Monday, December 21, 2009
Christmas Herbs and Spices - Peppermint
Number six in the series of Christmas Herbs and Spices is Peppermint. How could we possibly bake without a little peppermint in our cookies and candies? Peppermint oil, used as a flavoring for these delectable sweets, comes from the very invasive herb, Mentha piperita, which is actually a hybrid -- a cross between watermint and spearmint. It has been invading The Great Lakes region since 1843. We tolerate it because it has so many uses and is considered the world's oldest medicine.
Whenever I think of minty treats at Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind is Candy Canes, but where did they come from? And why are they used at Christmastime?
Well, back in the 17th century Europeans began using a Christmas tree as a decoration for their Christmas celebration. They decorated their trees with candy sticks and cookies. The sticks were white and straight, but in 1670 a choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany bent the candy sticks in the shape of a shepherd's hook. He gave them to the children to help keep them quiet during the long Christmas nativity stories. Soon his custom spread throughout Europe and then later came to America in 1847. No one knows for sure who first added the red stripe but they can be seen that way on vintage Christmas cards around 1900. At that same time candy makers began to add the peppermint flavoring to the red striped canes and wintergreen to the green striped canes.
There have been many stories, all unproven, about the candy cane, but this is the one I like the best:
It is said that it was used as a secret symbol for Christians in a time of oppression. The "J" shape stands for Jesus, the red and white stripes are for Christ's blood and His purity. The three stripes stand for the Holy Trinity; the hardness of the candy represents the Church's foundation on a solid rock. The peppermint flavor represents the use of hyssop, another herb referred to in the Old Testament.
Every year we hang candy canes on our tree. Usually I forget all about them, but my husband always remembers his favorite peppermint candy, and adds them to the holiday grocery list. Now that we know the story of the red and white striped sweet, they will be more than just a decoration!
May your Days be Merry and Bright and may all your Christmases be "minty, red, and white."
Don't forget to visit An Herbal Bedfellow for healthy recipes made with herbs, and also my newest blog:
Happenstance House -- A journal about my Victorian home and all of it's contents.