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The Mighty Mint Monograph

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Mints are certainly among the first plants that come to mind when I think of herbs.  Several varieties of Mint grow wild or naturalized in the Blue Ridge Mountains where I live.  I was taught to look for square stems, opposite leaves and the scent of mint.  That was easy enough!  Mints smell nice, taste good and have many useful, usually mild, medicinal actions.  I have Peppermint and Spearmint growing in my yard, and Apple Mint all around the meadows and hills.  I mainly just pick some and snack on it as I walk along.  Sometimes, Mint finds its way into salads or a cooked dish.  Very rarely do I make a tea or tincture of Mint, but I use a sprig here and there in a cocktail.  The one thing I never do is make a Mint Julep for myself - I know it is a southern drink and even somewhat of an Appalachian tradition, but it is far too sweet for me and a waste of good bourbon.  Identifying the fragrant Mints is easy, but it took me several years to figure out all the non-minty smelling members of the Mint family that grow all around…. It was quite a surprise to find out that my yard was full of Self Heal or Prunella!

Before we get into the true Mints, Self Heal bears mention.  Plants for A Future states:

Self heal has a long history of folk use, especially in the treatment of wounds, ulcers, sores etc. It was also taken internally as a tea in the treatment of fevers, diarrhoea, sore mouth, internal bleeding etc. In Korea it is used to treat oedema, nephritis, scrofula and goitre. The whole plant is alterative, antibacterial, antipyretic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, diuretic, febrifuge, hypotensive, stomachic, styptic, tonic, vermifuge and vulnerary. It has an antibacterial action, inhibiting the growth of Pseudomonas, Bacillus typhi, E. coli, Mycobacterium tuberculi etc. It can be used fresh or dried, for drying it is best harvested in mid-summer. The plant is experimentally antibiotic and hypotensive.

As for the Mints, they have been used for as long as man has used herbs.  The Ebers Papyrus dates to 1500 BC.  This Egyptian artifact is the most complete documentation we have of early medicine.  It recommends Mint to soothe flatulence, aid digestion, freshen the breath and to stop vomiting.  The Gospel of Matthew lists Mint as a tithe for the Hebrew temple, showing the herb’s importance in the Middle East in his era..

Mint was well known to the ancient Greek and Roman herbalists.  Theophrastus in Inquiry Into Plants makes frequent mention of “Bergamot-Mint”, which we may assume is Monarda, but also mentions the green mints as potherbs.  However, Dioscorides makes mention of several Mints in de Materia Medica.  Of the more fragrant Mints he wrote:

Hedyosmus is a well-known little herb that is warming, astringent, and drying. As a result the juice of it (taken as a drink with vinegar) stops blood, kills roundworms, and encourages lust [aphrodisiac]. Two or three little sprigs (taken in a drink with the juice of a sour pomegranate) soothe hiccups, vomiting, and bile. Applied with polenta it dissolves suppurations. Applied to the forehead it eases headaches. It soothes the swelling and extension of the breasts, and with salt it is a poultice for dog bites. The juice with honey and water helps earache. Applied to women before sexual intercourse, it causes inconception. Rubbed on, it makes a rough tongue smooth. It keeps milk from curdling if the leaves are steeped in it. Finally, it is good for the stomach and fit for sauce. It is also called mentha; the Romans call it menta, some, nepeta, the Egyptians, tis, others call it pherthumerthrumonthu, perxo, or macetho.

Pliny the Elder attributed 41 remedies to mint!

The very smell of mint reanimates the spirits, and its flavour gives a remarkable zest to food: hence it is that it is so generally an ingredient in our sauces. It has the effect of preventing milk from turning sour, or curdling and thickening; hence it is that it is so generally put into milk used for drinking, to prevent any danger of persons being choked by it in a curdled state. It is administered also for this purpose in water or honied wine. It is generally thought, too, that it is in consequence of this property that it impedes generation, by preventing the seminal fluids from obtaining the requisite consistency. In males as well as females it arrests bleeding, and it has the property, with the latter, of suspending the menstrual discharge. Taken in water, with amylum, it prevents looseness in coeliac complaints. Syriatioii employed this plant for the cure of abscesses of the uterus, and, in doses of three oboli, with honied wine, for diseases of the liver: he prescribed it also, in pottage, for spitting of blood. It is an admirable remedy for ulcerations of the head in children, and has the effect equally of drying the trachea when too moist, and of bracing it when too dry. Taken in honied wine and water, it carries off purulent phlegm.

