The 10 Best Peppermint Oils
Since the initial publication of this wiki in August of 2015, there have been 22 edits to this page. According to its many fans, peppermint oil is a natural and drug-free cure-all, as well as great for aromatherapy and massages. It can be used for headache and nausea relief, as an antiinflammatory, to sooth digestive and stomach problems, to cure dandruff, and even to fight bad breath. In the home, it works to repel pests and as a safe, nontoxic cleaner. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best peppermint oil on Amazon.
A History Of Natural Remedies
One result of centuries of studying plant chemistry is the exact location of some very interesting compounds.
It just so happens that a number of useful plant-derived substances are soluble in fat rather than water.
Humans have been taking advantage of the unique chemicals produced by different plants for health purposes throughout the ages. The earliest medicine men were keen enough to realize that there was something in certain leaves and flowers that changed the way the body worked. Of course, there was quite a bit of magic involved in the first application of plant medicines, as various, esoteric rituals were used alongside the plants themselves. But that was only the beginning.
Humanity's understanding of biology has advanced greatly since those days. We've figured out what chemicals are present in different plants and how some of those components interact with human physiology. In fact, there are many FDA-approved medicines on the market right now that are ultimately derived from chemicals first discovered within completely natural plants. So, it's safe to say that a lot of good has been accomplished by humans studying and adapting the building blocks that nature has given us.
One result of centuries of studying plant chemistry is the exact location of some very interesting compounds. It just so happens that a number of useful plant-derived substances are soluble in fat rather than water. This means they're locked up tight in the network of cell walls, existing as tiny pockets of oil incorporated into and around the cellulose fibers themselves. Because of these hydrophobic compounds, a simple form of extraction like steeping in hot water won't suffice to pull the strongest parts out of the plant at a high concentration.
The early shamans apparently knew there was something in the plants, and we've since discovered much of what that something was. Somewhere between herbalism and peer-reviewed, double-blind human trials, is a tool that's been used for hundreds of years: the essential oil.
How'd It Get So Greasy?
To be clear, these oils aren't essential in the same way that, say, some amino acids are essential: you won't die if you don't get enough cold-pressed lavender oil. Not literally, anyway. They're so called because they contain the essence of the plant from which they're made. These products are designed to be the purest possible extractions of the most aromatic, flavorful, and biologically active lipophilic compounds in each plant.
It's referred to as cold because unlike some methods, the temperature doesn't rise enough to damage some of the most volatile chemicals in the plant.
But how do we get these strongly scented lipids out of their cellular lockup without diluting them? It turns out that a few methods are used. The most basic method is the cold press, the same process used to make extra virgin olive oil. This involves a powerful mill physically pressing the plant material and squeezing the oil out. It's referred to as cold because unlike some methods, the temperature doesn't rise enough to damage some of the most volatile chemicals in the plant.
Steam distillation is a very common method used to create essential oils. The steam breaks down the cell walls and the droplets of hot water vapor cling to the oil particles, pulling them upwards out of the source. While this is generally the most cost-effective means, the heat can destroy the most sensitive chemicals involved that might otherwise give an extra aromatic or medicinal boost.
A modern, high-end, and often expensive way to extract pure oil is gaining popularity, as well. More and more specialty essential oil producers are making small batches of product using compressed carbon dioxide. As the extremely cold gas passes through the ground-up plant matter, it essentially flash-freezes the relevant oil molecules. This breaks them off the water-sensitive chaff, which is removed by a fine filter as the oil is sprayed out of a nozzle at high pressure. This method also keeps intact any specific compounds that would be threatened by the heat of steam distillation.
The Squeaky Wheel Gets The Peppermint
A lot of essential oils capture the strongest possible scent of their respective plant. Some of these are truly fantastic at smelling good, and therefore calming or relaxing the psyche...and that's it. No natural oil is good for everything. In that light, peppermint is one of the most interesting natural products. Its efficacy is predicted by the way it can make people squint and tear up when taking a big whiff of the pure stuff. For that matter, always remember to waft when smelling pure oils.
It's also been suggested that some of the volatile oils in mint can help to improve alertness and concentration.
It is a truly pungent chemical, and it's not just a smell. Peppermint has been shown to kill germs and is used in some herbal poultices. It has a distinct cooling effect and is a common remedy for muscle and joint soreness. A little bit of diluted oil rubbed on the temples can even combat headaches. And the full-body sensation that a peppermint foot massage evokes is something wonderful to experience. It's also been suggested that some of the volatile oils in mint can help to improve alertness and concentration.
On top of its uses on the human body, peppermint oil is a highly recommended natural repellant for three of the most invasive pests in society: fleas, ticks, and lice. It's used in both health products and household treatments as an alternative to harsher chemicals. It won't kill the bugs, but used alongside an extermination method and possibly another natural remedy or oil (such as cedar or rosemary), it's effective for preventing and limiting infestations while smelling less like chemical pesticides.
Now, before you order enough peppermint oil to bathe in, remember what it is and isn't. The pure oil is very strong and should never be applied full-strength. As with all essential oils, it must be diluted with a carrier oil before use on skin. Peppermint oil should only be used externally. Also, it is not a replacement for actual medical care. If the condition you're attempting to treat worsens, you should seek professional advice. But when you need a quick concentration boost, or your hands are sore from a hard day at work, a peppermint oil rubdown might be a good idea.
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