Peppermint is so much more than just a simple herb plant that produces oil. It has been used for centuries and pops up often in history books and folktales. There is much to learn about the peppermint plant and the essential oil made from it. Here are some interesting facts all about peppermint.
About The Peppermint Plant
The peppermint plant can grow in most habitats, as long as the environment is moist with partial shade. The plant requires 60” of rainfall a year. It can grow up to 35” tall and spreads quickly. The leaves, which hold the oil, are 3.5” long and 1.5” wide. They are dark green and have reddish veins throughout. Both the leaves and stems have a fuzzy feel to them. The plant flowers during the middle of the summer months, producing purple flowers.
When harvesting peppermint leaves to make oil, it should be done early in the day. The morning dew should be gone from the leaves and they should not be picked if the afternoon sun is out. The sun can dry the leaves and the oil quality will be compromised. Oil that is steam distilled will be the most potent but it is possible to make peppermint oil at home by seeping the leaves in oil or alcohol.
Peppermint In History
The peppermint plant is believed to have originated in Northern Africa and the Mediterranean. It is a natural hybrid between spearmint and water mint. Peppermint has been a popular medicinal and culinary herb for centuries with its first documented use around 1500 B.C. The plant gets its name from Greek mythology. The legend says that Hades had an affair with a nymph named Minthe. When his wife found out she turned Minthe into a plant that would be constantly trampled on. Hades added the calming scent to the plant to remind others of her presence.
Romans used the plant and oil to flavor many of their foods during feasts, including sauces and wines. The plant was also commonly placed on dining tables for visual appeal and worn by noblemen in a braided crown. Peppermint is even mentioned in the Bible. It was worth so much at the time that it was used as a form of currency when paying taxes. It is also believed to have been served at The Last Supper.
Europe quickly took a liking to peppermint once it was introduced. It was grown in royal herb gardens and was used by commoners as well. Once listed in the London Pharmacopoeia along with a list of common ailments that it could be used for, the demand for the oil increased overnight. More acres were dedicated for growing the herb.
Peppermint quickly found its place in the flavoring market. It was the first flavor that was successfully added to chewing gum. This started a mint craze and the flavor was added to mints, toothpastes and mouthwash. It was also a common flavor to add to ice cream and syrups.
- There is absolutely no peppermint in candy canes. Artificial flavorings are used instead.
- 400 pounds of peppermint oil is enough to flavor about 5 million sticks of chewing gum or almost half a million tubes of toothpaste.
- Peppermint speeds up the digestive process by stimulating the gastric lining. Enzymes are then produced which break down food quicker and easier. After dinner mints are not just to freshen breath but to aid in digestion as well. Peppermint is the oldest home remedy for indigestion.
- Dried peppermint leaves were found in an Egyptian pyramid. They were carbon dated to 1000 B.C.
- The Romans believed that the scent of peppermint could increase one’s intelligence and also prevent outbursts of anger. Royal ambassadors were known to carry a sprig of mint with them at all times.
- The ancient Hebrews would place mint sporadically on the floors of synagogues because of its calming scent.
- Mint is “Yerba Bueno” in Spanish, which means “Good Herb”.
- Mint is full of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C and B2, calcium, copper and magnesium.
- The public’s love of peppermint has inspired festivals, books and even movies that explain the distillation process, benefits and properties of the plant and oil.
- The smell of peppermint can help with weight loss. When inhaled, the aroma can curb cravings and stop hunger from setting in.
- Mint is a common ingredient in cocktails. Mint mojitos and mint juleps both contain fresh mint. While most recipes call for spearmint, peppermint can be used as well. The menthol will produce a much stronger alcohol taste.
Peppermint oil is used throughout the world today for many different reasons. It is a recommended treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) as it calms the stomach and relieves the individual from stomach pain, gas, diarrhea and constipation. It can be taken in a capsule form or a few drops can be added to water. It is also used in facial cleaners, moisturizers, shampoos and even dental products, like toothpaste and mouthwash.
It is also a well known treatment for chest congestion. When the oil is heated with water to produce steam or added to a diffuser, it can help to break up mucous from colds or other conditions.
Peppermint oil is one of the most popular essential oils, next to lavender oil. The United States is the main producer of the oil but it is also made in England, France and China. The oil from England is considered to be the best quality due to the type of plants that thrive in the environment. Peppermint is one of the most widely studied oils and more of its rumored medical properties are supported by research each year. While it is one of the safest essential oils, precautions should still be taken when using it orally or topically. It should never be used undiluted on the skin or consumed in large amounts. It can be dangerous for infants as it disrupts the breathing cycle.