Gentlewomen and Gentlemen, I would like to introduce to you, His Royal Highness, Prince of Mint. And without further ado, I have the pleasure of handing over the stage to Prince Peppermint: Dauphin of Digestion, Raj of the Respiratory, Archduke of Analgesic and Maharani of Menses.
Well, after writing all that, I’m not sure whether or not, I should be bowing or something. Have I stepped into royalty without knowing it? Well, in a strange way, Mint or more technically, Mentha, as a species of the Lamiaceae family, really is an amazing ‘genre’ of plants that many people have only glanced at, a bit like royalty rolling by in a Rolls Royce, but only seeing a hand waving at the crowd.
A special accolade in the world of herbs is if you are mentioned in the ‘Ebers Papyrus’, and what is that you say, it is one of the world’s oldest medical text still surviving. Here in this ancient of books written by the Priests in 1500 B.C, said it helps with soothing of flatulence, aiding digestion, stops vomiting, and a breath freshener.
It seems that all of the mints were just called, ‘Mint’, and along came a Botanist called John Ray from Great Britain, and he began to distinguish between them, of which I am very glad, because there really is a huge variety of them with so many different smells and tastes, as well as flowers and styles. This should have been taken on by cooks and chefs alike around the world, to explore them and to admire them. Maybe they just missed the ‘hand wave’.
Historically, after the Ebers Papyrus, the next mention of mint comes from the Holy Bible, and in Matthew 23:23, it states, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone”.
After this, it appears to have travelled up into Greece, where it entered Greek mythology and ultimately, the word Minthe became Mentha the name of that genus.
The households of the Greeks and Romans put mint into their milk to prevent spoilage and they would consume mint after their meals to aid digestion. So maybe here is where the term ‘after dinner mint’ came from, or did they get that from the Egyptians?
Pliny the Elder, suggested that mint should be used for reanimating the spirit, and to hang it up around the sick to help with convalescence and “found by experience to cure leprosy, applying some of them to the face”. Pedanius Dioscorides the Greek physician, thought that it promoted lust because he felt that it has a heating, plus a binding and drying quality. (Actually its qualities are dry, cooling and then into warm.) Other Greek physicians prescribed it for dozens of different conditions including Leprosy.
Further around the world, we have the Ayurvedic and Chinese physicians using it also as a digestive aid, and for respiratory issues such as, coughs, colds and fever, as well as a tonic.
Hildegarde von Bingen, 1098-1179 AD, a Benedictine abbess, who attained skills as a polymath, and in herbology, medicine, biology, and natural history, suggested it also for digestion and gout.
Nicholas Culpeper wrote much of mint, giving it many virtues, and I shall try give a quick brief for you.
“It dissolveth imposthumes (Abscess/pus), being laid to with barley-meal … repress the milk in women’s breasts … with salt, it helpeth the biting of a mad dog … it is very profitable to the stomach … a very powerful medicine to stay women’s courses (menses) … to the forehead and temples, it easeth the pains in the head … it is good against the gravel and stone in the kidneys, and the stranguary … cureth the gums and mouth that is sore and mendeth and ill-savoured breath”. (Stranguary – painful and slow urination with feelings of urgency.)
When the early American pioneers came over to settle in North America, they found that the First Nation Peoples were already using the marvellous herb – Mentha canadensis. Using it for conditions like coughs, colds, congestion and pneumonia.
The early Eclectics, now Naturopaths regularly prescribed peppermint for ailments, such as: coughs, colds, headaches, bronchitis and stomach issues.
It was during the 1880’s that chemists distilled menthol out of peppermint, and found that it has good germicidal and anaesthetic properties. From here, it became widely used in many medical preparations such as, insect bites and stings, wounds, scalds and burns, eczema, hives and even toothache. As a chest rub it can ‘draw’ and also it was used for hay fever, asthma and morning sickness.
The Weed Files
Mint has at least 25 different species and 600 hundred varieties from there, and what I would like to share here is that there are some real interesting varieties among them.
