Peppermint is one of those near ubiquitous flavors in modern life, so common that you may never even have given a thought about where it comes from. You probably have some at home though, whether it’s in a pack of gum, a bottle of food flavoring or as an essential oil. You could even have some growing in your garden for that matter. But is peppermint a significant fire risk? Let’s find out.
Peppermint, the plant, is not flammable. The water content is too high for it to easily catch fire. Dried peppermint could be flammable, but doesn’t usually present a major fire hazard. However, peppermint oils and extracts are usually flammable.
Let’s take a closer look at peppermint and see how it behaves around fire. Here’s what you need to know.
Also read: What Makes Something Flammable?
Table of Contents
What Is Peppermint?
Peppermint is a hybrid plant. It was devised by crossing two species of mint together.
Water mint, which, as the name suggests, grows anywhere that’s wet and spearmint. These two mint plants are endemic to most of Europe and the temperate parts of Asia and you can find water mint in North Africa too.
Mint is very popular in cooking thanks to the distinct taste and aroma of the plant and peppermint offers a different touch to its two parent plants.
It is possible to extract menthol from the Chinese version of peppermint, which is a slightly different hybrid from that commonly used in the west.
Despite being a hybrid, peppermint is the most commonly used form of mint and it is found in both cooking and medicine the world over.
It was discovered back in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus (the biologist famous for developing the classification system of all living things) and he thought it was a pure species of mint rather than, as we now know it to be, a hybrid plant.
It will grow nearly anywhere that the soil is relatively moist, and it’s commonly found alongside streams and even drains. It’s worth noting that as a hybrid crop, peppermint is mainly sterile and thus, it produces no seeds. It “reproduces” by spreading out its runners and when they detach, they form a clone of the original plant.
In places where peppermint is not a native crop, such as Australia, the United States, New Zealand and even the Galapagos Islands, it is considered highly invasive as it grows quickly and has few natural predators.
Oddly, the world’s number one commercial producer of peppermint is Morocco which makes 92% of all the commercially grown peppermint in the world!
Is Peppermint Essential Oil Flammable?
Peppermint oil and peppermint essential oil are produced by distilling certain chemical fractions from the peppermint plant.
A large part of this oil is menthol, and another major fraction is methone (the substance that gives mint its minty-taste).
It can be used as a pesticide and has been found to be surprisingly effective at repelling some, but not by any means all, insects. It is an excellent mosquito repellent, for example.
Oddly, it is also demonstrated to repel rodents and people who keep chickens and other things vulnerable to rodent attack may use peppermint oil to keep rats at bay.
Peppermint oil/essential oil is flammable. It has a low flashpoint and is easy to ignite.
It should be used cautiously, especially near open flames. It can a fire hazard in some cases.
Of course, there will be some variation in the flashpoints of peppermint oils as there is no standard definition of what proportion each fraction should occupy in the mix.
However, the approximate flashpoint is 150 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s about 66 degrees Celsius).
This is fairly low, and you should store peppermint oil in a tightly sealed bottle, away from naked flames and sources of sparks.
Fortunately, most people don’t keep huge quantities of peppermint oil on hand and thus, the odds of fire are fairly minimal, if used appropriately.
Can It Ever Spontaneously Combust?
We don’t have absolute confirmation that peppermint oil can spontaneously combust, but we do know for sure that essential oils (with a similar flashpoint to peppermint oil) can.
That means we’d tend to assume that so can peppermint oil. So, don’t dry out a peppermint oil spill with a rag and then just throw it in the trash. It might be an accident waiting to happen.
What About Peppermint Extract?
Peppermint extract is basically peppermint oil mixed with a carrier like alcohol. It is used mostly for baking.
“Peppermint extract” has similar properties to peppermint oil and thus, yes, it is considered to be flammable.
Is Peppermint Oil Hazardous?
Yes, to some extent peppermint oil is hazardous. It’s combustible, it can cause allergic reactions, skin irritation and if you drop it in your eye, you will really regret it.
Is It Good For You?
It is important to note that I am not a doctor, and you should discuss any product that you take with your physician for any purported health benefits.
However, peppermint oil is said to help with indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, colds and cases of flu, headaches and migraines, vomiting (either from chemotherapy or from pregnancy), and to treat chronic wounds.
I would note that the research to back up these claims looks a little flimsy to me, so please talk to a health professional before turning to peppermint for these conditions.