The juice of mint is good for the voice when a person is about to engage in a contest of eloquence, but only when taken just before. It is employed also with milk as a gargle for swelling of the uvula, with the addition of rue and coriander. With alum, too, it is good for the tonsils of the throat, and, mixed with honey, for roughness of the tongue. Employed by itself, it is a remedy for internal convulsions and affections of the lungs. Taken with pomegranate juice, as Democrites tells us, it arrests hiccup and vomiting. The juice of mint fresh gathered, inhaled, is a remedy for affections of the nostrils. Beaten up and taken in vinegar, mint is a cure for cholera, and for internal fluxes of blood: applied externally, with polenta, it is remedial for the iliac passion and tension of the mamillae. It is applied, too, as a liniment to the temples for head-ache; and it is taken internally, as an antidote for the stings of scolopendrse, sea-scorpions, and serpents. As a liniment it is applied also for defluxions of the eyes, and all eruptions of the head, as well as maladies of the rectum.

Mint is an effectual preventive, too, of chafing of the skin, even if held in the hand only. In combination with honied wine, it is employed as an injection for the ears. It is said, too, that this plant will cure affections of the spleen, if tasted in the garden nine days consecutively, without plucking it, the person who bites it saying at the same moment that he does so for the benefit of the spleen: and that, if dried, and reduced to powder, a pinch of it with three fingers taken in water, will cure stomach-ache. Sprinkled in this form in drink, it is said to have the effect of expelling intestinal worms.

Mint was among the herbs that the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlamagne ordered to be grown in the monastic gardens.  By the 800s, the Benedictine abbot, Walfrid Strabo wrote in his delightful book, Hortulus:


I shall never lack a good supply of common mint,

In all its many varieties, all its colors, all

Its virtues.  One of its kind is thought to be good for the voice:

If a man who is often troubled with hoarseness wets his dry

Throat with julep of mint, the roughness will go and the tone

Come clear.

Another kind there is, with different scent

And rather harsher taste, which grows very thick.  Its full

Spread of leaf casts no mean shadow; but like the danewort

it aims high on its strong stem and stretches its wings

Of leaf on every side...

But if any man can name

The full list of all the kinds and all the properties

Of mint, he must be one who knows how many fish

Swim in the Indian Ocean, how many sparks Vulcan

Sees fly in the air from his fast furnace in Etna.

Saint Hildegard wrote around 1100 of Mint:

Spearmint is of moderate and sharp heat, although it is a little bit temperate.  One whom gicht is harming should pound this mint, and strain the juice through a cloth, and add it to a bit of wine.  In the morning, evening and bedtime, he should drink it and the gicht will recede.  Just as salt tempers all food, if too much or too little is added to foods, it is bad, so too spearmint, added moderately to meat, fish, purees or other nurishment, offers a good flavor to that food, and is a good condiment.  Indeed, eaten so, it warms the stomach and furnishes good digestion.

Gerard wrote in the 1500s:

Mint is hot and dry in the third degree. It is, saith Galen, somewhat bitter and harsh, and it is inferior to Calamint. The smell of Mint, saith Pliny, doth stir up the mind, and the taste to a greedy desire to meat.

The Virtues.

A. Mint is marvellous wholesome for the stomach, it stayeth the hicket, parbreaking, vomiting & scouring in the choleric passion, if it be taken with the juice of a sour pomegranate.

B. It stoppeth the casting up of blood, being given with water and vinegar, as Galen teacheth.

C. And in broth saith Pliny, it stayeth the flowers, and is singular good against the whites, that is to say, that Mint which is described in the first place. For it is found by experience, that many have had this kind of flux stayed by the continual use of this only Mint: the same being applied to the forehead, or to the temples, as Pliny teacheth, doth take away the headache.

D. It is good against watering eyes, and all manner of breakings out in the head, and against the infirmities of the fundament; it is a sure remedy for children's sore heads.

E. It is poured into the ears with honey water. It is taken inwardly against scolopenders, bear-worms, sea-scorpions and serpents.

F. It is applied with salt to the bitings of mad dogs. It will not suffer milk to curdle in the stomach (Pliny addeth to wax sour) therefore it is put in milk that is drunk for fear that those who have drunk thereof should be strangled.

