The more than thirty species of mint are the most widely used and best known of herbs. The Pharisees paid their tithes with peppermint. Romans crowned themselves with wreaths made of it, and the Greeks used it in their temple rites. Antispasmodic, carminative and digestive, peppermint stimulates the flow of bile, is analgesic, quells nausea and promotes sweating while cooling the body internally.
Taken after dinner as tea or infusion, peppermint soothes the stomach, relieves indigestion, acts as an antacid and helps expel gas. