add a few drops of these oils to a diffuser and see if you notice any benefit.
Peppermint Oil for Bugs and Pests
Peppermint oil can be a safer alternative to chemical bug repellents in certain circumstances. It’s particularly effective for getting rid of aphids in your garden. Peppermint (and many other plants) produces a chemical called (E)-beta-Farnesene that acts as a chemical messenger between flora and fauna. (Technically (E)-beta-Farnesene is an olefin if you need a factoid for your next dinner party, and ants produce it to use as a trail pheromone to mark food routes for other ants.)
I digress. You can make a DIY pest spray by filling a spray bottle with
2 cups of water
10 to 15 drops of peppermint essential oil
A few drops of dish soap (optional)
Give it a shake. Before spraying it all over your plants, test it on a few leaves and wait a few days. Tomatoes and radishes, in particular, may not like peppermint oil being sprayed on them.
You can also use this spray on countertops to discourage ants from marching into your kitchen. Or, put a few drops of peppermint oil on a cotton pad and place it where ants are entering your house. Anecdotally, some people have success getting rid of spiders and mice this way too. Don’t leave peppermint oil around if you have dogs or cats, though, as it can be toxic.
Peppermint Oil Safety
Peppermint oil is generally regarded as safe for humans to use topically (when appropriately diluted), aromatically (diffused), or when taken as instructed in prepared enteric-coated capsules. Some people are more sensitive to it than others, though, so always test out your reaction.
Peppermint oil can also interact with the drug Cyclosporine. Talk to your doctor before taking enteric-coated capsules if you have low stomach acid or take PPIs or H2 blockers.
And keep peppermint oil away from pets.
Diffusing is a great place to start. Try it next time you have a headache, allergies, or nausea, or you’re stressed or have to do focused work. Let me know if it helps.