A Mentha list of interest
Apple mint – Mentha sauveolens
This mint has a mild and sweeter flavour and really does has an ‘appleness’ to its taste and aroma. Great for cooking. Soft hairy oval shaped grey/green leaves 4cm / 1 3/4″ long.
Basil mint – Mentha piperita var. citrata “Basil”
A fussy mint that likes everything to be perfect. As the name suggests, it can be used instead of the herb basil. Its flowers can also be used well in certain potpourris once dried.
Calamint – Calamintha nepeta
This is one of those plants you put in your garden for one main reason, it flowers beautifully for quite some time, and attracts butterflies and bees and can be used in potpourri. Can be used medicinally, but avoid if your pregnant.
Chocolate mint – Mentha X piperita f. citrata ‘Chocolate’
Yes, this mint really does have a chocolate mint flavour and aroma, what a find if you want to impress your guests.
Common mint – Mentha spicata syn. M. viridis
When you find a mint just anywhere, it usually is a common mint or sometimes called garden mint. This mint is often used in culinary dishes and sauces.
Corsican mint – Mentha requienii
This mint is also known as rock mint, and is the smallest of the mints with 6mm to 12mm / 1/4″ to 1/2″ heart shaped leaves, and can be used decoratively along paths and pavers, cascading and amongst rocks etc., but make sure it gets plenty of shade. It has the taste and flavour of peppermint.
Eau-de-cologne – Mentha piperata var. citrata
An actual mint that really does have an ‘eau-de-cologne’ fragrance. This one is great in the bath.
Egyptian mint – Mentha sylvestris
With bright green wavy lanceolate leaves that are 4cm / 1 3/4″ long.
Ginger mint – Mentha gentilis syn. M sativa
Sometimes called Scotch mint. It has purple to red stem that comes with a ginger/fruity/peppermint fragrance.
Grapefruit mint – Mentha x piperita ‘Grapefruit‘
This is an unusually-flavoured mint that has a tasty tangy flavour. This mint goes interestingly with fish and chicken dishes.
Japanese mint – Mentha arvensis var. piperascens
A mint with lavender like flowers, that has one powerful aroma, if you want to help clear the sinuses, the rub this one together and inhale its fragrance. In Japan they actually call it English mint
Lavender mint – Mentha piperita ‘Lavendula’
This mint is used in teas and potpourris, as well as personal care products. Add it to a cool glass of homemade lemonade.
Liquorice mint – Agastache foeniculum.
Liquorice mint has a strong liquorice fragrance when you crush the leaves, and the beautiful flowers are attractive to bees and edible. It is also known as Giant Hyssop and Anise Hyssop, is said to be non-invasive and grows great to fill up a corner of the garden.
Mountain mint – Pycanthemum pilosum
This mint is not a true mint. Clumping and does not spread, with a refreshing peppermint aroma, this one goes great in drinks that have either oranges or lemons.
Orange mint – Mentha peperita citrata
It has crinkly green leaves with a good fruity aroma
Pennyroyal – Mentha pulegium
This mint is a low growing herb, which has intense aroma. This mint is a great plant for pathways and to use in-between pavers etc., but it doesn’t like drying out. To encourage it to spread, yet enjoy its beauty, mow it after it flowers and you can spread it easily via seed. Do not use this one if your pregnant.
Peppermint – Mentha piperita
Peppermint is sterile F1 hybrid of Mentha aquatica and Mentha spicata, and must be propagated via cuttings, and is famous for its flavour – peppermint.
Pineapple mint – Mentha suaveolens variegata
Its sweet and fruity aroma reminds one of pineapples and is in appearance to apple mint. Less rampant than most, and grows nicely in hanging baskets.
Spearmint – Mentha spicata
I’m sorry, but spearmint is my favourite flavour, generally you could nearly tempt me with its taste and aromas, rich in oil of spearmint. Great for mint-sauce, jelly and julep.
Stone mint – Cunila origanonides
It also comes by the names Sweet Horsemint or American Dittany. Similar in aroma to pennyroyal, it has a real cool mint fragrance.
