Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) spearmint (Mentha spicata)

Lamiaceae Family


Mint is a fantastic herb that is well known, easy to grow and delicious to use, not to mention all of its wonderful medicinal uses. The two most popular mints are peppermint Mentha x piperita and spearmint Mentha spicata. You can find many other mints at your local greenhouse and these are all wonderful plants but we'll focus on spearmint and peppermint in this profile.

The mint family is large and it grows larger each season. There are true mints, such as spearmint, and hybrid mints such as peppermint, a hybrid of water mint and spearmint. Mint’s hybridize easily. This basically means when you let mint go to seed next to other mint plants, it will easily blend with that plant to create a new plant.

Spearmint is a true mint, there are only about 20 true mints in existence. It contains less menthol than peppermint. Spearmint smells and tastes a bit sweeter than peppermint. Because of it's sweeter taste and it's milder menthol properties this herb works wonderfully with children.

Peppermint is a hybrid of watermint and spearmint. Peppermint is the stronger of the two mints because of it’s higher menthol content. When using a mint for medicinal purposes for adults, this is the mint you'll want to grab.

Growing mint

Growing mint requires very little work. You really only need a safe place to grow it that won’t allow it to spread... because mint LOVES to take over and spread!

This section on growing mint applies to all types of mint. You will find the most medicinal properties in peppermint and spearmint.

To grow mint start with a plant not the seed. Plants grown from seed do not hold the same powerful properties as plants do. They won't taste, smell or work as well medicinally as plants grown from a cutting. Buy a plant or take a cutting from a friend to start your mint plant.  

Mint grows well in deep, rich soil, that is well drained but will hold moisture. Mint tolerates full sun or partial shade. It will take over your yard, so consider planting away from other plants or planting in a container.

To keep your plants going you'll want to dig them up every three to five years, pull apart the roots and replant them. You can also propagate more mint through cutting and rooting them.

Harvesting Mint.

When harvesting mint you only need two tools. A basket and garden shears, or simple scissors whichever you have. Harvest the leaves and stems after it reaches 6-8 inches tall, prior to the plant flowering. Clip the plant 4-6 inches above the ground, just above a set of leaves. Choose to harvest mint early in the day when the dew has lifted. Cutting just above a set of leaves allows the plant to branch off and grow again from that area.  

Preserving and storing mint.

Mint can be preserved in many ways. Drying mint is the simplest most versatile way to preserve mint. Your dried mint can later be used in teas, oils, tinctures, salads and whatever you heart desires. You can also use fresh mint to make oils, teas, flavored waters or tinctures directly after harvesting.

You can hang mint to dry, lay it on a screen to dry or use a dehydrator.

To hang the mint, find an area out of direct sunlight. Bunch your mint in loose bundles, tie them together at the stems (stems should be tightly bound)  and hang them up. If using a screen, lay the plants out on the screen and place the screen out of direct sunlight. To dehydrate mint, peel the leaves off the stems and place them on the dehydration tray. I just pop them in on low and let them sit until they are crisp and crunchy.

For all these methods, the herbs are ready for storage when they are crunchy, but still retain their color and fragrance. I usually hang dry mine for about two weeks.

To store the mint, use a dark colored, airtight, glass jar if you have one. If you don't have a dark colored jar, any airtight glass jar will do, just make sure to store it out of direct sunlight. Gather your dried mint and place it in the jar.

How long the dried mint will store depends on the storage conditions. If your mint still smells fragrant then it is still good. If you notice any dust gathering on it or mold growing on it, toss it.

Using Mint

Mint Tea Recipe

Mint in your food!

Mint can be a wonderful addition to your meals. You will add small amounts of many different vitamins including Vitamin A. Spearmint is a good source of minerals, being high in Iron among others. By adding mint to your food you will encourage good digestion and help to dissipate gas and indigestion.

Another way to use mint for cooking is to freeze a sprig of mint to use for sweets. After the mint is frozen, crumble it and add it to cookies or brownies. Adding mint to fresh salads or pasta salads can really dress up a meal! The options are truly endless.

Medicinal Uses

Parts used: The above ground parts such as the leaves.

Properties of Mint plants: Carminative, anti-spasmodic, stimulating diaphoretic, anti-emetic, these properties are more prominent in peppermint.

Mint is also an amazing medicinal herb! Mint can be used to add a better taste to a distasteful medicinal tea that you are having trouble drinking. It also holds many powers of its own. Mint is a wonderful herb to use if you have nausea caused from morning sickness or motion sickness.  Try it as a tea in these situations. 

