I have written several articles which have included mints but have not, as yet written a profile solely on mint. There are so many different mints and so much I could write….
Most people recognise a mint growing. Certainly if not by look, by crushing and smelling a leaf.
Peppermint or Spearmint so many minty teas …
Peppermint and Spearmint are the two utilised medicinally most often. However, there are many others….
The scientific name for peppermint is Mentha x piperita. For spearmint, it is Mentha spicata or, sometimes Mentha viridis. You may also see spearmint called simply garden mint.
Peppermint is actually a hybrid between water mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint. Incidentally Moroccan mint is also a hybrid of mints, one of which is also spearmint. You will sometimes see it called Mentha spicata ‘Moroccan’ or Mentha spicata var crispa. This is the mint used in the heavily sweetened tea given in Morocco.
If you enjoy a mojito, this probably would originally have included the Mentha x villosa mint variety. A hybrid between spearmint and apple mint. Mentha x villosa more commonly is known as Cuban mint. Cuba being the birthplace of the mojito. As a result many mojito recipes utilise the easier to source spearmint.
You have probably already guessed… Mints are somewhat confusing. How many mint species are there? Well who knows really. They are a somewhat promiscuous bunch and tend to cross-breed quite easily. Some sources report up to 25 species, while others report as low as 14. Certainly there are hundreds of varieties.
… and the origin of the name …
The word ‘mentha’ is Latin origin. However, the word is thought derived from Greek ‘mintha’. In Greek mythology, Mintha is a female deity or nymph. Nymphs give life to lakes and rivers, sources of fresh water. Places where the mint naturally loves to live! In fact water mint can actually grow in water.
Mint is particularly easy to grow in the garden, though probably best in a pot! A wonderful first aid remedy to have to hand. Grow peppermint or spearmint or a selection of mints if you have space, separately of course!
In the first aid article (link above) I mention use for aching feet and as a pleasing digestive tonic tea. And, of course, it is also an ingredient in a winter tea to keep the bugs at bay.
In a Modern Herbal, Grieve suggests peppermint first appeared in an English spearmint crop around three hundred years ago. However, there is evidence of peppermint being cultivated in ancient Egypt.
Apparently it was officially added to the Pharmacopoeia in 1721. This was following the identification of many medicinal properties.
Utilised in a similar method to smelling salts. Also recommended for the head and memory and as a gargle to cure problems of the mouth. Grieve adds in the fourteenth century, it was believed to whiten the teeth. Possibly it was more beneficial as a breath freshener. Certainly it is a popular addition to toothpastes and mouthwashes today.
Bartram adds Dioscorides reputedly wore peppermint on his cloak to raise his spirits.
One of the miracle remedies of the four robbers vinegar.
Anyone for mint sauce with their lamb roast dinner? Mint sauce has long been an important culinary complement with lamb. Why? Traditionally mint sauce is made with spearmint. Was it chosen for its benefit on digestion? This foodie blog, including the comments section, offers a few interesting theories.
I have never used tincture in my own practice. Preferring tea, aromatic water or essential oil. Some of these uses I have mentioned above.
Peppermint or Spearmint so many minty teas
A carminative and antispasmodic, it is an excellent digestive remedy. Take the tea for difficulties or pain on digestion – colic, indigestion, IBS, flatulence, abdominal cramps. Relieves sickness and nausea. The menthol in the tea helps clear nasal congestion. Be sure to brew the tea in a covered container to retain the volatile components.
The essential oil is widely in use within aromatherapy. Some uses include inhalations for respiratory conditions. In addition, in a massage blend the analgesic properties ease the pain of neuralgia and also in abdominal massage for digestive upset or painful periods. The anaesthetic action makes it useful for ‘cooling’ inflamed conditions. Utilised as inhalation or in massage on temples for headaches. Although, I find mint particularly useful in this instance, if the headache is due to digestive upset, as an abdominal massage.
Bartram recommended five to six drops of the essential oil in two teaspoons of massage base oil for muscular aches and pains, stiffness or sport injuries.
In Season 1 of the television show and the first book, peppermint makes an entrance when Claire first visits Geillis Duncan. Claire was desperate for a young hungry boy to avoid a severe sentence for theft. She convinced Geillis to speak with her husband. Geillis gave peppermint to her husband for his dyspepsia to make her husband more agreeable to reducing the punishment. I assume she brewed him a peppermint tea here.
Energetically peppermint is a herb of Venus. However, I always find it to have a contradictory warming and cooling effect on the body. Most people find small amounts cool and fresh.
Finally, some people, generally those of Choleric or warmer temperament, can find mint tea uncomfortably heating. If you are one of these people try spearmint. It is milder in action and often better tolerated.