Rust free spearmint – Mentha rubra raripila
As its name sake says, it is ‘rust free’, and it has amazingly intriguing sweet spearmint fragrance.
Water mint – Mentha aquatica
Sometimes comes by the name Druid’s Mint. Has a intense peppermint fragrance, with beautiful lavender pom pom like flowers, and grows well in water and damp areas.
White peppermint – Mentha piperita officinalis
Has hairy small grey leaves.
How To Use Peppermint
Mint has many uses from the culinary to medicinal to gardening, and really peppermint covers most of them quite well. It can be used to help with many ailments of the body, from acne on the face to haemorrhoids below, you can use it as a hair rinse, for you or your dog, a gentle steam bath for cleansing the face, protecting against insect bites or soothing them after you were bitten, to help heal wounds, burns and abscesses, rub it on areas that are in pain or where your headache is hurting.
It does wonders for many digestive issues such as, colic, nausea and vomiting, gastric spasms, flatulence, a mouth wash and halitosis. Russian women use it to help with scanty or painful periods. Its noted in Russia for increasing your appetite, and treating anxiety, insomnia and hysteria.
Most of these are greatly influenced by peppermint oil, but simply having two to three cups a day of peppermint tea can help too, because you are still consuming the same ingredients.
Simple Peppermint Tea
- Place 1 teaspoon into a cup
- Pour in boiling hot water
- Cover and allow to steep for 5 to 10 minutes
- Take up to two to three cups per day
A stronger version can be made simply by adding more peppermint, this then starts to become much more therapeutic.
Customised Peppermint Teas
You can make your own customise peppermint tea, simply by adding other herbs, such as, chamomile, lemon balm, lemon verbena, a squeeze of lemon or lime combined and ginger, or make a green, black or white tea blend.
Not only can you try these, but why not have a go at making an ‘iced tea version’ especially for those hot summer days.
There are literally dozens and dozens of recipes for mint, that include main courses and sauces to go with them, heaps of desserts such as the famous choc-mint ice cream, yogurt and jellies, cool drinks and hot beverages and teas, so I won’t go too much into how it can be used in a culinary fashion. But I’ll just offer a few different types of ideas.
- Steep 2 handfuls of chopped orange mint in one litre of boiling hot water
- Strain out the leaves and chill the water
- Add 1 litre of pineapple juice
- Add 1 finely sliced orange or lemon
- Add the pulp of two passionfruit
- Add 1 litre of crushed ice
- Ginger ale can be added if you wish but not necessary
- And serve
Chocolate Mint Mousse
- 100g of dark chocolate
- 2 eggs that are separated
- 1 teaspoon of coffee (instant)
- 1 teaspoon of freshly chopped mint
- 4 whole mint leaves
- Whipped cream
- Place the chocolate in a double boiler
- Melt the chocolate until smooth and runny
- Remove from the heat
- In another small bowl beat the egg yolks
- Add the yolks to the chocolate and stir in
- Add the coffee and chopped mint and stir
- Allow the mixture to cool for 1/4 of an hour
- Beat the whites, but not real stiff
- Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture
- Spoon into two containers
- Decorate with whipped cream and garnish with a few mint leaves
- Eat and enjoy
- Place in a bowl: 1/2 cup of sour cream, a squeeze of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of tomato relish, 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped mint and salt to taste.
- Mix until even
- Store in the fridge until ready to serve
- Serve with vegetable sticks or use on freshly cooked seafood
Health Uses of Peppermint
Out of the two most well known mints, Peppermint and Spearmint, most believe that Peppermint is the most efficacious of the two. Most mints function and work the same to some degree, but if you want to use it therapeutically then stay with peppermint.
Traditionally Peppermint has been recognised for many things, and even in these “Science-is-God” times, peppermint is also proven to have useful benefits, such as: Digestive upsets, tension headaches and migraines, helps to open up sinuses and reduce bacterial infections, eases menstrual cramps, reduce fatigue and raise energy levels, improves concentration, and sleep, reduce the affects of allergies, and finally, help some with weight loss and freshens your breath.