G. It is thought, that by the same virtue it is an enemy to generation, by overthickning the seed.

H. Dioscorides teacheth, that being applied to the secret part of a woman before the act, it hindereth conception.

I. Garden Mint taken in meat or drink warmeth and strengtheneth the stomach, and drieth up all superfluous humours gathered in the same, and causeth good digestion.

K. Mints mingled with the leaves of parched Barley, consumeth tumors and hard swellings.

L. The water of Mints is of like operation in divers medicines, it cureth the trenching and griping pains of the belly and bowels, it appeaseth headache, stayeth yexing and vomiting.

M. It is singular against the gravel and stone in the kidneys, and against the strangury, being boiled in wine and drunk.

N. They lay it to the stinging of wasps and bees with good success.

Culpepper, writing in the 1600s tells us:

Government and virtues. It is an herb of Venus. Dioscorides saith it hath a healing, binding and drying quality, and therefore the juice taken in vinegar, stays bleeding. It stirs up venery, or bodily lust; two or three branches thereof taken in the juice of four pomegranates, stays the hiccough, vomiting, and allays the choler. It dissolves imposthumes being laid to with barley-meal. It is good to repress the milk in women's breasts, and for such as have swollen, flagging, or great breasts. Applied with salt, it helps the biting of a mad dog; with mead and honeyed water, it eases the pains of the ears, and takes away the roughness of the tongue, being rubbed thereupon. It suffers not milk to curdle in the stomach, if the leaves thereof be steeped or boiled in it before you drink it. Briefly it is very profitable to the stomach. The often use hereof is a very powerful medicine to stay women's courses and the whites. Applied to the forehead and temples, it eases the pains in the head, and is good to wash the heads of young children therewith, against all manner of breakings-out, sores or scabs, therein. It is also profitable against the poison of venomous creatures. The distilled water of Mint is available to all the purposes aforesaid, yet more weakly. But if a spirit thereof be rightly and chymically drawn, it is much more powerful than the herb itself. Simeon Sethi saith, it helps a cold liver, strengthens the belly, causes digestion, stays vomits and hiccough; it is good against the gnawing of the heart, provokes appetite, takes away obstructions of the liver, and stirs up bodily lust; but therefore too much must not be taken, because it makes the blood thin and wheyish, and turns it into choler, and therefore choleric persons must abstain from it. It is a safe medicine for the biting of a mad dog, being bruised with salt and laid thereon. The powder of it being dried and taken after meat, helps digestion, and those that are splenetic. Taken with wine, it helps women in their sore travail in child-bearing. It is good against the gravel and stone in the kidneys, and the stranguary. Being smelled unto, it is comfortable for the head and memory. The decoction hereof gargled in the mouth, cures the gums and mouth that are sore, and mends an ill-savoured breath; as also the Rue and Coriander, causes the palate of the mouth to turn to its place, the decoction being gargled and held in the mouth.

Mrs. Grieves lists Peppermint and Spearmint under their own headings:

SPEARMINT  Mentha viridis

This common garden mint is not a native of these islands, though growing freely in every garden, but is originally a native of the Mediterranean region, and was introduced into Britain by the Romans, being largely cultivated not only by them, but also by the other Mediterranean nations. It was in great request by the Romans, and Pliny according to Gerard says of it: 'The smell of Mint does stir up the minde and the taste to a greedy desire of meate.' Ovid represents the hospitable Baucis and Philemon scouring their board with green mint before laying upon it the food intended for their divine guests.

Many other references to it in old writings - among them, that of the payment by the Pharisees of tithes of Mint, Anise and Cumin - prove that the herb has been highly esteemed for many centuries. Mint is mentioned in all early mediaeval lists of plants; it was very early grown in English gardens, and was certainly cultivated in the Convent gardens of the ninth century. Chaucer refers to 'a little path of mintes full and fenill greene. '

Turner states in his Herball (1568) that the garden mint of his time was also called 'Spere Mynte.' Gerard, in further praise of the herb, tells us that:

'the smelle rejoiceth the heart of man, for which cause they used to strew it in chambers and places of recreation, pleasure and repose, where feasts and banquets are made.'

It has, in fact, been so universally esteemed, that it is to be found wild in nearly all the countries to which civilization has extended, and in America for 200 years it has been known as an escape from gardens, growing in moist soils and proving sometimes troublesome as a weed.

Parkinson, in his Garden of Pleasure, mentions 'divers sorts of mintes both of the garden and wilde, of the woods, mountain and standing pools or waters' and says:

'Mintes are sometimes used in Baths with Balm and other herbs as a help to comfort and strengthen the nerves and sinews. It is much used either outwardly applied or inwardly drunk to strengthen and comfort weak stomackes.'

