Essential oils have become a vital part of everyday life and have been known to humankind for millennia. In ancient Egypt, essential oils were used for embalming and as a part of religious ceremonies. In traditional Chinese medicine, essential oils were used to treat a range of health conditions. And in Ayurvedic medicine, essential oils were used for both physical and emotional healing.
Today, they continue to be used for a variety of purposes, are often used in alternative and complementary medicine, and have gained popularity in recent years as people seek natural and holistic approaches and solutions to health, wellness and pest control. Peppermint oil, for example, can be used for fatigued muscles, throbbing migraines, sunburn relief, a refreshing bourbon cocktail (mint julep), a natural energy boost, as a decongestant in real peppermint candy (from actual peppermint oil) and pest control. Clove oil, used in Six Feet Under, can be used for oral health, pain relief and as an insect repellent.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are the essence of a plant, captured through distillation of mechanical pressing.
Inside many plants—in their bark, roots, seeds and flowers—are concentrated, highly potent chemical compounds. These natural compounds, called essential oils, retain the smell and effect of their source. Depending on what part of the plant the oil is extracted from will change the smell, absorption and effect of the essential oil on one’s body and mind.
The list of essential oils is exhaustive. Here, peppermint oil will be highlighted in the hopes that it will begin to make more appearances in and around your home, as it has in mine.
What is peppermint oil?
Peppermint is a natural cross hybrid between the water mint plant (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint plant (Mentha spicata). Botanically, this herb belongs to the Lamiaceae family, in the Mentha genus, and is named Mentha piperita. According to the Handbook of Essential Oils by Erich Schmidt, it is the fifth most produced essential oil in the world.
The main constituents of peppermint are menthol and menthone, with menthol as the dominant component at 41 percent and menthone, a minor, at 23 percent. Menthol is answerable for many of the benefits of this oil and also gives peppermint its taste, smell and cooling sensation. Menthone is responsible for the spasmolytic effect of peppermint oil. This effect helps to reduce excessive smooth muscle contractility, which is the cause of cramping and discomfort in the abdominal area.
Though originally native to Europe and the Middle East, it is now cultivated around the world, though mostly grown in the United States, where oil production began in the 1790s. By the mid-1800s, the United States was a major peppermint exporter and continues as the world’s leading producer of peppermint oil. Today, an average of 4,117 tons is made in the U.S. annually.
The Japanese have grown mint, for its menthol properties, for at least 2000 years. According to an article by Tea Huggers, there are some Japanese companies that pipe peppermint oil into their AC system to invigorate their workers and thereby increase productivity. In the middle ages, monks used mint as a tooth polisher.
Where does peppermint get its name?
Peppermint oil is thought to have originated in Northern Africa or the Mediterranean region and gets its name from a Greek mythology story. The legend tells us that Hades, the god of the underworld, fell in love with a nymph named Minthe. Hades' wife, outraged, changed Minthe into a common plant that grew like a weed and was constantly underfoot. Hades, to soften this damage, left her a weed, but gave her a refreshing, sweet scent to remind all of her presence as they walked over her.
What are the benefits of this essential oil (and how to use it)?
The beneficial properties of this essential oil, taken from the flowering parts and leaves of the peppermint plant, are widespread and vast. Here are its eight top uses.
- Peppermint oil can be applied topically to both cool fatigued muscles after physical activity and as a pain reliever, having been known to diminish certain types of headaches.
For topical applications, dilute one or two drops in a carrier oil (or your favorite lotion) and apply to the temples and back of the neck for head and neck tension. *We recommend the use of a carrier oil to minimize any skin sensitivity.
- When taken internally, it promotes healthy bowel functions, supports gastrointestinal system comfort and helps maintain efficiency of the digestive tract. Katie Wells, of Wellness Mama, provides a recipe for a digestion tincture for morning sickness, stomach aches and motion sickness.
- It can be diffused to create an environment that is conducive to work or study, perhaps even inspiring feelings of clarity, alertness and purpose.
- It creates a refreshing breathing experience when inhaled or diffused and can also reduce nasal congestion and alleviate some types of upper respiratory infection.
- When used in toothpastes and mouth rinses, its antibacterial properties help kill germs that cause dental plaque, which may improve the smell of your breath. According to an article by OraWellness, peppermint essential oil is effective in reducing certain oral pathogens, particularly those that are related to gum disease, and managing the biofilm that P. gingivalis (a bacteria) uses to flourish.
- It is useful at the end of a long day as a foot-soak. Add a few drops to one-half cup of Epsom salt dissolved in warm water.
- If you have a queasy stomach, simply breathing in peppermint oil can help to calm your stomach. You can also take one to two drops in a vegetarian capsule to help alleviate stomach upset.
- Peppermint oil is an effective antimicrobial, killing microorganisms such as bacteria or mold, or stopping them from growing and causing disease. It is particularly effective against E. coli and S. aureus.
- Peppermint tea helps you to fall asleep and sleep longer. Enjoy a cup about an hour before bed to soothe yourself into sleep, ensuring that it is an herbal minty blend (not a caffeinated peppermint green tea).
Why does Dr. Killigan’s use peppermint oil?
Peppermint oil is an active ingredient in our next upcoming non-toxic product, Dust To Dust, which will be released this spring. Dust To Dust, a non-toxic insect-killing powder, will soon become your go-to for getting rid of any creepy crawlies that think it’s a good idea to set foot inside your home.
In our non-toxic pest control company, it is our mission to use safe ingredients (like eastern red cedar wood and cinnamon) that are not dangerous or toxic for you, your family, your pets or the environment. Mainstream pest control products may kill pests, but they are also causing harm that is sometimes irreversible. This damage occurs through oral entry (via droplets in the air that enter the mouth through the foods we eat and the liquids we drink, respiratory entry), via sprays (vapors, and powders that are breathed in, and through dermal entry), via droplets, powders or vapors that land on and damage the skin or are absorbed (by the skin) and enter the bloodstream. In addition, some insects are building resistance to toxic chemical-filled pest control methods. At Dr. Killigan’s, it is our goal to do the opposite—to prevent harm to you while also killing pests in and around your home, and to provide you and your family with natural preventive options.
Peppermint oil is one way we do this. Peppermint is noted for its natural ability to repel many pests, including ants, aphids, various types of beetles, caterpillars, cockroaches, fleas, flies, lice, mosquitoes, moths and spiders. Insects detest peppermint. In fact, the stink bug, when it feels threatened or is crushed, releases droplets of aromatic compounds from behind its head that smell like peppermint or cilantro. (Cilantro has a bright, refreshing scent that is reminiscent of mint.) It does this to fight off predators.
The major chemical compounds found in peppermint oil include terpene, alcohol and menthol. Each one is a natural fumigant through smell. Insects and rodents' smell receptors pick up on and are repelled by these compounds. In a National Library of Science article, a study discusses the effectiveness of menthol against mosquitoes (in particular), concluding that menthol can be as "efficient for human protection against mosquitoes” as DEET.
Natural biocidal properties in peppermint are active in destroying, deterring, rendering harmless, preventing the action of or otherwise exerting a controlling effect against many pests, including cockroaches, mites and mosquito larvae. Peppermint has demonstrated a mortality rate of up to 97.2% in nymph populations of brown-banded cockroaches and has also proved effective against German and American cockroaches.
Peppermint oil is a resourceful, non-toxic, safe means of killing pests while also keeping your family safe. Your well-being is, as always, of utmost importance to us.