By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
In Part II of The Wonderful World of Mints: Growing & Using Mint in the Kitchen, we covered the various species and cultivars of the Mentha genera and how to grow, harvest and use them in the kitchen. We also learned how to prevent losing the distinctive flavors of specialty mints over time by separating those that have the ability to cross pollinate. Of course, most gardeners already know and love flavored mints for use in food and to create soothing and flavorful teas, but they aren’t just fantastically edible. Indeed, most Mint Family members are highly prized for their nutritive and medicinal qualities, which makes them much more than just an ingredient in tea or toothpaste.
In Part I of The Wonderful World of Mints: Identifying Mints in the Garden, we learned that all mints are not necessarily the classic culinary kind. In fact, true mints from the Mentha genera make up but a tiny fraction of plants that are also known as “mints”. Some of the most common “mints” in the Mint Family (Lamiaceae) include basil, bee balm, catnip, horehound, horsemint, hyssop, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, oregano, peppermint (and their many cultivars), rosemary, sage, savory (winter and summer), spearmint, thyme, and many (many) others.
Take another look at the list above. Of the eighteen herbs listed, I will bet that most of you have on hand, or have grown, at least half of them. Yet these are just the tip of a mighty family that contains the largest number of aromatic, edible, cosmetic, and medicinal herbs on the planet!
While each of these herbs has its own special medicinal properties and specific uses, almost all mints share the following medicinal actions:
Mints are simple herbs with strong medicinal properties. They are commonly found in herbal remedies meant to ease headaches, migraines, fevers, and sore throats. They are also used in formulas used to treat sinus and chest congestion.
Used externally, many mints repel biting insects such as mosquitos (and sucking, chewing insects on vegetable crops!). In a not so uncommon double play, they also can be used to inhibit minor infections and ease the heat and itchiness of bites, stings, rashes, hives, eczema, and other minor wounds. Mentha (minty) mints are specifically used to sooth the pain of neuralgia.
All Mint Family members have strong antimicrobial properties and are often used to inhibit fungal infections such as athlete’s foot.
For many people, taking a cup of classic Mentha mint tea before or after meals helps ease the symptoms of indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), such as heartburn, flatulence, cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and nausea. But keep in mind that not everyone reacts the same way. In fact, a few individuals actually have the opposite reaction. Instead of soothing indigestion and heartburn, it actually stimulates it. Researchers are not yet sure why this occurs, but if classic mint tea seems to aggravate your digestive system, try using spearmint (as opposed to peppermint), lavender or basil instead.
When it comes to the medicinal properties of Mentha mints, peppermint contains a higher percentage of volatile oils and is considered a stronger medicinal herb. As you may know, children have a different metabolism than adults and require smaller, less intense doses of medicinal herbs. Perhaps this is why many children prefer the sweet, mild flavor of spearmint over that of robust peppermint.
As a cosmetic, strong decoctions of Mint Family members are often added to baths to stimulate sluggish skin, relieve fever, sooth dry or itching skin, and calm the nerves. A hair rinse made with the leaves of Mint Family members will leave the hair shiny and stimulate its growth. A decoction of sage will darken brown, auburn or black hair.
Classic mint tea can be taken orally or used externally. Prepare a single cup by steeping 1 to 2 tsp. of dried leaves (double the amount for fresh leaves) in 1 cup of just-boiled water for ten to fifteen minutes. A strong decoction is often the best choice for external uses.
When using Mentha mints (spearmint, peppermint, applemint, etc.) medicinally, keep these contra-indications in mind:
- Mentha mints may slow lactation.
- The pure, essential oil of Mentha mint should never be taken internally or be used in any way by women who are pregnant or attempting to become pregnant.
- The pure, essential oil of mint should always be diluted with water or oil before using externally. Do not take internally at any time.
- Ayurvedic practitioners sometimes suggest that mint be avoided by those with conditions of weakness or excessive sweating.
- Those using calcium channel blockers should consult a professional practitioner before using Mentha mints in medicinal doses.
Mints are fabulous – and beautiful – herbs that fit into just about any kind of landscape you can imagine. What is your favorite Mint Family member and how do you like to use it for food, medicine or beauty?
Related Articles from Show Me Oz:
- The Wonderful World of Mints Part I: Identifying Mints in the Garden
- The Wonderful World of Mints Part II: Growing & Using Mint in the Kitchen
- Essential Herbs: Lemon Balm
- Making Herbal Tinctures: Part I
- Making Herbal Tinctures: Part II
© 2013 Jill Henderson
Excerpted in part from my book:
The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs
The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs is a no-nonsense guide jam-packed with no-nonsense information on growing, harvesting and using 35 of the world’s safest and most flavorful herbs. In addition to the 35 detailed herbal monographs are entire chapters on growing, harvesting and using kitchen herbs to spice up your favorite dish or create healing herbal remedies. This is one book you will turn to time and time again!
Support this blog and buy a book! Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.
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I can’t say it enough – mints are the mainstay of a wonderful, natural garden where butterflies, children and pets thrive. You are doing a good thing reminding us all. Now, I must go get more to add to the few that I have. Thanks for this!
I love your sentiments, Martha – well said! I’m always on the lookout for more mint family members to add to my garden. They’re just so easy, hardy and beautiful!
Very interesting, Jill. I grow over half of those plants you mentioned, every year!
Di, I’ll bet you have a gorgeous garden, too! I’m hoping to add Clary Sage, another family member, to my garden this week! I can’t wait!
Spearmint is wonderful in Lemonade. Blend it together and either leave in the Lemonade or strain them out. Enjoy!
Thanks, Mark. Spearmint lemonade sounds really wonderful! I started a new patch of spearmint and I am definitely going to try that when it gets big enough to start picking on!
Hi Jill, Let me know what you think when you try it. It is a local favorite in my neighborhood :-))
Will do, Mark! Thanks!