The history of peppermint is ancient, dating back to Egyptian pyramid eras and the Roman empire.
The name peppermint comes from Greek mythology in the form of a love triangle. As in all Greek mythologies, there are many versions of the story. The most popular one states that Hades seduced the nymph, Minthe, and his wife, Persephone, became enraged with jealousy and turned Minthe into a plant that people would constantly walk on.
Outraged by his wife's interference, Hades imbued the plant with peppermint, so whenever the plant was crushed underneath footfalls, it would release a wonderful aroma. Hades hoped that by doing this, people would remember Minthe and recall how beautiful and full of life she had been. Persephone was furious over her husband's tampering, because Minthe's presence would forever linger in the air as a constant reminder of her presence. In another version, Persephone turned Minthe into peppermint (other versions state mint) as a way to save her from Hades's seduction.
The Beginning: History of Peppermint
Ancient Egyptians used peppermint. In fact, dried peppermint leaves were discovered in pyramids that carbon dated to 1,000 BC.
The Romans grew mint and peppermint in their gardens for its medicinal purposes, especially as a digestive aid. They also used mint and peppermint as a ground cover, especially between stepping stone pathways. They enjoyed the pleasing aroma the plants produced that greeted guests as they entered a home or a courtyard.
Peppermint, a Natural Hybrid
Peppermint is a natural occurring hybrid of spearmint and water mint. The first recorded cultivation of peppermint was recorded in 1750 when a new hybrid was created and grown in London. The first commercial growing of peppermint in the United States began in 1790 in the state of Massachusetts. Peppermint has always been considered a medicinal cure for various ailments, mostly digestive; however there were many other uses prescribed for this special plant.
The Medicinal Value of Peppermint:
- Bad breath
- Headache (applied to temples)
In 1846, peppermint growers in the US began using steam distilleries to replace the older method that required the boiling of the mint in order to release the oils. The peppermint oil was then skimmed off of the top of the water. This new method improved the quality of the oil and enhanced the production of peppermint oil.
Rise to Fame
Over the centuries, peppermint has grown in popularity as more than just a digestive aid, although it's still used for that purpose. A peppermint tea is a great way to ingest the herb. Other uses of peppermint include distilling the oil to produce flavoring. Peppermint flavoring is used in candies, medicines and hygienic products. The United States produces more than 75 percent of the world's peppermint oil.
- Chewing gum
- Cough syrup
Peppermint has some very important nutritional properties as well as medicinal ones. Peppermint is rich in minerals and vitamins.
- B vitamins
- Vitamin E
Mint Stills: Forgotten History
In the mid-1990s, a California history professor, Dr. Ephraim K. Smith, stumbled upon the remains of an old peppermint still in Michigan while he was photographing old barns in Michigan. The lone chimney stack in an abandoned field set Dr. Smith on a quest to document the history of US peppermint growers.
Documenting Peppermint History in the United States
Were it not for the amazing efforts of Dr. Smith and his wife, Donna, to create a four-part documentary film, American Mint, this piece of American history would have remained forgotten. The Smiths spent hundreds of hours talking with mint growers and examining old photos and documents about the old mint distiller companies in America.
Smiths Create a Second Documentary
Dr. Smith began his research by visiting modern-day mint growers in Michigan, Washington and Oregon. The couple produced a second film, The Historic J.E. Crosby Mint Still, by using excerpts from the American Mint film, as an instructional documentary on the growing, harvesting and distilling of peppermint oil. Part of the revenue of this documentary goes to the professor's college, California State University's Fresno Foundation to research, document and even restore buildings deemed significant to the American mint industry.
Peppermint Historical Tidbits
There are many tidbits about the history of peppermint that you may find interesting. Below are just a few.
- 1877: Colgate toothpaste with peppermint flavoring introduced
- Late 1800s: Black Mitchum variety planted in Michigan and Indiana, transforming useless mucklands into productive agriculture lands
- Early 1900s: Wrigley Chewing Gum and Peppermint hard candy, LifeSavers, introduced
- 1900s: Hiram G. Hotchkis (New York) and A.M. Todd (Michigan) became the Peppermint Kings
- 1950s: Verticillium Wilt nearly destroyed peppermint industry and prompted A.M. Todd Company to develop wilt-resistant variety