A word of warning, some mints varieties must be completely avoided during pregnancy, and the rest avoided during the first trimester.
Any essential oil should be used with caution, as they are very concentrated and mint oils are quite strong. If you have sensitive skin or are allergic to certain plants, it is wise to do a small skin test first. But generally, peppermint oil is usually quite safe to use topically, our family uses it regularly on just about any pain (rubbing it on where it hurts), from tummy and muscle aches to menstrual cramps and especially headaches and migraines, and it works best just as they are beginning, once the migraine is in full swing, it only helps a little. But don’t get it into your eyes.
Peppermint oil in a diluted form can be placed on haemorrhoids.
Peppermint oil is extensively used in aromatherapy for fainting, headaches, colds and flus, difficult breathing, and it is mixed with carrier oils and used in massage, and added to sunflower oil to be used in capsules.
An oil made from pennyroyal mint is very good for ridding yourself, your home or your dog of fleas and mites, even the crushed leaves act as a deterrent to them. Rub the crushed leaves on your skin to deter mosquitos, fleas and mites and other biting insects. This works with most mints, but pennyroyal is best.
Pennyroyal mint oil is very powerful and can be toxic, and should only be used under strict guidance from a professional, and never used during pregnancy.
Dried flowers and leaves are easily used in potpourris, especially due to their aromatic flowers and leaves. A nice potpourri for the bath can be made up of equal parts of lavender, rose petals, peppermint, bee balm, chamomile, comfrey, and lemon verbena.
Gardening Uses of Peppermint
Mint on the whole will always have a wonderful aroma, so planting along and in pathways, garden borders, and just under steps, anywhere where you may walk along and brush up against it can regularly perfume the air. Also, it can make a great ground cover, particularly due to its ‘invasiveness’ meaning that once it has got a hold of the area, it can hang on under hard conditions, preventing erosion. Plus, it can be mowed and used as a ‘chop and drop’, to help with mulching, as well as it attracts bees and butterflies
Companion Planting Mint
Mint goes well with many plants that you may want to grow in your garden, plants such as: cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, kale and radish, onions, tomatoes, beets, broccoli, eggplant and brussels sprouts, capsicum, chillies and lettuce, kohlrabi, squash and peas.
Plus, you can use it with your favourite roses.
But remember that mint is invasive, therefore keep this plant well tamed in a pot near its companion, not in the soil, where it can take over.
How to Grow Peppermint
For most mints it grows to an average of 60 cm / 2′ but depending on the variety can grow from 15cm / 6″ to 100cm 3′ 4″. The plants love rich, moist and loose/well drained soils with a soil pH of 6.5. They can grow in full sun, but I seem to find that they prefer only part sun with some full sun. Most mints are well known to be very invasive, except for a few, so unless you want the mint to take over, it is best to keep it in a decent sized pot, say 25cm / 1′, and keep it near your kitchen back door for easy access. If you really want it in you garden, then you can plant it in a deep pot into the ground, but with at least 2.5cm / 1″ out of the ground. (This method I personally do not trust, just for the record, as runners will jump and make their escape.)
Except peppermint, all of the mints can be propagated by seeds or cuttings. If you wish to grow a range of different mints, be very careful as they can very easily cross-pollinate, so you will need to create means to prevent this or grow from cuttings.
Most choose not to grow from seed, simply because it is quicker and easier to grow from cuttings and division. All mints will grow from seed except for peppermint, and just simply follow the direction of the seed supplier. Make sure you have the exact variety that you want and it is from a reputable brand. Be careful of the seed in your garden, as it may have cross-pollinated with something close by ruining the next generation, otherwise you should be safe.
The cuttings come from the roots, look for a piece of root that has a little node along it. Cut a section of this out and place it in a pot prepared with good potting mix, cover over and water in. Depending on the season seeing new shoots can take different times but in spring, they should take about 2 weeks.
