Peppermint is thought to be a natural hybrid herb of spearmint and water mint. Peppermint is just one type of the hundreds of different kinds of mint in the world, including apple mint and forest mint. The origins of peppermint are a little confusing to historians since there seems to be documentation that contradicts others.While it is believed to have originated in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean, it appears in other locations throughout history. It is mentioned in an Egyptian medical text Ebers Papyrus, dated 1550 B.C., that tells of its capabilities to calm the stomach. Dried peppermint was found in an Egyptian pyramid. It was carbon dated to 1000 B.C.
Regardless of its true origins, peppermint has been a popular medicinal and culinary herb for centuries. The plant gets its name from Greek mythology. There are several versions of the story but the most popular says that Hades came upon a river nymph named Minthe and was overcome by her presence. He seduced her but when his wife Persephone found out she turned Minthe into a plant so that she would be walked on for the remainder of her days. Hades could not undo the spell so he altered it by giving the plant a sweet smell so that people would be reminded of her beauty.
Pliny, a Roman scientist and historian, documented that peppermint was used to flavor sauces and even wines. Peppermint was also a common centerpiece for tables during large feasts. The leaves were also used for making crowns for noblemen. Many philosophers at the time considered mint to be a discouragement to sexual behavior. But the Greeks believed the opposite and did not allow soldiers to consume or use the plant in any way to prevent distractions.
Peppermint is also mentioned in the Bible and because of its worth at the time, it was used as a form of currency to pay taxes. It is also believed to have been one of the bitter mints that were served at The Last Supper.
Once introduced to Europe, peppermint took off and became a popular herb for culinary and medical purposes. It was mentioned as an herbal remedy as early as 1240 A.D. in the Icelandic Pharmocopoeias. During the Middle Ages, monks used peppermint as a tooth polisher. During the same time period, cheese makers discovered that the strong scent of the oil kept mice and rats out of their buildings.
In 1721 peppermint was listed as a distinct species in the London Pharmacopoeia along with a list of ailments that the herb could treat, including sores, venereal diseases, colds and headaches. Because of this documentation, the popularity of the herb spread and is still used to treat many of these same issues today.
The first commercial gum was produced and sold in 1848. Many tried to improve on the concept and some of the first gum ingredients were charcoal and chalk, which left a less than ideal flavor. In 1880, William White started incorporating sugar and corn syrup into existing chewing gum ingredients. He also added peppermint extract and quickly realized the staying power of the flavor. The first peppermint gum, named Yucatan, paved the way for the next generations of flavored chewing gum.
It also opened doors for mint to be incorporated into many other products, especially since the herb was so readily available. Mint flavored toothpastes soon hit the market. Mint candies became popular as people started to associate the cool feeling left in their mouth with less germs.
Where Peppermint Has Been Grown
Peppermint started to be grown in England for commercial uses around 1750 but this was not the first time peppermint was used in the country. It was mentioned in written work by English author John Ray in 1696. As the herb grew in popularity, so did the amount of land that was dedicated to its production. What began as just a few acres quickly grew to several hundred acres that were dedicated to peppermint growth. European settlers brought peppermint and other forms of mint with them on their voyages to the Americas and the herbs quickly spread throughout their settled area. They also learned that the American Indians had been using other forms of mint for similar purposes, including as a digestive aid.
It is thought that peppermint cultivation began in the United States in Wayne County, New York during the early 1800s. For several decades this was the only region that produced distilled mint. In 1870, Michigan jumped on the mint cultivating bandwagon and by 1920 was producing 90 percent of peppermint and spearmint oils for the world.
Today, peppermint can be found growing all over the world. There are four common varieties of peppermint, including the wild Black Mitcham and its variations Todd’s Mitcham, Murray Mitcham and Robert’s Mitcham. The United States is still the largest provider of peppermint with a surplus of farms located in Indiana, Michigan, Oregon, Washington and California. In 2010, 71,300 acres of peppermint were harvested in the United States. Despite producing the most, peppermint oil from the United States is not considered to be the best quality. Oil from England is thought to be the best, followed by oil from France. This is most likely due to the slight difference in varieties that are grown throughout the world.
Peppermint is one of the most popular used essential oils today next to lavender. It is used as a natural treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a syndrome that plagues up to a fifth of the population. It is a common ingredient in both over the counter and homemade lotions, shampoos and cosmetic items. Its most common use is for upset stomachs and nausea and is taken orally by adding a drop of the oil to a glass of water. Many use it as a treatment for headaches and chest congestion as well.
Peppermint oil is a common subject in clinical studies that are dedicated to finding natural treatments to common issues, like headaches, colds and muscle pain. These studies help to define the oil’s uses and will keep peppermint’s popularity growing in years to come.