Peppermints and Memory – Fact or Fiction?

A new school year is about to start. Soon, young scholars will be back behind desks trying to remember odd facts, but summer brains can be rusty and may need help. Perhaps the teachers will pass out peppermint candies. That always helps . . . or does it . . . and how? What’s the link between mints and memory?

In 1990, the University of Cincinnati and the Catholic University of America co-authored a paper suggesting that the smell of peppermint, as well as lily of the valley, could improve attentiveness at certain tasks. Their study included 36 people . . . which is not a large number of people. Nevertheless, their soft, soft, squishy, pre-chewed, baby-bottom science inspired other papers that have likewise drawn correlations between the smell of peppermint and memory or attention. One such paper from 2008, suggests peppermint aroma actually has no affect on alertness but can somehow improve memory through “pharmacological, cognitive, and emotional effects” . . . possibly.

Hard evidence on this matter is lacking. There is some evidence that the menthol in peppermint oil can relax smooth muscles in the intestine, and peppermint oil can repel certain insects. So mints may help if a student has an upset stomach or if they’re being attacked by a swarm of mosquitoes. Any other benefits are likely due to the sugar in the mint or a placebo effect.

Brian Rutter, PhD, is the cofounder of Thing in a Pot Productions and a postdoctoral researcher in plant biology at Indiana University. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive our “Things About Things – Odd Facts About Plants” and video production tips in your inbox every month!

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