Peppermint: The Spicy Mint

Peppermint is a hybrid of spearmint and watermint that occurs naturally. You can find it growing wild all over Europe and North America, though historians believe that its origins lie in the Mediterranean region.

Peppermint was used by the Ancient Egyptians and later on by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Pliny the Elder wrote that both the Greeks and the Romans used peppermint to adorn both themselves and their feast tables. They also used it as a culinary herb, using it to flavor wines and sauces. The Greeks and the Romans valued peppermint for its soothing effects on the stomach.

Both Aristotle and Alexander the Great considered peppermint an aphrodisiac, the latter forbade its use by his soldiers. He felt that consuming the herb would rob them of their will to fight. The Arabs had a similar view of peppermint and served it in beverages meant to enhance the libido.

Icelandic pharmacopeias from the 13th century make mention of the herb.

The first recorded instance of peppermint being cultivated was from 1750 with the creation of a new hybrid in London. A century later in 1846, American peppermint growers began using steam distilleries to extract the essential oil. The steam distilleries provided better oil than did the older method of boiling the peppermint. While peppermint cultivation in the US is believed to have begun in Wayne County New York It would move to Michigan and this is where most peppermint and spearmint oils would be produced by 1920.

Today, peppermint is one of the most popular herbs in the world. The United States is responsible for more than 90 percent of the world’s supply.

Peppermint flavor profile

Peppermint has a strong herbaceous flavor and delivers a distinctive cooling sensation due to the presence of menthol. It contains so much menthol that it is almost spicy hence the pepper in the name. Peppermint far stronger and cooler than its relatives in the mint family such as spearmint and apple mint.

Health benefits of peppermint

Peppermint has a long history of use as a medicine. Its health benefits come from the compounds it contains, which include:

  • Vitamins: Fresh peppermint leaves contain a modest — but still significant — quantity of vitamin C. The herb also contains small amounts of vitamin A and various B vitamins.
  • Minerals: Manganese and copper are two minerals found in peppermint plants. Peppermint contains modest amounts of these two minerals, but it has enough to be considered a good source of them. You will also get calcium and iron in smaller amounts.
  • Perillyl alcohol: Perillyl alcohol is a monoterpene found in peppermint that has powerful health benefits.

The healthy compounds in peppermint can make it useful for treating or preventing conditions like:

  • Cancer: The perillyl alcohol in peppermint may treat or prevent a variety of cancers including breast and prostate cancer.
  • Respiratory ailments: The menthol in peppermint is considered beneficial for health due to its ability to dilate the bronchioles. It can also act as an expectorant.
  • Flatulence: Menthol has carminative effects, which means that it can combat intestinal gas.
  • Foodborne illness: Peppermint’s essential oil — and the menthol component in particular — is effective for stopping the growth of different dangerous bacteria including salmonella.

Common uses

Peppermint tea is considered one of the best ways to consume the herb. Other uses include in cocktails and other beverages. You can add it to a fruit salad where its flavor and cooling effect will enhance the flavors of strawberries, watermelon, and peaches along with that of other fruit. Peppermint pairs well with chocolate, which means that you can use it in recipes for brownies and cakes.