It’s the Flavor of the Season, but Be Wary of Peppermint Platitudes

December 14, 2022

Peppermint, like Santa Claus, seems to be everywhere you turn at the holidays. And also like Santa, when it comes to evaluating claims about it, the most scientific minds will tell you they need more evidence.

An internet search will turn up all kinds of statements about peppermint’s powers, said Anandh Babu Pon Velayutham, an associate professor of nutrition and integrative physiology at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, “but it is not a magic plant.”

The plant itself is a cross between water mint and spearmint. Fresh leaves can be used to add flavor to food. Dried, it can be used in tea. Oil can be extracted from the plant’s stem, leaves and flowers. Much of that oil, Velayutham said, is menthol and the chemically related menthone, which is what gives peppermint its bracing fragrance.

Mint has had true believers for thousands of years. Roman scholar Pliny the Elder wrote that “the very smell of mint reanimates the spirits, and its flavor gives a remarkable zest to food.” Among dozens of other uses, he suggested mint was “good for the voice when a person is about to engage in a contest of eloquence, but only when taken just before.”

But modern authorities have been cool to the topic. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health says “very little” research has been done on peppermint leaf, and only a small amount of research has been conducted on peppermint oil, mostly focused on irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS.

After one extensive review, Velayutham said, researchers did suggest that peppermint oil could help improve IBS symptoms. But that analysis, published in 2018 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, involved only seven clinical trials with a total of 634 people, and the researchers said the evidence to support peppermint oil’s use was “modest.” (The review noted that peppermint oil comes in many forms. For IBS, it’s usually given in capsules that deliver the oil to the intestines.)

Similarly, Velayutham said, peppermint oil and menthol are promoted as cold remedies. But while menthol can create the sensation of airflow, it has not actually been shown to work as a decongestant.

Some research has hinted that peppermint might improve memory and alertness, but that’s not conclusive, Velayutham said. And although it’s become synonymous with the idea of fresh breath, he said such effects are temporary.

The Food and Drug Administration says peppermint is “generally recognized as safe.” Velayutham said that with the levels most people would encounter in their diet, “it won’t cause any issues. But with the higher doses, definitely, it’s better to check with the doctor.”

This time of year, peppermint may be most likely to pop up in a candy cane. To be clear, that’s not a remedy for anything but a sugar craving. Ingredients vary by brand, but according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one common half-ounce candy cane was made of corn syrup, sugar, peppermint oil and food coloring. Its 9 grams of added sugar would be 18% of the recommended daily value.

Each cane also comes with 50 calories. You’d have to dance the Peppermint Twist about six or seven minutes to burn that off. Speaking of holiday favorites, a 16-ounce peppermint mocha has 440 calories, which is a whole lot of additional twisting.

But for all that, there is no reason to pooh-pooh peppermint plants. Peppermint contains “a fair amount of nutrients,” Velayutham said. According to the USDA, 2 tablespoons of fresh peppermint have just 2 calories and provide 6.8 micrograms of vitamin A, or less than 1% of the recommended daily amount for an adult. It also has 0.16 milligrams of iron, which is about 2% of the recommended amount for men, and almost 1% for women.

Herbs such as peppermint can be used as a healthy alternative to salt for perking up the flavor of many foods. It’s a common ingredient in many Indian dishes, Velayutham said. It’s also easy to grow and can be plucked fresh from your garden whenever you need it.

People who have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, might want to be careful, though, because peppermint can relax the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach, which can lead to heartburn.

Overall, Velayutham said, peppermint might not be magic, but it is safe for most people.

But perhaps as with Santa – it’s best not to ask it to deliver too much.

If you have questions or comments about this American Heart Association News story, please email [email protected].

Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. Permission is granted, at no cost and without need for further request, for individuals, media outlets, and non-commercial education and awareness efforts to link to, quote, excerpt or reprint from these stories in any medium as long as no text is altered and proper attribution is made to American Heart Association News.

Other uses, including educational products or services sold for profit, must comply with the American Heart Association’s Copyright Permission Guidelines. See full terms of use. These stories may not be used to promote or endorse a commercial product or service.

HEALTH CARE DISCLAIMER: This site and its services do not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or call for emergency medical help immediately.



LILANDA, Zambia (AP) — Extreme weather events have hit parts of Africa relentlessly in the last three years, with tropical storms, floods and drought causing crises of hunger and displacement.

Top Stories


A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.


2 Germans, a Spaniard and a Senegalese Killed in Building Collapse in Spain’s Mallorca Island

MADRID (AP) — Spain's National Police on Friday gave details on four people killed when a building housing a bar and restaurant club collapsed on the island of Mallorca.

AUSTIN, Texas  — Families in Uvalde took more legal action Friday on the second anniversary of the Robb Elementary School attack, suing Meta Platforms, which owns Instagram, and the maker of the video game “Call of Duty” over claims the companies bear responsibility for products used by the teenage gunman.

ATHENS - The head of the tax office in Chalkida, Evia and another staff member were detained on Friday after testifying over charges of corruption.

TEL AVIV, Israel  — Egypt said Friday it has agreed to send U.

Enter your email address to subscribe

Provide your email address to subscribe. For e.g. [email protected]

You may unsubscribe at any time using the link in our newsletter.