Peppermint Benefits and Uses

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Peppermint Benefits and UsesEver wonder how peppermint came to be associated with Christmas? Learn the story and more about peppermint benefits and uses with Julie Polanco in this podcast episode.

Peppermint Benefits and Historic Uses

Mentha piperita, a natural hybrid of Mentha aquatica and Mentha spicata (water mint and spearmint), has a long history of use. It was used as a flavoring in sauces and wines, going as far back as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Egyptians used it as a remedy for indigestion and the Greeks and Romans used it to ease stomach issues. It is said that the Egyptians valued it so much that they used it as currency. By 1240, it appeared in the Icelandic Pharmacopoeia as an herbal remedy and indeed, the monks used it as tooth polisher among its other common uses. Cheesemakers saw that one of the peppermint benefits was that it kept the rats away.

By the 1700’s, Europeans expanded peppermint benefits to include other stomach ailments such as nausea, vomiting, morning sickness as well as respiratory and menstrual disorders. In modern times it appears in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia as a remedy for intestinal colic, gas, colds, morning sickness, and menstruation pain.

The cultivation of peppermint started in Europe but expanded to North America as settlers came. The American natives knew of mint and were already using it, but they used a different species. Today, the United States produces 75% of the world’s supply, with most coming from Michigan.

Peppermint and Christmas

The traditional legend is that a German church choirmaster in the late 1600’s gave candies in the shape of shepherd’s staffs to the children to keep them quiet. At that time, they were white and may not have even been peppermint flavored. But, that is the tale of the cane-shaped candy, although the peppermint flavor wouldn’t be added for another 200 years or so. Most candy was made by hand, so this tradition wouldn’t have spread far. Therefore, it is hard to verify whether this story is true or not.

Listen to the podcast to hear the remarkable story of how a Georgian candy maker started the candy cane tradition.

There are many legends about why they are striped, including that they represent Jesus’ blood. However, it’s more likely that they are striped just to be festive. After all, who wants a plain white cane?

Today, Bryan, Ohio is the candy cane capital of the world and 90% of candy canes are consumed by Americans.

Peppermint Benefits Come from Its Constituents

The whole plant is used for medicinal purposes and people prepare it as a tea and essential oil. The tea and essential oil contain the principal active ingredients of the plant: menthol, menthone, and menthyl acetate. Menthyl acetate is responsible for peppermint’s minty aroma and flavor. Menthol, peppermint’s main active ingredient, is found in the leaves and flowering tops of the plant. It provides the cool sensation of the herb. Peppermint also contains vitamins A and C, magnesium, potassium, inositol, niacin, copper, iodine, silicon, iron, and sulfur.

In addition to peppermint benefits to the digestive system, it also relieves headaches. A 1996 German study showed that a 10% solution of peppermint essential oil was just as effective as 1000mg of acetaminophen in relieving headaches. Another one of peppermint benefits that the German Commission E approves is temporary relief of nasal and sinus congestion.

Peppermint benefits the body in many other ways, too. One might begin to believe that peppermint is good for almost anything. It is generally safe for children and during pregnancy in moderation. It is also an easy herb to grow in any yard. However, the quality of the soil and the climate does affect the menthol levels.

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