Peppermint is one of the most popular scents and flavors in the western world. Why is that, exactly? Because of the candy cane. In 1670, the choirmaster of the cathedral in the German city of Cologne discovered that using peppermint oil as a flavoring agent in sugary snacks was very tasty, and he would give the confections to his young singers to keep them quiet during the Live Nativity. To honor the season and the celebration of the nativity, the choirmaster had the peppermint oil infused candies bent into shepherds’ crooks. That is how candy canes and peppermint became associated with the Christmas season.1
Beyond the holidays, peppermint is a fragrance found in soaps, cosmetics, and lip balms. It’s in candy, gum, and tea. But where does peppermint oil come from and what are the effects of peppermint oil?
The peppermint plant is an aromatic herb and a hybrid mint, a cross between water mint and spearmint. Like most hybrids, the peppermint plant is sterile. It reproduces with its ivy-like runners. If you’ve ever grown a runner-spread mint, you know they are voracious reproducers and quick growers that can swiftly overtake a garden. In many areas, wild peppermint is considered an invasive species because of this rapid and unchecked growth.
On the other hand, the speedy growth of this natural resource makes peppermint oil a highly sustainable ingredient. Peppermint occurs naturally in moist areas where its parent species are found, including places like stream sides or drainage ditches, throughout Europe and North America.
The main chemical components of peppermint oil from the leaves of the peppermint plant are menthol and menthone, both of which create a cooling effect when ingested in peppermint oil capsules, inhaled as peppermint oil vapor, or applied topically to the skin in a base like lotion or cream.2
There’s been little research on the use of peppermint oil in folk remedies and alternative medicine, but peppermint essential oil has been used for centuries for a long list of reasons. Let’s take a look at just some of the many peppermint oil uses.