Peppermint extract and peppermint oil (Link for UK peeps!) are used both in baking and in multiple household everyday items to flavor and fragrance a variety of things from cookies and hot chocolate to soap, toothpaste, and mouthwashes.
Peppermint is a sterile, hyrbid plant that’s made up of a blend of watermint and spearmint. First known to be cultivated in England during the seventeenth century, its popularity grew to the point where it’s now cultivated all over the world, though it remains indigenous to Europe.
In the United States,Oregon is the leader in peppermint production, accumulating nearly 35 percent of the nation’s total supply.
PEPPERMINT IN FOOD PRODUCTS
Peppermint has a cool and refreshing menthol flavor, which is why it’s often found in gums, mints, and oral care products since it provides a super clean feeling. Peppermint leaves can also be used to make tea and other flavor extracts. In particular it tastes great with chocolate and is often featured in many baked goods and hot beverages like mint hot chocolate and mochas.
All by themselves, fresh peppermint leaves have just a few calories. It’s always best to source fresh peppermint for food purposes since the flavor will be more intense. When storing, simply wrap the leaves in a damp paper towel and place into a plastic bag. If there are any noticeable dark spots or yellowing, that’s your clue that it’s time to throw them out. Dried mint or peppermint extract can remain good for up to twelve months if kept in a cool dark place.
The antimicrobial properties in peppermint have been seen to impact digestive issues, too. These compounds have been studied for their ability to activate an anti-pain channel in the colon that can reduce pain and spasms. This might be able to provide some relief for upset stomach, diarrhea, gas, cramps, nausea, vomiting, even morning sickness. Gently rubbing diluted peppermint oil on my young son’s tummy gave him instant relief as a toddler.
Another effective way to receive these benefits is by drinking peppermint tea, which steeps the leaves with water for a warming drink. While you can source the leaves yourself, you can also buy boxed tea bags (UK link) to make it more convenient.
I also love adding a minute amount to hot chocolate. And I do mean minute, literally dip a toothpick tip into the oil and stir into your drink. The drop would be so small on a spoon that you wouldn’t be able to see it, but believe me, this stuff is strong! Instant chocolate mint drink.
OTHER USES FOR PEPPERMINT
Peppermint may also be found in your medicine cabinet. Although not a medically-approved remedy, essential peppermint oil can be therapeutic in a number of ways.
Peppermint oil is extracted using a distilling process, and this oil contains a significant amount of menthol and menthone, which together provide a calming and cooling effect on the body. The essential oil is very strong and I would not advise you to use it straight out of the bottle without diluting it in a carrier oil first – simple olive oil or coconut oil are just fine. As a general rule 2 to 3 drops of essential oil per tablespoon of carrier.
Here are just some of the ways it’s been used by people as a natural remedy:
Rubbing some diluted peppermint oil at the temples may ease the throbbing pain of a tension headache in the frontal lobes. Keep it away from the eyes.
When applied topically to sore spots, the cooling sensation can help to soothe tired muscles, an achy back, and painful joints. You can also add a few drops of oil to hot water in the tub for a soothing bath.
Mix peppermint oil with lavender oil (again, diluted) (UK link)to help cool and calm itchiness or redness caused by minor irritations. In the case of bug bites, peppermint has also been tried by some as a natural repellent. Try adding some drops of essential peppermint oil to a water bottle, dilute it, and then spray on your body as a way to turn away mosquitoes. (This also makes a nice, all natural cooling spray for horses in the summer!) You can also spray in corners of the home to try and ward off ants and other insects, too.
The refreshing properties of mint help to provide a cooling sensation that can draw the heat away from sunburns and take away some of the sting after being exposed.
Peppermint has also been seen to act as a natural decongestant and expectorant (which is often why it’s used in vapor rubs to help clear up nasty coughs and colds). Add a few drops of the oil to a diffuser, (UK diffuser link – so much more choice!) and breathe in the mist to help open up airways and possibly alleviate sinus pain as well.
Ever wonder why peppermint is almost always added to toothpaste? It’s for more than just the flavor. Peppermint can help to freshen breath and possibly prevent cavities. Its antimicrobial properties help keep toxins away that could otherwise build up and contribute to dental issues.
Peppermint mouthwash, floss, gum, and mints also do the same trick, as does just chewing on peppermint leaves. Time to stock up on those cute Altoids tins! Beware though, not all mints are made equal – read the label, it must say peppermint oil or extract, NOT peppermint flavoring.
What an amazing oil!