This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
Peppermint (Mentha Piperita), or "Brandy Mint," is of universal acquaintance among all classes through its "sweeties," drops, lozenges, and comforting, fragrant "water," being "familiar in our mouths as household words." The herb is so called because of its peppery, pungent taste, and smell. Preparations of Peppermint when swallowed diffuse warmth in the stomach, acting as carminative stimulants, with some considerable power of allaying the distress of colic, flatulent distension, spasm, or oppressive food. This is through the potent volatile oil, of which the herb yields 1 per cent as Mint camphor.
"Anise and mint, with strong AEolian sway Intestine storms of flatulence allay".
There are two sorts of the Peppermint herb - black, and white - of which the first furnishes the most, but not the best oil. As an antiseptic and destroyer of germs, this oil is remarkably efficacious; on which account it is advised for inhalation by consumptive patients, so that the volatile preservative vapour may reach remote diseased parts of the ultimate lung passages, and may heal by destroying the morbid germs which are keeping up mischief therein. A simple respirator for inhaling the oil vapour can be made with a small square of thin, ductile, perforated zinc plate, bent, and adapted as a little funnel, widely1 open at top to the shape of the mouth, and nostrils, but without any free side apertures; and within the narrow end of which funnel may be secured a small pledget of sponge, or absorbent cotton-wool, for frequent saturation with from twenty to thirty drops of a spirituous essence of Peppermint made with the oil, and spirit. This quantity of the essence should be dropped on the sponge each night, and morning, whilst the apparatus is to be worn over the mouth, and nostrils, (by tapes at its sides to tie over the head) all day, except at meals. The oil, and the essence are of an agreeable odour in a room, and are absolutely harmless.
In France continuous inhalations of Peppermint oil (either by itself, or combined with oil of tar) have come into approved use with much success, even when cavities are present in the lungs, with copious expectoration of the consumption microbes. The cough, the night-sweats, and the heavy phlegm have been arrested, whilst the nutrition, and the weight have steadily increased. "Peppermint" (Dr. Hughes) "should be more largely employed than it is in coughs, especially in a dry cough, however caused, when it seems to act specifically as a cure. It will relieve in this way even the persistent hectic cough of a consumptive patient." Unhealthy external sores may be cleansed, and their healing promoted by being dressed with strips of soft rag dipped in sweet oil to each ounce of which two or three drops of oil of Peppermint have been added. The oil, or the essence of Peppermint can be used of any strength, and in any quantity, without the least harm to a patient. It checks the discharge of unhealthy matter when applied to a sore, or wound, whilst exercising a salutary antiseptic effect. "Altogether" (as Dr. Braddon writes) "the oil of Peppermint forms the best, safest, and most agreeable of known antiseptics".
For obviating mosquito bites, the ablutionary use of Peppermint soap all over the body, or, in default thereof, employing soft soap with which a few drops of oil of Peppermint have been mixed, will prove efficacious. "Take a little of this," says an experienced traveller, "into the hands with some water, then wash therewith the face, the body throughout, and the hands, and let it dry on every part likely to be exposed to mosquito bites." Continental pathologists have found oil of Peppermint highly useful as an internal antiseptic for correcting poisonous intestinal products given off when faecal matters are detained within the bowels so long as to undergo corrupt putrefactive changes, because of persistent constipation. Various skin troubles may result from this cause, such as nettle-rash, mattery pimples, itching, and erysipelatous redness, whilst severe general neurotic rheumatism may eventually ensue until the difficulty is obviated. When crystallized into a solid form as "menthol," the oil, if rubbed over the skin surface of a painful neuralgic part, will give speedy, and marked relief, as for frontal headache, tic doloureux, facial toothache, and other such grievous troubles.
Distilled Peppermint water should be always preferred medicinally, from half to one wineglassful at a time. The stronger, and smaller Peppermint lozenges supplied by chemists are of excellent use when sluggishness of the intestines causes detention within them of the torpid food mass, with putrescent changes, and the giving off of noxious gases for absorption into the body. Two of these lozenges should be then sucked slowly a couple of hours after each more substantial meals of the day. They will serve to act in this manner as preventive of appendicitis from a similar cause. For making "Peppermint drops," take two cupfuls of granulated sugar, half a cupful of cold water, and a tiny pinch of cream of tartar. Boil these together for ten minutes, without stirring, and let the sugar melt slowly so that it may not burn. Add eight (for the stronger Peppermints twelve) drops of oil of Peppermint while the mixture is still on the fire. When removed from the stove mix with an egg-beater until it falls in long drops, then drop quickly on oiled paper.
As an antiseptic snuff for use on the first access of a cold in the head, or against attacks of hay-fever, menthol (in combination with some cocaine?) is found to be promptly, and preventively useful. How glad Sydney Smith would have been to learn this fact! When victimized by hay-fever (in June, 1835) he wrote as follows to the famous Sir Henry Holland, from Combe Florey: "I am suffering from my old complaint, the hay-fever (as it is called); my fear is perishing by deliquescence. I melt away in nasal, and lachrymal profluvia. My remedies are, warm pediluvium, cathartics, and topical application of a watery solution of opium to eyes, ears, and the interior of the nostrils.
The membrane is so irritable that light, dust, contradiction, an absurd remark, the sight of a dissenter, anything sets me sneezing; and if I begin sneezing at twelve I don't leave off till two o'clock, and am heard distinctly in Taunton, when the wind sets that way, a distance of six miles. Turn your mind to this little curse".