The peppermint plant  - for everyday use

This article has originally been published in the “Hortus Magazine” of  December 2015

by Fred Triep  

Toothpaste, chewing gum, candy, tea, in many everyday products we use, peppermint has been incorporated.
Also butterflies are pleased with the peppermint plant. But beware of cramps and palpitations!

naar de Nederlandstalige pagina
(to the original Dutch version)

Peppermint, who does not know it? We eat it like candy, use peppermint leaves in dishes and tea, mint is often used in cosmetics and perfume.

Peppermint is made from peppermint oil that is extracted from the leaves of the peppermint plant. The peppermint plant (Mentha x piperita) is a cross between water mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). The seed of this plant shows little germination, which suggests that the parent species are almost separate species. Because of the bad seed, the plant can only be propagated by growing new plants from rhizomes. A similar example in the animal world, where speciation is nearly complete, we find at the horse and the donkey: they cross with each other, giving the mule and the hinny, but these hybrids have no descendants.

The genus Mint (Mentha) is found in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and North America and is almost cosmopolitan (subkosmopolitisch). Most mint species are present in a humid environment.

Tekening van een pepermuntplant Click on the thumbnails if you want to see the large picture  

Left: A historical sketch of a peppermint plant
Right: A peppermint plant from a city garden in Dordrecht

Photo's: Fred Triep

Doto van pepermuntplant1


Because of the transitions between the various forms, it is difficult to specify the exact number of species in the genus mint. Researchers distinguish thirteen to eighteen species, some of which easily hybridizes in nature.
There are in addition to the peppermint plant more hybrids of mint species known. The false apple mint (Mentha x rotundifolia) is a cross of horse mint (Mentha longifolia) with apple mint (Mentha suaveolens). In addition, there is the whorled mint (Mentha x verticillata), a hybrid of M. aquatica and M. arvensis and ginger mint or slender mint (Mentha x gentilis), a cross between M. arvensis and M. spicata.

The genus Mentha is a genus of the mint family (Lamiaceae), a cosmopolitan plant family. The plants of this family are characterized by two-sided symmetrical flowers, consisting of an upper lip and a lower lip. The upper lip and the lower lip are the result of intergrowth of the five petals. Also the sepals are fused. The leaves are opposite to each other along the stems, which are often square in shape. At the mint species the color of the flower is white to purple.
Many plants from this family possess aromatic substances, which are used as a spice by humans: basil, mint, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, hyssop, thyme and lavender.

The mint species possess fragrant substance as menthol, which ends up in the peppermint oil after extraction of the leaves and stems. Peppermint oil is obtained by steam distillation: the mint leaves are done in boilers with water, in which steam is blown. The oil, which release from the leaves, is carried along with the water vapor. After cooling, the oil, which floats on the water, is separated from the watery substance.

A fresh, sweet taste

Peppermint oil contains menthol, menthone, neomenthol and isomenthol which menthol is the main constituent. Menthol is a monoterpene, an organic compound that would help our body to expel bacteria and viruses. Monoterpenes are volatile liquids, which are responsible for many plants fragrant flowers or leaves. The peppermint oil is used for the production of sweets, tea and toothpaste.

The leaves of the mint are pressed into oil, but also used fresh or dried in food. This gives a fresh sweet taste to the food, with a cool aftertaste. Mint is widely used in the cuisine of the Middle East, as in lamb dishes. In Anglo-Saxon countries mint is used in mint sauce and mint jelly. In addition, mint is used in tea (including the Touareg or Moroccan tea from North African countries) and alcoholic beverages such as mint julep, mojito, liqueur creme de menthe and the cocktail grasshopper.

Allergic reaction

Peppermint oil and menthol are also used as "seasoning" at mouth rinses, toothpaste, chewing gum, desserts and chocolate mint. Peppermint as a candy contains, in addition to the peppermint oil also sugar, gelatin and gum arabic. Mint is also used as a traditional medicinal herb, among others against stomach and headaches. Menthol and peppermint oil are used in the production of cosmetics and perfumes.
Some people may be allergic to products of the mint. This is expressed in intestinal cramps, diarrhea, headache or heart palpitations. Menthol and of the other terpenes oxidize easily in the skin, and the oxidation products are probably the cause of the complaints.
Mint plants are important for certain butterflies as host plant. The caterpillars, for example, of the pale yellow buff ermine (Spilarctia luteum), a moth that occurs from Turkey to China, live on the mint plant.

In the Botanical Garden of Amsterdam (Hortus) you will find besides the peppermint plant also the water mint (Mentha aquatica), which grows in the dune fen among other dune plants.


C. Kalkman
Planten voor dagelijks gebruik- Botanische achtergronden en toepassingen

Angiosperm Phylogeny Group

Mentha- Wikipedia

Pepermuntolie – Wikipedia

Menthol – Wikipedia

Pepermunt (snoep)


This page has been created on
Tuesday 6 September 2016.

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