Having dried mint on hand during cold and flu season is a must! Mint can help with mucus build up that comes with seasonal ailments. A warm mint tea can help clear mucus. You can also use it as a steam to clear a congested head.

Many ways to use Mint

Energy: If you are using mint to energize your day, a tea can do the trick. If you would like an added boost take a sniff of the Peppermint essential oil. Spearmint tea has a sweeter taste if you can't wrap your mouth around the strength of the peppermint.

Fever: Peppermint is a diaphoretic. Diaphoretics induce sweating which help break a fever. It is not necessary to break a fever right out of the gate. Fevers are the body's way of fighting off infection using heat.

Teas and tinctures are good for fevers. The warmer the tea the better. If using a tincture you can add it to warm water or take it alone.

Adding Mint to a yarrow tea and drinking it at the first sign of cold and flu and continuing it through the course of the illness is helpful in opening the pores and encouraging sweating. Creating a tea of spearmint can help children with a fever. Add Catnip to this tea for even more fever busting power.

Headache: Along with your tea, add a fresh poultice to the forehead for pain relief. You can also use a drop or two of peppermint essential oil (in a carrier oil) on the forehead for a headache. Inhaling the essential oil can also relieve headaches. Infused oil and salves can also be used topically for pain relief associated with a headache in a pinch.

Nausea: Drinking a strong tea of mint, peppermint or spearmint, depending on the age of the person, is a great way to calm nausea and stomach aches. The antiemetic property of mint is working here. Think of a mint tea when dealing with morning sickness. If you or someone you know is prone to motion sickness make a warm tea for the road. Again smelling the essential oil can help with nausea as well.

Gas and indigestion or heartburn: Drinking tea or taking a tincture after a meal can help with indigestion, heartburn, bloating and gas.This is the carminative property at work. Think after dinner mint, but better! Using a salve, poultice or the diluted essential oil over the sternum can help with heartburn.

Congestion: Along with sipping your tea, a mint steam can break up congestion in the lungs and the sinuses. Steams are very simple, pour boiling water in a bowl. Add your mint leaves, fresh or dry, or a few drops of essential oil. Place a towel over both you and the bowl, get your face as close to the bowl as you can stand and breathe it in for 8-10 minutes.

Muscle pain and Cramps: As an antispasmodic, mint can help with muscle pain and cramps. Drinking the tea helps internally. Using a salve or an oil over the pain helps externally. You can also use essential oil (in a carrier oil) rubbed on the site will also work. If you are having stomach cramps rub the topical remedy of choice over your stomach. A poultice can work on the stomach as well.

As you can see, by just adding mint to your home apothecary you will be able to deal with a large handful of very common occurrences in any household. I know I mentioned essential oils but you do not have to go out of your way to keep these on hand. Using a basic mint plant from your own backyard can handle any of the above ailments just as well.

More about essential oils.

Peppermint is one of the most popular essential oils and while it's not necessarily something you can source locally, it's nice to have on hand if you can. Just don't rely totally on the oil for every remedy.  Many herbalists are very hesitant about using oils at all. This is totally up to you but I do want you to be safe when using them.

Safety and oils.

Essential oils are a big deal right now but I'm not sure everyone gets all the correct information. I have some safety recommendations for using essential oils.

Essential oils don't always work exactly how the plant itself would. They are extremely concentrated versions of plant parts. I don't usually recommend ingesting essential oils, especially not in water. Oil and water don't mix and you may have the undiluted oil come in direct contact with tissue and that can cause damage and pain.

Always use a carrier oil when using essential oils. Olive oil, coconut oil and almond oil are some good oils to use. Never use peppermint oil 'neat,' which means undiluted. You can build up a sensitivity to peppermint essential oil if you use it neat.

Don't use peppermint EO in large amounts if you are pregnant.

Peppermint oil should not be used on children under 30 months old, topically or through inhalation. It can cause breathing difficulties. Make sure to dilute it no matter your age but especially on children between the ages of 30 months and 12 years. If you use oils topically with children, apply it to their feet for the safest results. Avoid the chest or face with children. Make sure to do your research before using essential oils on children, ask questions and be safe!

The company you buy your oils from is important too. There are many MLM companies out there that have good quality oils but there are also other wonderful, safe companies out there. Do your research on the oils you buy. It will save you money and time in the long run. Even the oils you find in health food stores are not guaranteed good quality.

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