The Ancients used mint to scent their bath water and as a restorative, as we use smelling salts to-day. In Athens where every part of the body was perfumed with a different scent mint was specially designated to the arms.

In the fourteenth century, mint was used for whitening the teeth, and its distilled oil is still used to flavour tooth-pastes, etc., and in America, especially, to flavour confectionery, chewing gums, and also to perfume soap.

Mint ottos have more power than any other aromatic to overcome the smell of tobacco.

The application of a strong decoction of Spearmint is said to cure chapped hands.

Mice are so averse to the smell of mint, either fresh or dried, that they will leave untouched any food where it is scattered. As mice love Henbane and often prove very destructive to a crop, it has been suggested that their depredations might be checked if some mint were planted between the rows of Henbane.

It is probable that Spearmint was introduced by the Pilgrim Fathers when they landed in America, as it is mentioned among many other plants brought out from England, in a list given by John Josselyn. When in this country apparently found growing wild, it occurs in watery places, but is rather rare.

Professor Henslow (Origin and History of our Garden Vegetables) does not consider it truly native to any country. He says:

'The Garden Mint (Mentha viridis, Linn.) is a cultivated form of M. sylvestris (Linn.), the Horse Mint, which is recorded as cultivated at Aleppo. Either M. sylvestris, or some form approaching M. viridis, which is not known as a truly wild plant, was probably the mint of Scripture.'

Bentham also considers it not improbably a variety of M. sylvestris, perpetuated through its ready propagation by suckers, and though these two plants are sufficiently distinct as found in England, yet continental forms occur which bridge over their differences.

Its generic name, Mentha, is derived from the mythological origin ascribed to it, and was originally applied to the mint by Theophrastus. Menthe was a nymph, who because of the love Pluto bore her, was metamorphosed by Proserpine, from motives of jealousy, into the plant we now call mint.

Medicinal Action and Uses---Spearmint is chiefly used for culinary purposes. The properties of Spearmint oil resemble those of Peppermint, being stimulant, carminative and antispasmodic, but its effects are less powerful, and it is less used than Peppermint, though it is better adapted for children's maladies. From 2 to 5 drops may be given on sugar, or from 1/2 to 1 teaspoonful of spirit of Spearmint, with 2 tablespoonsful of water. Spearmint oil is added to many compounds on account of its carminative properties, and because its taste is pleasanter and less strong than Peppermint. A distilled water of Spearmint will relieve hiccough and flatulence as well as the giddiness of indigestion. For infantile trouble generally, the sweetened infusion is an excellent remedy, and is also a pleasant beverage in fevers, inflammatory diseases, etc. Make the infusion by pouring a pint of boiling water on an ounce of the dried herb; the strained-off liquid is taken in doses of a wineglassful or less. It is considered a specific in allaying nausea and vomiting and will relieve the pain of colic. A homoeopathic tincture prepared from the fresh plant in flower has been found serviceable in strangury, gravel, and as a local application in painful haemorrhoids. Its principal employment is for its febrifuge and diuretic virtues.

PEPPERMINT: Mentha piperita

Pliny tells us that the Greeks and Romans crowned themselves with Peppermint at their feasts and adorned their tables with its sprays, and that their cooks flavoured both their sauces and their wines with its essence. Two species of mint were used by the ancient Greek physicians, but some writers doubt whether either was the modern Peppermint, though there is evidence that M. piperita was cultivated by the Egyptians. It is mentioned in the Icelandic Pharmacopoeias of the thirteenth century, but only came into general use in the medicine of Western Europe about the middle of the eighteenth century, and then was first used in England.

It was only recognized here as a distinct species late in the seventeenth century, when the great botanist, Ray, published it in the second edition of his Synopsis stirpium britannicorum, 1696. Its medicinal properties were speedily recognized, and it was admitted into the London Pharmacopceia in 1721, under M. piperitis sapore.

Medicinal Action and Uses---Peppermint oil is the most extensively used of all the volatile oils, both medicinally and commercially. The characteristic anti-spasmodic action of the volatile oil is more marked in this than in any other oil, and greatly adds to its power of relieving pains arising in the alimentary canal.

From its stimulating, stomachic and carminative properties, it is valuable in certain forms of dyspepsia, being mostly used for flatulence and colic. It may also be employed for other sudden pains and for cramp in the abdomen; wide use is made of Peppermint in cholera and diarrhoea.