The plant grows into a mass of roots and new shoots, as this is happening, take the plant out of the pot, literally get a big knife, or machete (if its really big) or similar and hack it up into smaller pieces. Place these into pots, with good potting mix and water in, care for these until shoots begin to appear and water as needed.
A machete may seem a little too much, but at times I have used hand saws, axes, shovels, mattocks, hoes and large knives to perform such intricate divisions and to cut away root bound plants and trees, seriously! The plant will thank you.
To create and keep thick and lush mints, regularly cut them back about the time the flowers appear, as some species do become a bit scraggly and the branches become woody, unless you are growing a species for the flowers as some are excellent for.
Pest and Diseases
Some pests that may attack mint are spider mites, aphids, loopers, mint flea beetles, mint root borers, cutworms, scale, and root weevils.
Possible diseases are verticillium wilt, leaf spot, mint rust, powdery mildew, stem, root and stolon rot and mint anthracnose.
Personally I find that regular fertilising with good organic pelletised or liquid fertiliser really helps to keep your mints growing great.
Climate and Region
As far as I can tell mints can just about grow anywhere, but in some regions you may need to alter how it lives depending on where you are. Such as creating microclimates that naturally cool, if you are in very hot climates, or keep your mint indoors during extreme cold, although it usually grows back.
If you are in more temperate to tropical regions you can grow and harvest mint all year round, but if you are in very cold climates, then as soon as it comes up, you can begin harvesting. For best flavour, the young and tender leaves and soft stems are the nicest.
Typically, if you are after the leaves and not the flowers, then collect them before it goes into flower, but if you want the flower you only have to wait a bit.
Collect the leaves once the sun has just dried off any moisture from the leaves. If you’re collecting for medicinal value, then make sure the leaves are free of damage, such as brown edges, and disease such as scale and aphids or fungal diseases, plus no insects or their eggs, or any foreign matter.
When drying mint you simply follow the basic rules of drying leaves and these are: spread the leaves over dry paper or cloth towelling, in an open and airy room or at least under cover from the sun. Don’t just heap it up on the towelling, but allow it to breath as it dries, and if you do put it on a ‘little’ thick, make sure that you turn it over fairly regularly to remove moisture, prevent mould and dry evenly.
Affective drying should leave the leaves very dry, yet with the same taste, colour and aroma of the original leaf. Store the leaves in air-tight glass jars, and label them with the product and date. If at any time they become mouldy then throw them out.
The information below is for informational and education purposes only. So please do not “self-treat”. When seeking any ‘therapeutic’ advice always see a Qualified Health Care Professional first.
Leaf and oil
Daily minimum to maximum dosage: 6.0 – 9.0 grams
Spasmolytic, carminative, cholagogue, antiemetic, antitussive, emmenagogue, tonic, antimicrobial, mild sedative/stimulant, anti-emetic, diaphoretic, pectoral, digestive and enzyme activator. Topically – analgesic, antipruritic, antiseptic, and insect repellent
Dyspepsia, intestinal colic, flatulence, flatulent colic, infantile, irritable bowel syndrome – particularly the oil; gall bladder dysfunction, gallstones, gastritis, nausea, morning sickness, sickness, common cold, influenza, cough, nasopharyngeal catarrh, and sinus headache, Plus, tension headache, pruritus, osteoarthritis, neuralgia – essential oil, and inhibits lactation.
Essential and volatile oils – menthol, menthone, cineole, acetaldehyde, limonene; tannins, flavonoids, azulines, and carotenes
Gastro-oesophageal reflux disorder, do not take in the first trimester, do not take with supplements, thiamine, and alkaloids, do not ingest pure ‘menthol’, it can be fatal.
Adulterated with similar species
Please remember, this blog cannot and should not replace a health care professional, and is for informational and educational purposes only and is not for medical advice or treatment, and no cure is implied in anyway. If you have a known serious condition, or are pregnant, please consult your health care professional, before use.
Russell a.k.a Herbal Panda
“The weightier the rock, the more squashed the finger”Herbal Panda