Peppermint is a flowering perennial, usually growing between 12 and 35 inches in height. It is native to Europe, and is actually a natural hybrid of spearmint and water mint. The herb is easy to grow in moist soil and is commonly cultivated around the world for its many applications in food and medicine.
The world's most familiar "mint scent" is the aroma of peppermint. In Greek mythology, Menthe was turned into a peppermint plant when Proserpine, in a jealous rage, found out that Pluto was in love with her. Even earlier, Assyrians used peppermint as an offering to their fire god.
Peppermint contains an essential oil that is unique among mints for its quality and flavor. Artificial mint compounds do not effectively duplicate the aroma or medicinal properties.
Peppermint is one of the most popular herbs in teas, candies, and chewing gums. Cultivation and oil production started in the US in the 1790's, and was a major export business by the mid 1800's. The U.S. is still the world's leading producer of peppermint oil, making an average of 4,117 tons annually. Some companies in Japan are said to pipe peppermint oil into their AC system to invigorate their workers and thereby increase productivity.
The essential oil of peppermint (up to 2.5% in the dried leaf) is mostly made up from menthol (ca. 50%), menthone (10 to 30%), menthyl esters (up to 10%) and several monoterpene derivatives (pulegone, piperitone, menthofurane). Traces of jasmone (0.1%) give the oil its characteristically "minty" scent. The aromatic chemicals in the mint are concentrated when the plant is grown in areas with long, warm, bright summer days.
Dried or fresh leaf, and essential oil.
Tea is the most common and best employed use of this ingredient.
The oil is used as flavoring in toothpaste, dental creams, mouthwash, cough candies, chewing gum, and baked goods.
The oil of peppermint offers its cool, refreshing flavor and unmistakable aroma to a wide variety of foods and beverages. In the western world it is a common ingredient for candies, toothpastes, ice creams, pies and other desserts. The peppermint leaf itself is muddled and added to cocktails, and is a popular ingredient in herbal teas when dried.
In cuisine of the Middle East, peppermint is noted for its contribution to savory dishes. It is added to spice rubs which are used to flavor lamb and other meats. It is also blended with yogurts, beans, and cheese.
Medicinally, the German Commission E has approved peppermint leaf for supporting the gastrointestinal tract as well as the gallbladder and bile ducts. It is specifically used to support healthy bowel function. Peppermint oil may be used for aromatherapy, helping to support the upper respiratory system for brief periods during times of need.
The Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs & Spices by Tony Hill