The History of Christmas Peppermint
Peppermint is an aromatic herb that has been cultivated since ancient times. It has always been prized for the zestful flavor it adds to food and for its healing properties. Who hasn't heard of using peppermint or peppermint-flavored remedies for relieving the symptoms of indigestion?
As far back as 1000 BC, the ancients used peppermint oil. When Egyptian tombs were unsealed, archeologists detected the faint scent of peppermint evidencing the use of incense of peppermint.
Indications of the medicinal use of peppermint oil as a "cure-all" dates back to ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece. As early as 23 AD, it was recorded by historians that Greeks and Romans used peppermint to flavor sauces and wines. Sprigs of peppermint also accented their dining tables.
Peppermint was first grown commercially in Mitcham in Surrey, England in 1750. A variety of peppermint associated with this area is called Mitcham mint.
Early European settlers brought Mitcham mint (also known as black peppermint) to America and began to successfully propagate it extensively. It was first grown commercially in the United States near Cheshire, Massachusetts in the 1790's.
Since then, the oil of the plant has been used to flavor candy, chewing gum, toothpaste and medicine for more than 200 years.
Today's children take the simple little candy cane for granted, but it actually took several hundred years to reach it's current stage of development.
Centuries ago, before the invention of pacifiers, parents gave their babies unflavored white sugar sticks to soothe their mood. During the 1670's, a German choirmaster asked the local candy-maker to bend the sugar sticks to resemble a shepherd's staff. He then passed these candy treats out to the children attending the Christmas service. These "fancy canes" soon became a holiday custom and spread throughout Europe. The red stripes and peppermint flavoring were added around 1900. At the same time the legend of the candy cane came into being.
Legend of the Candy Cane
It is said that a candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would help us to remember the true meaning of Christmas. So, he created the Candy Cane. He did his best to include precious symbols that represented the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.
He started with a stick of pure white, hard candy. The white symbolized the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and the hard represented the Solid Rock, the Foundation of the Church and the unyielding promises of God.
Then, the candy maker shaped the candy into the form of a "J" to represent the precious name of Jesus and the staff of the Good Shepherd with which He reaches down to lift up the fallen lambs who like all sheep have gone astray.
Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candy maker stained it with red stripes. The three small stripes he used stood for the blood shed by Christ who died on the cross to give us the promise of eternal life.
After the candy became known as the Candy Cane, all religious symbolism was lost. Most just enjoy this sweet little peppermint treat as a confection. They are used to decorate Christmas trees, placed in stockings and considered a traditional part of the Christmas celebration.
How we use Peppermint today
In today's society, peppermint is a very common ingredient. From air fresheners to body lotions, our love of this spicy, sweet herb is ongoing.
There seems to be no end to how it is used in recipes for both home and fine dining. Peppermint is added to cupcakes, candy, soufflés, meat coatings, cocktails, milk shakes, cookies and so much more.