Following on from last week’s post on Orange Oil for Aromatherapy Use, I thought that this week I would look at the different types of mint essential oil which are used in aromatherapy. As is common with various species of plants, and the essential oils from which they are extracted from, mint is a general English term used to describe a variety of different mint oils.
I wrote the original version of this article for the Natural Health Ezine but have updated it in this post.
Use of Mint in History
Mint was a common herb in European gardens. However, it is more thank likely that both spearmint and peppermint were used interchangeably and perhaps confused with one another in written medieval texts because I have found conflicting “evidence” of the origin of peppermint.
According to Julia Lawless in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils evidence of the use of peppermint (Mentha piperita) was found in ancient Egyptian tombs; Patricia Davis, in Aromatherapy: An A -Z, also writes that peppermint was used by the Romans and, most likely, the Egyptians too. However, Marina Heilmeyer writes in Ancient Herbs that peppermint was not in existence until 1696, a result of the cross-hybridization of horsemint (Mentha longifolia)and watermint (Mentha aquatica); Lawless writes that peppermint is a hybrid of watermint and spearmint. Whatever the real facts of the story, some type of mint was in common usage both as a culinary and medicinal herb.
Peppermint Oil for Aromatherapy
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is probably the most common and popular type of herb and mint essential oil in use today. Peppermint is a small, perennial herb that has highly aromatic leaves. There are different types of peppermint plants including white peppermint and black peppermint; both have different colored leaves and flowers.
Peppermint essential oil is steam distilled from the fragrant herb; it is primarily composed of the chemical components menthol and menthone. Peppermint oil is used in aromatherapy for acne, dermatitis, asthma, bronchitis, digestive problems, colds, headaches and fatigue.
Cornmint Oil for Aromatherapy
Cornmint (Mentha arvensis) is a much smaller herb than peppermint (by about one third in size); it has lilac colored flowers. Cornmint is native to Europe, China and Japan. It is a member of the Lamiaceae plant family, the same as peppermint and spearmint.
Cornmint essential oil is, like peppermint oil, high in menthol. According to Lawless, peppermint oil is preferable to the use of cornmint oil as cornmint oil is often fractionated (some of the menthol content is often removed to stabilize the oil in liquid form at room temperature). However, cornmint oil does have some aromatherapy uses (very similar to peppermint oil). Cornmint was traditionally used in Chinese medicine for a number of problems including skin complaints.
Spearmint Oil for Aromatherapy
Spearmint (Mentha spicta) is probably familiar to those in the United States because of its association as a flavor for chewing gum. However, it does have medicinal uses too. Spearmint is also a perennial herb but it has bright green leaves and pink/lilac flowers; it is native to the Mediterranean region from where it was transported to America.
Spearmint essential oil is also steam distilled from the fragrant herb; it is not high in menthol or menthone, unlike peppermint oil, which makes it a more suitable alternative to use with children. Use spearmint oil for nausea, digestive problems, colds, fatigue, headaches and respiratory problems.
Cautions for Using Mint Oil in Aromatherapy Practice
Do not use peppermint oil in conjunction with any homeopathic treatments. Peppermint oil might cause skin irritation, due to high menthol content. You should also avoid the use of peppermint oil with and around newborn babies as it might cause breathing difficulties.
Cornmint oil is also not suitable for use with homeopathic treatments.
Spearmint oil is high in ketones and is therefore contra-indicated for use in pregnancy; in addition, do not combine it with homeopathic treatments.
Always dilute essential oils in a carrier oil or lotion base before applying them to the skin. Be aware of any contra-indications for use and if in doubt consult a qualified and experienced professional aromatherapist for further advice.
If you would like to learn more about essential oils and the plants from which they are extracted, consider taking one of the Sedona Aromatherapie courses, such as the Foundation Course in Aromatherapy. For more information, visit the courses home page.
Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK:Thorsons
Davis, Patricia, 1999, Aromatherapy: An A-Z UK: Vermilion
Price, Shirley, Price, Len, 2012, Aromatherapy for Health Professionals, 4th Edition, UK: Churchill Livingstone
Penny Price Academy of Aromatherapy, UK
Author’s own experience and training