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.
With its distinctive red stripes and peppermint flavor, the candy cane 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, pure concentrated oil or essential oil, comes from the peppermint plant's stems and leaves. It is produced through steam distillation, causing the oil to evaporate out of the plant. When the vapor cools and condenses, producers separate the pure oil.
While rich in phytonutrients, vital vitamins such as A and C, and antioxidants, the most prominent ingredient in peppermint oil is menthol. It affects the cold-sensitive receptors in the skin, mouth, and throat. It is responsible for the natural cooling-sensation experience when inhaled, eaten, or applied to the skin. That’s why you find menthol used to prepare cough/cold relieving remedies like syrups, lozenges, and nose inhalers.
Peppermint oil is very popular in aromatherapy, the practice of using natural oils to enhance psychological and physical well-being. It’s used to enhance mental alertness and mood and alleviate the symptom of congestion, and aid indigestion.
It turns out that peppermint, with its many uses oil, is quite a treat and not just for the holidays.