From candy canes to minty hot cocoa, ‘tis the season to experience the power of peppermint.
Although it’s best not to overdo it when it comes to sugary treats, don’t forgo it entirely: this aromatic plant has a number of health benefits. Cara Marrs, a registered dietitian nutritionist with UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, outlines several health perks of this holiday favorite below.
The power of peppermint
Colds and flus: Breathing in steam from hot water mixed with a few drops of peppermint oil can help open nasal passages, which is important if you’re struggling with respiratory issues. The menthol in peppermint works as a decongestant, shrinking swollen membranes in the nose and making it easier to breathe, and also helps loosen mucus that has collected in the lungs.
Peppermint may also help prevent a sickness from coming on in the first place.
“It’s thought that peppermint might have some antiviral qualities,” Marrs said. “If you’re around a lot of sickness, taking two or three drops of peppermint oil in water may help increase your immunity.”
Nausea: Peppermint may relieve symptoms of nausea, which can be especially beneficial for people undergoing chemotherapy. It should not be used for morning sickness, as it is known to trigger menstruation.
Indigestion: Ever wonder why most restaurants offer an after dinner mint? In addition to its palate-cleansing taste, peppermint can calm stomach muscles and improve the flow of bile, helping with symptoms of indigestion.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Peppermint has been shown to help soothe symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, such as pain, bloating, diarrhea and gas.
“Two to three drops of good quality peppermint oil in water taken after meals can definitely help with digestion and decreasing gas and belching,” Marrs said. “There have been several studies showing how it works as an antispasmodic for IBS.”
Tea made from dried or fresh mint leaves can also be beneficial. But, keep in mind that it may not help everyone.
“For some people with GI distress such as gas, bloating and cramps, sometimes peppermint works really, really well,” Marrs said. “But for other people, peppermint or other mints can cause reflux. There isn’t one thing that works for everybody.”
Skin conditions: A number of herbal salves for sore muscles and joints contain menthol, which creates a cooling effect. And peppermint can reduce skin irritation, itchiness and redness. Dilute the oil before applying it to skin by mixing a few drops with mineral or olive oil, and test on a small section of skin first.
Before using peppermint, check in with your health care provider. It is not recommended for people who have diabetes, a hiatus hernia or gastroesophageal reflux disease. It may also interfere with medications, including those that reduce stomach acid, lower blood sugar or help with high blood pressure.
Choose high quality sources of peppermint oil and tea, and be careful not to use too much.
“This thought that, ‘If two drops is great, ten must be better,’ is how people end up taking toxic amounts of these herbs,” Marrs said. “With any concentrated oil, you have to be careful you aren’t using too much.”
This winter, try adding it to your diet. The minty, fresh flavor may keep you in the holiday spirit, long after the New Year has come.
Try it in a Green Smoothie
Try adding peppermint to your holidays with this smoothie. It’s reminiscent of a Peppermint Patty, just healthier.
Blend together: 1 banana, 1 c. nut-based milk such as almond, coconut or hemp milk, a handful of fresh mint leaves, 1 c. kale or spinach, ¼ tsp. peppermint extract, 2 T Cacao nibs or dark chocolate chips.
Adapted from ohsheglows.com*
This article first appeared in the Steamboat Pilot & Today and references information from medicalnewstoday.com. Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at [email protected]