It is generally combined with other medicines when its stomachic effects are required, being also employed with purgatives to prevent griping. Oil of Peppermint allays sickness and nausea, and is much used to disguise the taste of unpalatable drugs, as it imparts its aromatic characteristics to whatever prescription it enters into. It is used as an infants' cordial.

The oil itself is often given on sugar and added to pills, also a spirit made from the oil, but the preparation in most general use is Peppermint Water, which is the oil and water distilled together.

Peppermint Water and spirit of Peppermint are official preparations of the British Pharmacopoeia.

In flatulent colic, spirit of Peppermint in hot water is a good household remedy, also the oil given in doses of one or two drops on sugar.

Peppermint is good to assist in raising internal heat and inducing perspiration, although its strength is soon exhausted. In slight colds or early indications of disease, a free use of Peppermint tea will, in most cases, effect a cure, an infusion of 1 ounce of the dried herb to a pint of boiling water being employed, taken in wineglassful doses; sugar and milk may be added if desired.

An infusion of equal quantities of Peppermint herb and Elder flowers (to which either Yarrow or Boneset may be added) will banish a cold or mild attack of influenza within thirty-six hours, and there is no danger of an overdose or any harmful action on the heart. Peppermint tea is used also for palpitation of the heart.

In cases of hysteria and nervous disorders, the usefulness of an infusion of Peppermint has been found to be well augmented by the addition of equal quantities of Wood Betony, its operation being hastened by the addition to the infusion of a few drops of tincture of Caraway.

Mrs. Grieves so thoroughly describes the uses of Mint that really is not much more to say.  Plants for A Future lists its current use as:

Spearmint is a commonly used domestic herbal remedy. A tea made from the leaves has traditionally been used in the treatment of fevers, headaches, digestive disorders and various minor ailments. The herb is antiemetic, antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic, restorative, stimulant and stomachic. The leaves should be harvested when the plant is just coming into flower, and can be dried for later use. The stems are macerated and used as a poultice on bruises. The essential oil in the leaves is antiseptic, though it is toxic in large doses. Both the essential oil and the stems are used in folk remedies for cancer. A poultice prepared from the leaves is said to remedy tumours.

I will only add that Thomas J. Elpel in his book, Botany In A Day, recommends eating a handful of mint as an antimicrobial whenever drinking from a stream of unknown purity.  And, when it comes to cooking with mint, it is of course absolutely delicious as a sauce for rich, red meats.  But, it also pairs amazingly well with tomatoes, eggplants and garlic.  I grow Mint in pots so I can have it in the kitchen all year!

Author: Judson Carroll.  Judson Carroll is an Herbalist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. His weekly articles may be read at http://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/

His weekly podcast may be heard at: www.spreaker.com/show/southern-appalachian-herbs

He offers free, weekly herb classes: https://rumble.com/c/c-618325

His New Book is Herbal Medicine for Preppers, Homesteaders and Permaculture People

You can read about and purchase Herbal Medicine for Preppers, Homesteaders and Permaculture People here: southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/10/herbal-medicine-for-preppers.html

Also available on Amazon: Herbal Medicine for Preppers, Homesteaders and Permaculture People: Carroll, Judson: 9798491252923: Amazon.com: Books

His other works include:

Look Up: The Medicinal Trees of the American South, An Herbalist's Guide: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/06/paypal-safer-easier-way-to-pay-online.html

The Herbs and Weeds of Fr. Johannes Künzle: https://southernappalachianherbs.blogspot.com/2021/05/announcing-new-book-herbs-and-weeds-of.html


The information on this site is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease or condition. Nothing on this site has been evaluated or approved by the FDA. I am not a doctor. The US government does not recognize the practice of herbal medicine and their is no governing body regulating herbalists. Therefore, I'm just a guy who studies herbs. I am not offering any advice. I won't even claim that anything I write is accurate or true! I can tell you what herbs have "traditionally been used for." I can tell you my own experience and if I believe an herb helped me. I cannot, nor would I tell you to do the same. If you use any herb I, or anyone else, mentions you are treating yourself. You take full responsibility for your health. Humans are individuals and no two are identical. What works for me may not work for you. You may have an allergy, sensitivity or underlying condition that no one else shares and you don't even know about. Be careful with your health. By continuing to read my blog you agree to be responsible for yourself, do your own research, make your own choices and not to blame me for anything, ever.
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