Pity the poor peppermint, a naturally occurring hybrid of spearmint and water mint. As the ancient Greek myth goes, it got its name from Minthe, who was a river nymph in one of the rivers of Hades, the Greek god of the underworld. When Minthe caught the attention of Hades, his wife Persephone would have none of it. She turned Minthe into a lowly mint plant, which meant her destiny was for others to walk upon her. However, Hades softened her punishment so that when people walked on Minthe they would enjoy a sweet pungent smell.
The discovery of dried peppermint leaves in pyramids carbon dated to 1,000 B.C. indicates that the Ancient Egyptians used peppermint. The Romans also used peppermint to stimulate the appetite. Eventually peppermint was introduced into Europe where it was used for culinary and medicinal purposes.
The candy cane with its distinctive red stripes and peppermint flavor actually grew out of the custom of giving babies unflavored sugar sticks to suck on. In the 1670s a German choirmaster bent the sticks into canes and passed them out to children during Christmas services. From there around 1900, the canes got red stripes and peppermint flavoring.
Over the years, peppermint has been used for both medicinal purposes and to treat indigestion and nausea. Today while it continues to be used as a digestive aid and in medicines, peppermint also is used for hygienic products and of course it’s still a candy treat.
Peppermint oil, which is a pure concentrated oil or essential oil, comes from the stems and leaves of the peppermint plant. It is produced through steam distillation causing the oil to evaporate out of the plant. When the vapor cools and condenses, producers separate out the pure oil.
While rich in phytonutrients, vital vitamins such as A and C, and anti-oxidants, the most prominent ingredient in peppermint oil is menthol. It affects the cold-sensitive receptors in the skin, mouth and throat and is responsible for the natural cooling-sensation experience when it is inhaled, eaten, or applied to skin. That’s why you find menthol used in the preparation of cough/cold reliving remedies like syrups, lozenges and nose inhalers
Peppermint oil is very popular in the use of aromatherapy, the practice of using natural oils to enhance psychological and physical well-being. It’s used to enhance mental alertness and mood as well as alleviate the symptom of congestion and aid in digestion.
It turns out that peppermint with its many uses oil is quite a treat and not just for the holidays.