Edition 18: April 2010
Essential Oil of the Month
Digestive aid for food and ideas
PEPPERMINT has been cultivated commercially in England since 1750 and since used as a fragrance component in soaps, cosmetics, perfumes and detergents. It was also a flavouring agent - and still is - in pharmaceuticals and is found in many digestive and cough and cold remedies.
The oil was widely used far earlier than 1750 - ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used to scent bathwater and bedding. The Romans used it in wine and crowned themselves in the plant, while the Hebrews perfumed themselves with it deeming it an aphrodisiac.
Peppermint essential oil is both cooling when hot and warming when cold, depending on the dosage and context in which it is used. In low dilutions (less than 2 per cent) it is very cooling. In high dilutions, greater than 5 per cent, it will be warming (a rubefacient) and serve as a counter-irritant in pain relief blends.
Peppermint essential oil is one of the basic necessities for a first aid kit. It increases your immunity and therefore helps prevent a number of diseases.
The oil contains numerous minerals and nutrients including manganese, iron, magnesium, calcium, folate, potassium, and copper. It also contains omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamins A and C.
Peppermint oil can be used externally for providing pain relief. In a massage, it helps stimulate the lymph system. Its analgesic properties help treat sore muscles and joint pain.
It is believed that the presence of calcium antagonists in peppermint oil aid in removing pain. (The main clinical usage of calcium channel blockers is to decrease blood pressure. This decreases intracellular calcium, leading to a reduction in muscle contraction.)
This muscle-relaxing property of peppermint oil has been found to ease irritable bowel syndrome. Adding peppermint oil to gelatine capsules that open lower in the gut can ease the symptoms of this distressing condition. Peppermint oil can be also used for treating urinary tract infection.
For digestive complaints, including irritable bowel syndrome:
Internal usage: Add 2-3 drops of peppermint oil to a glass of water and drink it after a rich meal to ease bloat. To ease indigestion, add one drop on a sugar cube, or in a spoonful of honey. A quick hiccough remedy.
Massage: Put 2-3 drops in a teaspoon of vegetable oil and massage the abdomen in a clockwise direction. It will relax the stomach muscles and anaesthetise them slightly, easing discomfort effectively.
As a cold compress: Peppermint is cooling and eases headaches, migraines and menopausal hot flushes. For neck-related headaches massage the diluted oil with some lavender added, into the 7th cervical vertebra at the base of the neck.
Peppermint is an excellent remedy for colds to halt production of mucous and fevers and encourages perspiration.
Menthol, which is present in abundance in peppermint oil, helps in clearing the respiratory tract. So for respiratory disorders in general, this oil is a ‘must-have’ to treat dry coughs, bronchitis and sinus congestion and even more severe conditions such as pneumonia, asthma and tuberculosis.
Inhale the oil directly or add a drop to a tissue for a sinus headache. Massaging the sinus area with the diluted oil can be quite effective too. When used in a cold rub and rubbed on the chest it can remove nasal and respiratory congestion immediately.
Peppermint oil, due to its antiseptic properties, is useful for dental care. It removes bad breath and helps teeth and gums combat decay. No wonder it is added to numerous toothpastes and is also useful for treating toothache. Peppermint is one of the most important oils to treat digestive upsets, especially for acute problems. For food poisoning it is helpful and treats vomiting, diarrhoea and constipation.
Its carminative qualities quell gaseous complaints such as flatulence and colic and it is antispasmodic for nauseous conditions including travel sickness. It is understood to be a liver tonic, helping to promote the flow of bile and alleviate gallstones.
Peppermint is very stimulating on the limbs and eases numbness; use no more than three drops in a bath or massage blend.
It cools aching hot feet in a massage blend and can be very relieving for arthritis and rheumatism, as well as pain-quelling for nerve pain such as neuralgia. It is a tonic for the heart and mind and may be used for shock, vertigo, dizziness and fainting.
Women find peppermint useful for menstrual pain and irregularity. A cooling compress of this versatile oil on the breasts can help mastitis.
Cooling for the skin
The menthol in peppermint is good for skin and it gives a cooling effect while nourishing and softening dull skin. It is very decongesting and is effective when added to a facial steam to deeply cleanse the skin. Cosmetically it works to purge the skin of greasiness and blackheads.
In skincare, a very weak dilution (less than one per cent) is helpful for easing itching or irritation. Peppermint constricts capillaries; this makes it cooling in action which can be a relief for itching, inflammation and sunburn and it is indicated in cases of dermatitis, ringworm, scabies and pruritis.
It has a similar action on the scalp and tends well to oily hair and can help remove dandruff and lice.
Peppermint may be added to sprays and used in the home to deter mice, rats, ants, cockroaches and other vermin that dislike the smell.
Peppermint oil stimulates the brain and aids clear thinking and alertness. It improves concentration, enhancing the memory and is handy in the car to help keep the driver attentive.
Its cooling nature relieves anger, hysteria and nervous trembling and it is excellent for nervous fatigue and depression. For low self-esteem and insecurity, this oil is indicated to deepen intuitive insight.
This bold and bracing smell opens up the breathing passages and if breath is the gateway to consciousness, this oil can be a key, deepening our ability to breathe and our zest for life.
When our thoughts have reached a deadlock, our head feels heavy and we are fed up with life, a deep inhale of peppermint oil will get us going and feeling inspired again.
This oil has a direct action on the intellect and on the manipura chakra of the solar plexus. While it enhances concentration on one level, it works on another to help digest and assimilation of new ideas and impressions.
It cools the friction of resistance to new information. It acts on our “psychological stomach”; for when we “can’t stomach” things, it develops our emotional tolerance and boosts our receptivity by keeping our mind open.
