How many uses of peppermint can you think of? Its sweet, menthol aroma is used in sweets, chewing gum, breath mints, toothpaste and mouthwash. It also makes a wonderful herbal tea, and is used in cooking, adding a light touch to heavy dishes like roast lamb.
Peppermint essential oil is taken from the Mentha piperita, one of around 600 different kinds of mints that have been classified. They belong to the labiatae family of plants, along with other well known herbs like lavender and rosemary.
The oil is distilled from freshly cut, partially dried plant tops, cut just before the plants come into flower so the oil will have the best balance of fragrant tones.
The main ingredient of the oil is menthol. Menthol produces an immediate sensation of coolness, whether inhaled or applied directly to the skin - this in turn makes the body react by speeding blood to the area. The result is a warming feeling, which is why it is so often found in sports creams and chest rubs.
It has also long been recognised for its soothing effects on the stomach. Thus we drink it in a herbal tea after a meal, or consume it in the form of gum or sweets.