Something about candy canes just makes me smile. I particularly love their red-and-white striped pattern as I love stripes, I love patterns, and I love me some red and white! I remember my mom hanging them on our Christmas tree and although I don’t follow her in that practice, I do have a festive vase of them sitting on my kitchen counter every Christmas. Funny thing though, I really don’t like to eat them. I just like to look at them. Maybe I should rethink this though, as peppermint like the kind found in candy canes, actually has some major health benefits.
Are you feeling stressed and anxious during the current and crazy holi-daze? Are you maybe drinking a little more alcohol than normal at Christmas parties? If you’ve said “yes” to any of this, you might also be suffering from a tension headache, commonly brought on by stress and alcohol consumption and oh so common during the holidays. Well, guess what? Peppermint can actually ease those tension headaches! Ahhhh…just breathe!
Yep, study after study show that rubbing a topical peppermint oil on your forehead and temples can reduce headache pain as well as any over-the-counter pain reliever. And it smells so good!
In addition to drinking and stressing more this time of year, you might also be eating more and perhaps even eating things you don’t normally consume. Maybe before you head out to another party or before opening that cookie jar, take a whiff of peppermint oil or even a candy cane as just smelling peppermint has been shown to curb cravings and appetites.
If you do enjoy a little feeding frenzy but then encounter a little rumblin’ in your tumblin’, no worries, as peppermint is also known to tame tummy aches. In fact, the mint can help with all types of stomach problems, including nausea, heartburn, menstrual cramps. and even irritable bowel syndrome. One Italian study found that IBS symptoms were significantly reduced among 75 percent of those who took peppermint oil capsules while an Australian study discovered that peppermint actually activates an anti-pain agent in the colon and soothes inflammatory pain in the gastrointestinal tract.
Tis also the season for colds and flu, but before reaching for cold medicine to clear up your stuffy nose, reach for peppermint instead. Although it may not always open your nasal passages, it magically tricks your mind into thinking it has. The key is menthol, which peppermint is chalk-full of and is what makes all those over-the-counter meds smell so yummy and minty.
If you’re feeling aches and pains or if you’re exercising more to work off those candies and cookies you’ve been eating, you may be a little sore. Peppermint can help here to, as it has a cooling effect when topically applied for muscle ache, stiffness, and even nerve pain.
Another health benefit of peppermint is that it boosts concentration and has memory-enhancing properties. This is good news to all you students out there studying for finals and for anyone finalizing year-end budgets, reports, or simple “naughty or nice” lists. Peppermint scent can actually give someone a mental perk, resulting in greater alertness, increased motivation, and enhanced performance. So powerful is peppermint’s punch, that some schools have been known to out peppermint candy during test periods!
I pretty much swear by my Young Living peppermint oil and use it often. I massage it into inflamed or sore areas and joints to ease inflammation, arthritis symptoms, and tendonitis. I also rub it on my forehead, temples, sinuses, and neck for headache relief, respiratory issues, and general stiffness. If I’m feeling particularly stiff or achy, I might use another essential oil made specifically for injuries, but I always top it with peppermint because it smells so good! Its scent is also I regularly diffuse it.
Peppermint oil also boasts a high concentration of natural pesticides that help repel some insects, including pesky mosquitos. If you do get bit by something, rub some peppermint oil on the bite area to relieve itching.
Finally, let’s not forget about the plant’s cooking qualities and culinary uses. Fresh or dried peppermint, as well as peppermint extract, are common in herbal teas, ice cream, candy, jams and jellies, and many an alcoholic drink. A Moscow Mule or Mojito without mint? Nyet! You could say this is peppermint’s “in” season, as you find it in everything from peppermint Kisses to peppermint bark to peppermint room candles. Peppermint as an ingredient doesn’t’ stop in the kitchen though. It’s a main ingredient in many a chewing gum, toothpaste, shampoo, lotion, and soap.
So why peppermint? No one really knows, other than it’s a natural plant full of natural benefits. Scientifically, peppermint is actually a hybrid mint, meaning it’s a cross between watermint and spearmint. It contains way more menthol than spearmint and enjoys widespread cultivation worldwide. Even in my mom’s flower beds in Santa Fe.
To this day I will pick a leaf off a peppermint plant and eat it, reminding me of doing so as a child. My mom always grew mint in our yard and would use it in her sun tea.
It’s actually easy to grow and will grow almost anywhere. It develops best moist places with part-sun to shade and a good supply of water. Being that it’s a hybrid, it’s typically sterile and doesn’t produce seeds. It grows “like a weed” though by spreading its branches, meaning each new plant grows from a fragment of the parent plant.
But back to the candy cane. Did you know the flavor of peppermint is similar to hyssop, which is also a member of the mint family and was used in biblical times for purification? The shape of the candy cane also religious undertones, as it was intentionally shaped to symbolize a shepherd’s crook, the very shepherds who were among those who witnessed the birth of Jesus and a reminder that like the Good Shepherd parable, Jesus protects us like His little lambs. The red and white colors of a candy cane are said to represent purity and love. And finally, what do you get when you turn a candy cane upside down? The letter J. Whose name starts with J? Jesus!
So there you have it. Candy Canes represent Christmas and they could very well have the healing qualities of peppermint. What’s not to love, right? Now where did I hide that peppermint bark?