Latin: Mentha piperita
What is it? Peppermint is a cross between water mint and spearmint; the herb is a native perennial of Europe but it grows in Japan and the USA, which is the main producer of peppermint essential oil. The plant favours damp conditions and grows to nearly a metre with hairy and aromatic serrated leaves with white, sometimes mauve, spiked flowers. The clear colourless essential oil is steam-distilled from the aerial parts, mainly the leaves.
Aroma: Sharp, piercing top note with minty top notes and grassy camphoraceous undertones. A powerful, sometimes overwhelming smell; use sparingly.
Peppermint oil blends well with: cedarwood, lemon, eucalyptus, cypress, lavender, mandarin, marjoram, niaouli, pine, rosemary.
Properties: Analgesic, anaesthetic, anti-galactagogue, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, cephalic, (clears mind) cholagogue, (increases bile) cordial (heart tonic) decongestant, emmenagogue, (promotes menstruation) expectorant, febrifuge, hepatic, nervine, stimulant, stomachic, sudorific (increases perspiration), vasoconstrictor, vermifuge (expels worms).
Precautions: Not recommended on babies under 12 months as the odour is too strong. Use sparingly during pregnancy. Spearmint oil is a milder, safer alternative for the young and sensitive. Avoid using alongside homeopathic remedies.
What Herb is That?
Fluffy sweet has wholesome history
THE HEALING tradition of marshmallow dates back more than 2500 years and its medicinal qualities have been recognised since Ancient Egyptian times.
It was a valuable food source and medicine to the Arabs and Chinese and it is referred to in the Book of Job as a food eaten during famines. It is sweet and rich in sugars. The latin name Althaea derives from the Greek altho, meaning ‘to heal’.
Theophrastus reported that the root could be added to sweet wine to relieve coughs; Hippocrates treated bleeding wounds and bruises with the root; and the Roman Pliny wrote that 'whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him'. The famous herbalist Culpeper prescribed marshmallow for just about everything!
Marshmallow was a traditional European folk herb and it is the original source of the marshmallow confection that we all know today, although these sweets no longer contain the real plant
This spongy treat came from France and in rural France, the young tops and leaves are still eaten in salads for their kidney-stimulating effects.
Marshmallow is most commonly used to soothe and protect irritated mucous membranes. The root is indicated in all inflammations of the digestive tract including mouth ulcers, hiatus hernia, gastritis, peptic ulcer, enteritis and colitis.
The root of the marshmallow plant contains a substance known as mucilage, a mucusy substance that does not dissolve in water; it absorbs it and swells creating a slippery gel.
This soothing quality of the marshmallow plant makes it a demulcent; this means it is softening and coats the inner linings of the mouth, throat and stomach; this is of huge benefit for many uncomfortable conditions when this gastro-intestinal mucosa is irritated. This protective coating manages to successfully counter excess stomach acid.
Marshmallow is an effective treatment for bronchitis, respiratory catarrh and irritating coughs. Its demulcent action helps to relieve dry coughs, bronchial asthma and pleurisy and soothes sore throats and inflammation of the mouth or pharynx. An infusion of the root can be used for a soothing gargle.
Applied externally, the root with its healing mucilage and antimicrobial activity can help minor wounds, burns, abscesses and boils as well as varicose veins and ulcers.
The root stimulates phagocytosis (improves the ability of white blood cells to engulf and digest microorganisms and cellular debris; an important defence against infection) and thus has an anti-inflammatory healing effect in an ointment or poultice. Poultices can be of assistance to draw out splinters.
Added to cosmetics it works wonders with chapped and weather-beaten skin because it has a high level of antioxidants.
Marshmallow is also believed to fight infection and boost the immune system.
Taken as a warm infusion, the herb helps relieve cystitis and urinary tract problems and is also mildly laxative. Use the infusion for a wonderful eye wash.
Recent studies indicate that marsh- mallow reduces blood sugar levels and could be valuable in diabetes.
and is also mildly laxative. Use the infusion for a wonderful eye wash.
Recent studies indicate that marsh- mallow reduces blood sugar levels and could be valuable in diabetes.
TOP USES AT HOME
Herbal Tea: for coughs, cystitis, gastritis and bronchitis. It will help sooth asthma if you add a bit of honey and take it a spoonful at a time. Do not take this herbal remedy with other drugs orally. It can delay the absorption of the other medications if taken at the same time.
Gooey Gel: Finely chop the root and add a little water, boil until it makes a gooey gel. Apply this cooled gel to superficial wounds, skin irritations or sunburn.
Teething babies: The peeled root can be given to teething babies to chew on to ease inflammation - they like it and it’s better than a plastic teething ring!
Latin name: Althaea officinalis
What is it? The marshmallow plant is a perennial. It will grow to about 150cm tall with pale pink-to-white flowers. It can be grown in your garden and its original habitat was in salty marshes or wet, brackish ground in southern Europe.
Parts used: Root and leaf are used medicinally. The root is the most potent medicinally; it is white and has a sweet taste and is unearthed when at least two years old; it should be cleaned of root fibres and cork and dried immediately. The flowers and leaves may be used to make expectorant syrups.
Actions: Demulcent, diuretic, emollient, vulnerary, (wound healer) expectorant, antilithic (prevents kidney and gallstones).
Indications: asthma , common cold/sore throat, cough, Crohn’s disease, diarrhea, gastritis, gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD), indigestion, pap smear (abnormal), peptic ulcer, bronchitis, respiratory catarrh, cystitis, urethritis, urinary gravel or calculi; locally for abscesses, boils and ulcers.