16 Jan

You know that Christmas is around the corner when you see bowls of mint candies everywhere you go, and maybe if you’re like me it is somewhat of an annoyance when it shows up even before Thanksgiving.  Or, maybe you have a bag or two at home for yourself to complete the holiday season!  While most of us currently know peppermint mostly because of its relationship to candy, its beginnings were much different.

Medicinal beginnings

Mentha piperita, Peppermint

The peppermint plant is a crossbreed between the water-mint plant and the spear-mint plant that was first cultivated in England in the late 1600’s.  Prior to its cultivation, mint was used by the Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as a cure for indigestion and upset stomach.  It is unspecified if the mint used by the ancients was peppermint; it could have been spearmint or water-mint, but the benefits are the same. After its cultivation it continued to be used for stomach ailments but also became useful for respiratory infections and female hormone imbalances.

In records, peppermint made its official appearance in 1721 in England.  When European settlers came to America, they found that the native peoples were using different species of mint, but began cultivating peppermint and other mint plants they brought with them.  Today, much of the mint in the U.S. is grown in Oregon and Washington where there is a great deal of moisture.  It will also grow well in some parts of Indiana, Michigan, Idaho, South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin.

The beginnings of mint candy and candy canes are rather unclear and elusive.  One commonly heard explanation for the beginnings of the candy cane is that of a Christian man who wanted to create a candy that would clearly present the story of salvation.  The white candy was meant to represent the purity of Christ, and the red stripes represented the scourging Jesus received before His crucifixion, and the “J” shape is the first letter in Jesus.  This has since been determined to be false but is often still told as fact today.

Another folklore explains that in 1670, the choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral in Germany, wishing to quiet the children in his church during the tradition of Christmas Eve, asked a local candy maker to make them sugar sticks.  In order to justify the giving candy to the children, he asked the candy maker to add a crook to the top, which would remind the children of the shepherds who visited the infant Jesus.  He also used the white color of the converted sticks to teach children about the sinless life of Jesus.  At this time the candy sticks contained no red striping.

So it really isn’t clear why the idea of the candy cane was invented, but we do know that the first candy cane was made by hand.  Machine production began in 1919 in Albany, Georgia with the Mills-McCormick Candy Company, around the same time the red striping was added.  But they still had to be bent by hand when they came off of the machine, causing a considerable loss of product.  In 1957, Gregory Keller patented his Keller Machine, that automated the twisting and bending of the candy.

Today, approximately 1.76 billion candy canes are produced in a year!

Mint will Give you Relief

Peppermint Essential Oil

If you have digestive complaints, mint is a great place to start!  Pure mint essential oil can also be used.  Ingest a few drops in a capsule or rub on the tummy in a carrier oil.

Peppermint oil is sometimes used in topical analgesics as a pain reliever.  Placing a few drops in a carrier oil for dilution to rub on sore muscles can be a great relief.

It also offers anti-microbial properties to help freshen breath and balance the digestive environment.

Use in the air to clean the air and freshen the smell, either in a diffuser or with a couple drops on a paper towel placed wherever it is most useful.

Where to Watch for GMO’s

Sugar, corn syrup and flavorings are the three most prevalent ingredients in generic candy canes.  Sugar and corn syrup are both derived from crops that are largely genetically modified in the U.S., so I would recommend avoiding them when at all possible.

A field trial with GM peppermint was undertaken in 2001, but commercial growth is not yet under consideration.

Where to find Non-GMO Mint Products

Visit my Mint Candy Review blog to find non-GMO candies.

For non-GMO peppermint essential oils visit my review here!