Botanical and Common Names
- Family Labiatae (Lamiaceae)
- Mentha spp. (a few include the following):
- Mentha aquatica (Wild Mint, Water Mint, Marsh Mint, Hairy Mint)
- Mentha x aquatica (Lemon Mint)
- Mentha arvensis (Field Mint, Brook Mint; Spanish: Poleo, Poleo Casero; Nahuatl: Chichilticxihoitl, Tlalat chietl)
- Mentha arvensis var. piperascens (Japanese Mint)
- Mentha x gentilis (Ginger mint)
- Mentha haplocalyx (Field Mint, Chinese Mint, Corn Mint, Bo He)
- Mentha longifolia (English Horsemint)
- Mentha piperita (Peppermint, Brandy Mint, Lamb Mint; Spanish: Menta, Mentha Montana, Hortela)
- Mentha x piperita (Eau de Cologne Mint)
- Mentha pulegium (Pennyroyal, Upright Pennyroyal, Creeping Pennyroyal, Pulegium, Run-by-the-Ground, Lurk-in-the-Ditch, Pudding Grass, Piliolerial, Mosquito Plant, Squaw Balm, Squawmint Tickweed; Spanish: Poleo Chino)
- Mentha requienii (Corsican mint)
- Mentha rotundifolia (Bowles Mint
- Mentha x smithiana (Red Spearmint)
- Mentha spicata (Spearmint, Curled Mint, Curly Mint, Garden Mint, Mackerel Mint, Our Lady s Mint, Green Mint, Spire Mint, Sage of Bethlehem, Fish Mint, Lamb Mint, Moroccan Spearmint; Spanish: Yerba Buena)
- Mentha suaveolens (Applemint)
Pennyroyal is not to be taken internally.
Peppermint should not be given to children under five.
Do not take the essential oil internally, except under professional guidance. It should not be prescribed for children under twelve.
Very young children should not be given strong tea or rubbed with ointments containing menthol since it could cause them to gag or choke.
Avoid prolonged use of the essential oil as an inhalant.
Mint can irritate mucous membranes and should not be given to children for more than a week without a break and, only then, in diluted doses.
Be caution in taking peppermint if breastfeeding as it can reduce the milk flow.
Pure menthol can be fatal if ingested, and must always be diluted and, even then, may still cause some allergic reactions. Therefore, usage must immediately be stopped if such symptoms as headache, rash, or flushing begin.
Since menthol can stimulate the gallbladder, mint should not be taken if there are gallstones present.
Mint is also contraindicated in those who have a hiatal hernia or heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Menthol can worsen the disease by relaxing the sphincter between the esophagus and stomach, allowing stomach acids to backwash into the esophagus.
The plant is thought to be indigenous to Europe, northern Africa, and western Asia. It was introduced into America, Australia, and Madiera.
Generally, mint is a strongly aromatic square-stemmed annual that can grow to thirty-two inches and produce serrated leaves which are harvested just before flowering. Various species grow naturally worldwide and can quickly take over a garden by sending up new offshoots from their rapidly spreading roots, in addition to scattering seeds far and wide. The species readily inbreeds so they are sometimes difficult to tell apart, but all have a distinctive minty odour and a fresh taste.
In Mexico, the field mint grows wild along the banks of streams and brooks, as well as being cultivated in gardens. The leaves look like mint; but the small, round purple flowers look more like Pennyroyal, for which it is often mistaken. One type of Pennyroyal (Hedeoma oblongifolia or H. pulegioides), is a distant relation, but Mexicans use them interchangeably. The only difference is in the stem with pennyroyal branching out, while brook mint has only one stem.
Peppermint is a perennial hybrid of Mentha aquatica and M. spicata, forming M. Piperita. The essential oil is obtained from the stem of the plant through distillation.
Dried mint leaves were found in Egyptian pyramids, dating from 1000 BCE.
Mint has long been a symbol of hospitality as mentioned by the Roman poet, Ovid, who wrote of two peasants (Baucis and Philemon) who scoured their serving board with the herb before feeding guests.
It also has an ancient history as a strewing herb for temple floors, rooms, places of recreation, and where feasts and banquets were held. Not only was it strewn about to freshen the air, but also to deter mice. Even today, dried mint leaves are a viable alternative to camphor mothballs.
The Romans flavoured their wines and sauces with mint. However, when women, who drank the wine, were threatened with death, secret drinkers would mask their breath by chewing a paste made with mint and honey.
In Japan, mint was so highly prized that they wore pomanders of its leaves.
A monk writing during the 9th century, said at that time, there were so many kinds of mint that he would rather count the sparks of Vulcan’s furnace. Today, there are more than 600 varieties which continue to hybridize. It is said that the best way to select one is to use the nose rather than askin for it by name.
Peppermint was first commercially cultivated in England in the 18th century and taken to America soon after, where they are now the world leaders in production.
Mint was used in England at least as early as the 9th century CE. It was stated that it was good for the stomach as well as for killing worms, curing earaches, healing skin ulcers, dog bites, and head wounds, and increasing the milk supply in nursing mothers. However, other European sources were also convinced that it assured the conception of male children when eaten and acted as a contraceptive when placed in the vagina. (Who would have thought it could be so easy!) However, this is one time that advice should not be heeded.
Poleo is a native American mint that was used medicinally by the Aztecs in much the same way as it is used today. The Aztecs bundled the herb and kept it for use during the course of the year, just as we dry and store herbs today.
