Mint, the most familiar herb to people all around the world. The mentha family refers to a group of around 15-20 plant species. Some are best used for cooking while others are mostly used medicinally.
Mint plants contain an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent called rosmarinic, which has been studied for its effectiveness in relieving seasonal allergy symptoms.
The three most recognized types of mint are peppermint, spearmint, and pennyroyal.
Peppermint– the spicy mint. A hybrid plant known for its pungent flavor and smell. This type of mint is the source of medicinal menthol in the form of an essential oil for decongestion when used as an external inhalant; antiseptic and a mild anesthetic when used topically with a carrier oil. The leaves and tops are used for teas to help fight colds, aid in digestion, relieve pain from gas and bloating, and a home remedy for flatulence. Considering how pungent this variety is, it also makes a great insect repellant. The down side is that peppermint is a sterile hybrid so you will not be harvesting any seeds from this plant.
**May cause allergic reactions!
Spearmint– the savory mint. Found mostly in cooking recipes, spearmint is less pungent and less irritating than its counterpart, peppermint. It is used also in teas for digestive disorders.
Pennyroyal– can be used as an infusion for indigestion or even as an insect repellant. Not suitable for use when pregnant as this particular variety of mint is known to stimulate the uterus.
** I had a hard time with my research on this type of mint; most information available states that pennyroyal can be extremely toxic in large doses, but also has been stated to be toxic in small doses. Please, be careful when using any herb and always do plenty of research before trying something new.
Growing & Care
For those inexperienced gardeners, never fear! Mint needs no special pampering! It can also be propagated for additional plants through cuttings, so no worry about saving seeds for sprouting. Since it grows best in a partially shaded position, it is also wonderful for windowsill herb gardens, making it easy to keep fresh mint on hand in your kitchen. However, if you are growing mint for cooking, make sure to prune the plant ruthlessly as to avoid any woody stems from developing.
If you have decided to grow your mint plants in an outdoor garden, there are a few things to remember to keep your plants happy and healthy so they will continue returning year after year. Regular harvesting of stem tops will help encourage bushier, fuller growth. Once the plant begins to bloom, harvest the whole plant. In late summer, spread compost over the bed to feed emerging plants next spring. Mint sometimes becomes invasive, but the plants can be contained in open bottom containers about 12″-18″ deep.
Outdoor plants are susceptible to a disease called Rust. If you notice signs of rust on your mint plants, immediately uproot and do NOT replant in the same area.
Properties & History
Physical properties: Square stems with opposite aromatic leaves. Flowers bloom in clusters (whorls or terminal spikes) and are usually purple, pale pink, or white. Produces a fruit called nutley.
Scientific properties: Mint belongs to the Lamiaceae family and originates from Europe, Asia, and Africa. The volatile oils are found in resinous dots located on the stems and leaves. Leaves also contain pulegone and menthol which creates the aroma and cooling effect that is a well-known property specifically associated with mint. Contains vitamins A, C, and B2 as well as calcium, copper, and magnesium.
History fun facts: The name “minthe” originates from Greek mythology.
In Ebers Papyrus, the oldest surviving medical text, mint was mentioned as a stomach soother and is still used for that purpose today.
It has also been used as a symbol of hospitality for millennia.
General Use & Benefits
- aromatic decongestant
- digestive aid
- menthol- local anesthetic
- vascular stimulant
Caution & Warnings
- Pure menthol is poisonous, NEVER take it internally.
- Peppermint and pennyroyal is toxic in large doses.
- Peppermint used in excess may cause allergic reactions.
- NEVER apply mint oil to the face of an infant; may cause spasms that inhibit breathing.
- Do NOT give or intake pennyroyal when pregnant, as stated earlier, it is known to stimulate the uterus which can result in miscarriage.