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The History of Candy Canes and The Benefits of Peppermint

December 31st, 2012 Seasonal

When you think of Christmas, images of candy canes may immediately spring to mind. People use them for decorations and as sweet treats, but how they came to be associated with the Christmas holiday is a story rich with history.

When Europeans started using Christmas trees in the 17th century, they often embellished them with food (this is why you see some people stringing popcorn on their trees). Around this time, straight white sticks of sugar candy were being consumed by the masses, and many people began using them to decorate their festive shrubbery.

Around 1670, in the Cologne Cathedral, the choirmaster was directing a live nativity scene to celebrate the Christmas holiday. Legend has it that he had these white candy sticks bent into the shape of shepherd's crooks and passed them out to the children who attended the ceremonies. This soon became a coveted tradition.

Candy canes on Christmas trees started appearing in the U.S. in the 1800s, but they were still white, and according to CandyCaneFacts.com, if you look at Christmas cards from the 19th century, you'll see images of stripeless candy canes.

In the early 1900s the canes began to appear with red stripes, which some say had religious connotations. People say the white represents Jesus' purity and his virgin birth. The bold red stripe is said to indicate God's love, while the three smaller stripes represent the Holy Trinity. Others insist that the red symbolizes Jesus' blood. As for the shape, one theory is that its "J" shape stands for Jesus, while others believe that the bent peppermint stick is intended to mimic the shape of a shepherd's staff - Jesus was thought of as a shepherd of the people.

The peppermint flavor is also said to have its roots in religion. Its flavor is similar to hyssop, which is also a member of the mint family. Hyssop was used in the Old Testament of the Bible for purification and sacrifice. A candy cane's flavor is said to represent the purity of Jesus and the sacrifice he made.

Today, candy canes have less to do with religious connotations and more to do with symbolism of the Christmas holiday. While the traditional red and white colors still adorn many candy canes, the bent candy sticks now come in a variety of colors that range from pink to green to yellow.

While you may indulge in candy canes to satiate your sweet tooth, peppermint has proved to have numerous health benefits. According to Harvard Medical School, it can help relieve abdominal cramping, bloating and other symptoms related to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). One theory of why it works is that it blocks calcium channels, which in turn relaxes the intestine.

The oil in peppermint - menthol - is helpful for many other ailments as well, from muscle tension to cold symptoms. Its ability to help clear out the respiratory system makes it a key ingredient in cough drops, and it is often included in pain relief cream due to its cooling properties.

There are many methods in which you can utilize peppermint oil in order to unlock its healing properties. Newsmax suggests rubbing peppermint oil on your chest or inhaling it with a vaporizer to treat a cold, while sniffing a few drops of it rubbed onto your wrist can do wonders for a pounding headache.

The source further reports that peppermint can also be used to help relieve stress, and simply applying some to your body before you hop in the shower is a great way to relieve the inner and outer tension you might feel after a long day at work.