Spearmint oil is an aromatic oil extracted from the spearmint plant, known formally as Mentha spicata. Like other members of the mint family, spearmint has a very distinctive scent and flavor, and it can be used in a number of ways. There are a variety of culinary applications for spearmint oil, and this oil is also used in alternative medicine. Worldwide, copious amounts of spearmint oil are used every year, and demand for this agricultural product consistently increases.
To extract spearmint oil, producers typically use steam distillation, in which the oil is forced out of the leaves with the application of heat to make an essential oil. Essential oils are very concentrated, and are typically used sparingly. By contrast, spearmint extract is made by steeping spearmint leaves, flowers, and stems in a solvent such as alcohol, and it is much more mild. Many grocery stores sell spearmint extract for home cooks.
In cooking, spearmint oil is most commonly used to flavor candies. It has a flavor similar to that of peppermint, another famous member of the mint family, but it is slightly less sharp. Home cooks tend to prefer to use spearmint extract, because spearmint oil is so concentrated that it is easy to make a mistake which results in an unpalatable finished product. Spearmint oil is also used in toothpastes and other personal care products like shampoo.
Uses for spearmint oil in alternative medicine include the ingestion of diluted spearmint oil for the oil's nutritional value, because it is high in vitamins A and C. Spearmint oil is also very effective for digestive complaints, including flatulence and diarrhea, and it acts as a diuretic. The oil can be added to teas or blended into herbal tinctures, but it is critical to remember that it must be diluted before use, with only a few drops taken at any given time. It can also be used in diluted topical preparations to treat scalp sores or scaly skin.
Aromatherapy practitioners also use spearmint oil in their work, either diffusing it or applying it in diluted form directly to their clients. It is used to treat headaches, asthma, and fatigue. Spearmint oil is milder than peppermint oil, so it is sometimes recommended for use in children, who tend to be more sensitive to strong flavors and odors. When spearmint oil is used with children, the dosage should be reduced, and the oil should be heavily diluted.
Some people prefer to purchase spearmint oil which has been produced organically, rather than conventionally. Organic spearmint oil tends to be more expensive, but it is produced in a way which is better for the environment, and some consumers feel that the cost is worth it.