Scientific Name(S): Mentha x piperita L. Peppermint is a hybrid of M. spicata L. (spearmint) and M. aquatica L. Family: Labiatae
Common Name(S): Peppermint
Botany: This well-known perennial is a classical member of the mint family. It has a squarish purple-green stem with leaves of dark green or purple and lilac-colored flowers. The plant is generally sterile and spreads by means of stolons (basal branches). A variety of types of peppermint exist and these are cultivated worldwide.
History: Peppermint and its oil have been used in Eastern and Western traditional medicine as an aromatic, antispasmodic and antiseptic in treating indigestion, nausea, sore throat, colds, toothaches, cramps and cancers. Today, the oil is used widely as a flavoring and as an ingredient in cough and cold preparations. It is also found in numerous antiseptic and local anesthetic preparations.
Uses of Peppermint:
In addition to being recognized as a seasoning and flavoring, peppermint has been used to treat irritable bowel and abdominal pain.
Side Effects of Peppermint:
Peppermint oil may cause allergic reactions characterized by contact dermatitis, flushing and headache, and worsen the symptoms of hiatal hernias.
Toxicology: Peppermint is generally recognized as safe for human consumption as a seasoning or flavoring, as are other mints from which menthol is derived as a plant extract.
Menthol, the major component of peppermint oil, may cause allergic reactions (characterized by contact dermatitis, flushing and headache) in certain individuals. The application of menthol-containing ointment to the nostrils of an infant for the treatment of cold symptoms has been reported to have caused instant collapse.
Rats fed peppermint oil in daily doses of up to 100 mg/kg for 28 days developed dose-related brain lesions. These were similar in nature to the neuropathy induced by hexachlorophene. However, one would only expect to observe doses of this magnitude ingested in a case of overdosage with the oil.
Because of the oil's ability to relax gastrointestinal smooth muscle, persons with hiatal hernia may experience worsening of symptoms while ingesting peppermint-containing preparations.
Summary: Peppermint and its oil are used extensively in foods and drugs. The oil is a complex mixture of more than one hundred compounds. Menthol, which is found in the highest concentration, is pharmacologically active in relatively small doses. Extracts have been used with preliminary success in the treatment of certain gastrointestinal disorders.
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