Thursday, December 19, 2013
Also known as: Mint, Brandy mint, Balm mint, Lamb mint, Curled mint
Parts used: leaves, flowers, oil
Meridians/Organs affected: digestive, respiratory
Properties: stimulant, general tonic, antispasmodic, digestive, carminative, cholagogue, hepatic, emmenogogue, febrifuge, antiseptic, expectorant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, aromatic, antiviral, antifungal, anti-parasitic, antibacterial
There are roughly 25 different species of mint. Peppermint is one of the official mints as is spearmint and wild mint. Mint does have a tendency to cross breed with others of its species and so new milder versions seem to pop up all over the place every year. Peppermint is a native of Europe but has been here in the usa for quite some time. It has square smooth stems that get up to 3 feet tall with sharply toothed leaves and white flowers that bloom from July to September. The main difference between peppermint and most other varieties is that peppermint blooms are on spikes whereas most other mints bloom in whorls where the leaves axil. It can be found growing in moist soil, along streams, near wooded areas, etc. As it does spread rather tenaciously, it is best to grow it with other plants that tend to keep it tethered back such as Chinese rhubarb or hostas. The leaves and stems are best gathered before the plant blooms between 11 a.m. and noon from April to June. The flowers can be gathered between August and September from 11 a.m. to noon.
Peppermint belongs to the Labiatae or Mint family. The true mints will have 'Mentha' in their Latin names. Mintho and 'mentha' was part of Greek mythology. She was a beautiful nymph that Pluto, god of the underworld, fell in love with. The story goes that Persephone, Pluto's first interest and abductee whom he had taken at one point to rule over his dominion, became jealous of this new love interest he had and she changed Mentha into a plant which is now known as 'mint'.
This plant has been used for centuries as a culinary and a medicinal herb. Theophrastus spoke of it often and used it to great lengths as did many as an aromatic and to freshen the breath. It has been used in baths, sachets, potpourris as a it does freshen the air and does disinfect. Many churches and temples used it as a strewing herb so it would take care of odors many travelers would bring in with them. It was also used by many in cooking as it has a pleasant flavor and a cooling effect on the body. The leaves were often chewed raw or placed in salads, cooked in soups, stews and was used in sauces for meats, sweet dishes and in jellies, beverages, candies, syrups, gums, etc. Even the commercial world has picked up on its pleasant flavor and its more medicinal qualities as well. As such you will find it in mouthwashes, toothpastes, joint creams, soaps, commercial tea blends, etc.
Culpeper had mint listed for 40 different ailments. Gerard would mix it with a bit of salt for wasp stings and dog bites. Pliny said that the smell of it speeds up the mind and the taste increases the appetite. Parkinson wrote that whether it is used externally or internally it strengthens the body and comforts the stomach. The active component of mint known as 'menthol' has been known to relieve spasms in the intestinal tract and to dispel or alleviate gas. It helps to calm the stomach, help with bile production and thus aids digestion, helps with fevers, coughs, colds, congestion, kidney issues and headaches. In many cultures (Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Chinese) to ease toothaches, tendonitis, diarrhea, bowel issues, colic, hysteria, rheumatism and arthritis. It has also been used to relieve morning sickness and motion sickness. Peppermint extracts and oil have also been shown to be useful against some strains of bacteria and viruses such as herpes simplex, influenza A, staph, candida, strep and pseudomonas acrginosa. The Ojibwa Indians also use it as a blood purifying herb.
While peppermint is a native of Europe, Asia and the Mediterranean, it has been cultivated in the united states since the late 1700's and the usa is the largest producer of mint today. It takes 1000 pounds of mint to produce 1 pound of oil.
Peppermint oil has enjoyed many uses over the centuries-proving it to be worthwhile to keep in the garden. It works primarily on the nervous system as it helps with fatigue and drowsiness. As it is also cooling and stimulating it works to relax tense muscles, ease cramps, reduce inflammation, sunburn and muscle aches and pains. The oil is not supposed to be ingested as it can cause heartburn and in large amounts can be fatal. However, the tea can be drunk freely and it can be used externally as a wash as often as is needed. The oil in the herb can also stimulate menstrual cycles so should be avoided by pregnant women.
As is customary with my posts I have included some links below for your perusal. May it help to expand your horizons and use mint in a new and unusual way!