Peppermint (Mentha × piperita, also known as M. balsamea Willd.) is a hybrid mint, a cross between the watermint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). The plant, indigenous to Europe, is now widespread in cultivation throughout all regions of the world. It is found wild occasionally with its parent species.
Peppermint has a long tradition of medicinal use, with archaeological evidence placing its use at least as far back as ten thousand years ago.
Peppermint has a high menthol content, and is often used as tea and for flavouring ice cream, confectionery, chewing gum, and toothpaste. The oil also contains menthone and menthyl esters, particularly menthyl acetate. It is the oldest and most popular flavour of mint-flavoured confectionery. Peppermint can also be found in some shampoos and soaps, which give the hair a minty scent and produce a cooling sensation on the skin.
In 2007, Italian investigators reported that 75% of the patients in their study who took peppermint oil capsules for four weeks had a major reduction in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms, compared with just 38% of those who took a placebo. A second study in 2010, conducted in Iran, found similar results.
Similarly, some poorly designed earlier trials found that peppermint oil has the ability to reduce colicky abdominal pain due to IBS with an NNT (number needed to treat) around 3.1, but the oil is an irritant to the stomach in the quantity required and therefore needs wrapping for delayed release in the intestine. This could also be achieved by using the whole herb or leaves rather than the volatile components alone. Peppermint relaxes the gastro-esophageal sphincter, thus promoting belching.
Peppermint flowers are large nectar producers and honey bees as well as other nectar harvesting organisms forage them heavily. A mild, pleasant varietal honey can be produced if there is a sufficient area of plants.