Pep Up With Peppermint
The scent and taste of mint impact motivation and memory
Dr. Linda Karges-Bone
True or False? The scent and taste of peppermint can increase motivation, decrease feelings of fatigue, and improve memory. The answer, according to researchers in the area of cognitive science ( brain research) is True! Mint, always refreshing as a flavor for toothpaste or chewing gum, has the potential to prompt the brain to more energetic, accurate functioning and that is good news for those who work with senior adults and students of any age for that matter. Here’s what the research suggests:
Breathing pure peppermint vapors has been scientifically proven through human performance testing at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.Va., to enhance athletic performance. Whether the reason for the effect is purely psychological or physiological the clinical results showed dramatic improvements in an athlete’s performance. Mood and motivation are major factors in improving an athlete’s performance and the psychological changes associated with peppermint vapors resulted in measurable improvements. Overall each athlete tested noted an increase in speed, strength and endurance, while showing a reduction of fatigue by 25%.
Interestingly, Dr. William N. Dember of the University of Cincinnati discovered in a research study that inhaling peppermint oil increased the mental accuracy of the students tested by 28%.
Diane Ackerman, writing in her best-selling book on the brain, An Alchemy of Mind notes: “We each have our own special aromatic memories, in part because smell stimulates learning. In experiments where children are offered scent cues along with a word list, they remember the words better.”
You might remember that peppermint has a rich history as a healing and restorative herb. Mentha piperita (SM.), its botanical name, was used medicinally by the ancient Egyptians and it is mentioned in the 13th century Icelandic Pharmacoepeias. Moreover, the Greeks and Romans crowned themselves with peppermint at their feasts and adorned their tables with it.
One holistic health site says:” Peppermint has menthol, as it’s active ingredient. Menthol helps ease diarrhea, headaches and colic in babies. Peppermint also contains B vitamins, calcium, and potassium. Peppermint’s essential oil menthol is known to promote digestion and help prevent gallstones. It soothes the stomach lining relieving stomach cramps. The B vitamins in menthol help improve concentration and performance in the brain and nerves.”
How does it Work?
All scents are filtered through the limbic system of the brain, which acts like “Velcro”, attaching meaning and memory to sensory experiences as they filter through the olfactory bulb and then to the pre-frontal cortex. Scents are powerful magic carpets upon which memories and experiences move through the brain. Moreover, the element of menthol in peppermint may enhance oxygen usage by the brain, which boosts thinking and alertness. Whatever the reason, peppermint can be a useful tool to activity directors, teachers, and anyone who needs to motivate others or themselves! Here are some strategies for usage:
1. Provide peppermint oil inhalers for use before exercise sessions to increase motivation and reduce fatigue.
2. Use peppermint tea bags to brew hot or iced tea for a mental boost.
3. Give out peppermint lozenges to enjoy while working on projects or reading to increase mental acuity.
4. Burn peppermint candles in an activity area for a refreshing environment.
5.Leave out tubes of mint-infused lotion to massage into hands or temples for an invigorating snap to the senses.
6. Give away tubes of stimulating minty lip balm as prizes for Bingo or a word find.
7. Ask activity participants to share their personal collections of mint tins to create an interesting visual display. You would be surprised at how many mint tins, even from different countries, one has picked up over the years. Share stories of how they acquired the tins.
8. Provide mint-scented markers to complete art activities.
9. Swirl oil of peppermint into finger paint or homemade play clay for a motivating art experience.
10. Create gift jars of mints of different colors to give away as seasonal gifts.
Pepping up with peppermint is a simple, yet powerful way to improve mood, increase motivation, and induce clear thought. It can add some real “pep” to your activity program.
Ackerman, Diane. An Alchemy of Mind. Scribner. 2004
Karges-Bone, Linda. Beyond Hands-On: Techniques for Using Color, Scent, Taste, Touch, and Music to Enhance Learning. Teaching and Learning Company. 1996.