Peppermint oil is derived from the peppermint plant -- a cross between water mint and spearmint -- that thrives in Europe and North America.
Peppermint oil is commonly used as flavoring in foods and beverages and as a fragrance in soaps and cosmetics. Peppermint oil also is used for a variety of health conditions and can be taken orally in dietary supplements or topically as a skin cream or ointment.
Clinical evidence suggests that peppermint oil likely can help with symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. It may also help indigestion and prevent spasms in the GI tract caused by endoscopy or barium enema. Some studies show that used topically it may help soothe tension headaches and cracked nipples from breastfeeding—but more research is needed to confirm these studies.
When used as directed, dietary supplements and skin preparations containing peppermint oil are likely safe for most adults.
Peppermint oil may cause side effects such as heartburn and it may interact with certain medications. Talk to your health care provider before using peppermint oil.
In dietary supplements, peppermint oil has been tried for a variety of digestive problems including:
Skin preparations containing peppermint oil are used by some people for the following conditions, although, again, there is no clear evidence that they are helpful:
In addition, peppermint oil vapor is sometimes inhaled to treat symptoms of colds and coughs. Also, some doctors add peppermint oil to a barium solution to relax the colon during barium enemas.