It is widely used by Native Americans as a medicinal, home deodorizer, perfume, food and beverage flavouring, and as an ingredient in hair oil. They also used mint, along with Boneset and Sage, in a mixture taken as an expectorant and cough syrup.
The Shoshone and Paiute made a tea from the dried leaves and stems to treat gas.
The Menominee treated pneumonia by drinking a tea made by combining peppermint with catnip.
Most Eastern Woodland tribes boiled mint and inhaled the steam to help relieve head colds, congested lungs, and bronchial and sinus conditions, a practice still held by many today.
The Lakota made a tea from the leaves and a stronger one from the roots to treat headaches.
The Blackfeet chewed and swallowed about a teaspoon of the dried leaves to treat heart ailments and chest pains.
Diluted oil of peppermint was sold as a trade item by trappers and traders to Indian tribes. Since these tribes were already familiar with the herb, they valued the potent oil more. This oil was extracted by distillation in England and sold in distinctive clear, green or blue, glass vials with raised lettering. These glass vials have been found in numerous archaeological sites, including those of the Ottawas, Potawatomis, Arikaras, Chippewas, Kickapoos, Omahas, and Pascagoulas. These sites date from about 1760 to 1850. At an Arikara cemetery near Leavenworth, Kansas, a vial was found buried with a five-year-old girl, likely as a final medicinal offering to take on her next journey. Today, peppermint oil is used in many preparations used to treat burns, sunburns, poison ivy, diaper rash, and athlete’s foot.
- digestive tonic
- increases sweating while cooling internally
- relieves muscle spasms
- relaxes peripheral blood vessels
- stimulates bile secretion
- topical anesthetic (but can also be an irritant)
- volatile oil (mainly menthol [35-55%] and menthone [10-40%])
- flavonoids (luteolin and menthoside)
- phenolic acids
Aerial parts, essential oil
Although there are hundreds of kinds of mint, Peppermint is the one most often used medicinally. Menthol is found in Peppermint and Japanese mint, and is distilled from the oil.
Clinical trials in Denmark and Britain confirmed peppermint’s value in treating irritable bowel syndrome.
Decoctions are used to heal chapped hands.
Leaves are added to bath water, especially the Eau de cologne variety.
Mint teas have long been used for digestive purposes and for relief from heavy colds.
Infused oil is massaged into areas to relieve migraine headaches, facial neuralgia, and rheumatic and muscular aches.
Infusions and tinctures are used for nausea, indigestion, flatulence, colic, feverish conditions, and migraines.
Compresses soaked in infusions are used to cool inflamed joints or neuralgia.
Inhalation of steam with fresh leaves in boiling water eases nasal congestion.
Essential oil can be diluted and used as a wash for skin irritations, itching, burns, inflammations, scabies, ringworm, or to repel mosquitoes. The essential oil can be added to healing clay for poison ivy sores, thereby relieving the pain and itching.
Inhalation of tincture in a saucer of water left in a room overnight will reduce nasal congestion.
Massage oil is made by diluting essential oil in a carrier oil to relieve headaches, fever, menstrual pain, or to ease milk congestion when breastfeeding.
If the leaves are rubbed on a new beehive, it will attract bees.
Pennyroyal is a lesser known species of mint often used in the past. The oil of Pennyroyal is applied to the skin to ward off mosquitoes and other biting insects or strewn in cupboards and beds to deter ants and fleas.
Peppermint is used to increase the flow of digestive juices and bile while relaxing the muscles of the digestive tract. It reduces colic, cramps, and gas, and helps to soothe the lining and muscles of the colon, relieving spastic episodes.
Peppermint is also helpful for diarrhea and constipation.
Applied to the skin, peppermint relieves pain and reduces sensitivity.
Since it reduces nausea, mint is helpful for travel sickness.
Mint can be used to promote sweating in fevers and influenza.
Among Hispanics, members of the mint family, especially spearmint, are used as a home remedy to treat colic, diarrhea, and upper respiratory tract infections. Mexicans use a variety of mints to treat children for colicy bowels.
In northern Spain, mint tea (called poleo) is offered as an after-dinner beverage. Other cultures also have long known that it is a digestive tonic plant. The oils in mint help to break down fats making them easier to digest.
In Latin America, yerba buena (the good herb) or mint is used as a tonic for lingering illneses.
Today, peppermint is preferred in the West, while the Chinese prefer to use field mint and have done so for at least a thousand years to treat fevers, flu, colds, nosebleeds, diseases of the nose and throat, snake and insect bites, and nervous disorders in children. In China, the leaves are often added to salads and vegetable dishes.
In Djakarta, mint grows wild and used for headaches and colds. The leaves are ground with a bit of lime and put on the temples as a poultice to relieve throbbing headaches or are brewed for serious coughs.
In New Zealand, mint is used as a tonic and to treat colds, flu, headaches, colic, gas, and nausea. Oil of peppermint is put on burns to relieve the pain and, when taken on a regular basis, dissolves gallstones.
In India, mint is used to tone the stomach, stimulate the mind and body, rid the intestines of gas, and relieve muscle spasms. There, chutney is not just a condiment, but also a way of taking medicinal herbs. Mint is added to fruit chutneys to be taken as a tonic with every meal. The western practice of using mustard and ketchup came from the Indian chutneys, but these certainly do not possess any of the healthful qualities that the Indian chutneys contain.
The Arabs use mint for many ailments, including skin diseases and as a general tonic. They are also one of the few nations who believed that mint was a tonic for the mind as well as the stomach.