Ginger and peppermint: Two herbal heavy-hitters to treat nausea, naturally

By Jules Murtha | Fact-checked by Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N
Published May 30, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • The rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale, also known as ginger, has been used for thousands of years to treat stomach upset and aid digestion.

  • Studies show that peppermint (Mentha piperita) may be used in complementary medicine to reduce nausea, vomiting, and anorexia in those undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

  • Western antiemetics, such as dimenhydrinate and ondansetron, are also effective treatments for nausea and vomiting. However, they may pose certain safety risks, researchers say.

Nausea and vomiting are unpleasant symptoms associated with many conditions and states of being. Up to 80% of people who are pregnant, for example, are familiar with the churning sensation that sends them running to the bathroom all too well, according to a review in the Journal of Advanced Pharmacy Education and Research (JAPER).[]

But patients that need relief from these symptoms may not always want to reach for antiemetics, due to possible drug side effects such as constipation or diarrhea, headache, and fatigue, among other effects.[] 

In order to help patients naturally curb nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy, postoperative states, and chemotherapy, physicians can point them to two common herbs: ginger and peppermint.

Healing properties of ginger

An ancient herb native to Asia, ginger root has been used to treat stomach upset, nausea, and diarrhea for thousands of years, according to an article published by Mount Sinai Health System.[] Ginger root may effectively reduce nausea and vomiting in pregnant folks, as well as the severity and duration of nausea in those undergoing chemotherapy.

Some of these findings are echoed in other medical publications, as well.

According to authors of a review published by Integrative Medicine Insights, researchers have been investigating the clinical efficacy of ginger in treating nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP) for 30 years.[]

According to the review authors, a handful of studies—all of which looked at the effects of various dosages and forms of ginger—found that ginger effectively treated NVP when compared with the placebo. In order for it to be as effective as possible, the participants required approximately 1,000 mg per day for at least 4 days.

The JAPER review authors posit that ginger’s efficacy is due to a few different key properties.

"Ginger products exert an anti-vomiting effect through several mechanisms … which reduce gastric contractions but increase gastrointestinal [GI] activity as well as anti-serotonin effects."

Forouzan Ahmadi and Yousef Yazdandoust, JAPER 

There is also another remedy that soothes nausea by acting as a gastric relaxant: peppermint.

Properties of peppermint

Not only is peppermint a popular flavoring in tea, toothpaste, and washing solutions, it’s also an effective treatment for nausea and vomiting.

A study published by Integrative Cancer Therapies looks at the effects of peppermint on the severity of nausea, vomiting, and anorexia among 84 patients receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer.[]

Those assigned to the experimental group consumed 40 drops of peppermint extract mixed in 20 cc of tap water once per 8 hours. The control group consumed 40 drops of distilled water mixed in 20 cc of tap water on the same timeline.

The results showed “a significant difference” between the control and the experimental groups at 24 and 48 hours after the chemotherapy (P < .05).

The use of peppermint extract led to a lower mean score of the severity of nausea, vomiting, and anorexia compared with the control group, creating the potential for peppermint to be a valuable tool in complementary medicine.

A cup of peppermint tea offers a pleasant solution for nausea, and is one of the most commonly used herbal medicines in pregnancy. Studies have shown it doesn’t harm the mother or baby, although the herb should be avoided in very large amounts in the first trimester, as it can promote menstruation.[]

The use of traditional antiemetics

Although Western antiemetics are also known to effectively curb nausea and vomiting, some may pose health risks to those who use them.

A 2021 systematic review published by the Journal of Psychiatric Research looks at the misuse of dimenhydrinate (DMH), also known as Dramamine.[]

An antihistamine designed to soothe nausea and vomiting, DMH may have sedative and euphoric effects when taken in large doses (more than 100 mg/day).

It’s possible, the authors write, that heavy, long-term users of DMH could develop a dependence on the drug. The fact that it’s a relatively low-cost OTC medication only increases the likelihood for patients to misuse it.

Overall, the review identified 24 studies that found an association between DMH and the occurrence of seizures, psychosis, depression, intoxication, or withdrawal in those who used (or misused) it.

On top of that, some Western antiemetics may just fall short when compared with the ancient herb of ginger.

An article published by Shiraz E-Medical Journal looked at 148 patients experiencing postoperative nausea and vomiting (PONV) and their response to 1,000-mg ginger capsules and 16-mg ondansetron capsules (also known as Zofran).[]

Researchers found that while both ginger and ondansetron reduced the frequency of vomiting in participants compared with the placebo group, ginger led to significantly lower levels of vomiting in the first two hours post-surgery than its competitor.

The authors wrote that the ginger treatment was “more effective, safer, and less expensive than ondansetron,” noting its potential to substitute for Zofran in future postoperative cases.

All in all, there’s no shortage of treatment options when it comes to soothing nausea and vomiting. Depending on your patient’s preference—and what is accessible to them—ginger and peppermint may be the natural remedies they’re looking for to manage symptoms.

What this means for you

Nausea and vomiting is common among patients who are pregnant, patients with recent surgery, or those undergoing chemotherapy. Research shows that ginger may be used to effectively and inexpensively treat nausea by increasing gastric tone and motility. The menthol in peppermint can also serve as a gastric relaxant, mitigating nausea and vomiting in some patients. Physicians may recommend either of these herbs to patients who are looking for accessible, cost-effective ways to naturally treat nausea.

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