by Hilary Sohn, LMT/Owner of The Healing Sanctuary
As we enter into the holiday season, snow and celebrations are on people’s minds. The aromas of the season surround us….bayberry, pine, cranberry, peppermint….and it is this last classically winter scent – Peppermint - that is one of the most effective essential oils for helping us through the stresses of the winter months: easing backaches from snow shoveling, indigestion from rich celebratory meals, sinus and chest congestion.
The Peppermint plant gives us aromatic leaves for tea and essential oil that works wonders on the body. Besides its characteristic fragrance that seems to instantly clear the sinuses, Peppermint essential oil has a number of beneficial effects including treating bowel spasm, easing gastrointestinal distress and nausea, relieving headaches, reducing itching, calming cough, relieving chest congestion, and improving concentration and focus.
Most commonly, Peppermint oil is used for temporary relief of muscle and joint pain. In fact, the main chemical component Menthol, found in Peppermint oil, is used in many topical sports creams. Peppermint’s characteristic cooling sensation (remember the old York Peppermint Patty commercials? “… I get the sensation of being on top of a cold mountain, and all I want to do is yodel . . .”) is one of the main factors in reducing pain. Acting as a counterirritant, the menthol in Peppermint stimulates thermoreceptors (temperature sensors) in skin cells causing a signal to be sent that the brain interprets as cold. This cold signal overrides the pain signal because the conduction velocity of a cold thermoreceptor is faster than that of a pain-perceiving nociceptor.
Additionally, Peppermint’s cooling sensation also triggers a process called vasodilation in which blood vessels increase in diameter and increase blood flow to the affected area. This process increases oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and increases the rate at which cellular waste is carried away, helpful in situations where a muscle is experiencing ischemia (dysfunction or damage due to a restriction in blood supply). With more nutrients available, healing is able to occur more quickly and pain lessens.
Peppermint also has local mildly anesthetic properties when applied topically, causing a numbing sensation of the surface and consequent relief from pain. So, if your muscles are sore from shoveling, Peppermint is the oil for you.
Using Peppermint Oil
Peppermint oil is fairly irritating to the skin used at full strength, so the best way to apply Peppermint oil to the skin is to dilute 2 to 3 drops of the essential oil in approximately 1 teaspoon or more of a carrier oil like olive oil, sweet almond oil, jojoba oil or coconut oil. It can simply be applied to the temples or the base of the skull for headaches or massaged into the skin over muscles that are aching. Peppermint oil can also be used in vaporizers or even inhaled from a tissue in order to clear sinus and chest congestion.
If you are able to obtain food grade Peppermint oil, it can be ingested for relief of gastrointestinal distress. Simply add a drop or two to a beverage, stir or shake and drink up. Beware non-food grade versions of Peppermint oil; they are fine for topical use, but may cause harm if ingested.
Warning: Very high intake of peppermint oil can also cause nausea, loss of appetite, heart problems, loss of balance, and other nervous system problems. Excessive doses of peppermint oil can be toxic, causing kidney failure and even death. Peppermint oil should not be used internally or on or near the face of infants and young children because of its potential to cause bronchospasm, tongue spasms, and, possibly, respiratory arrest.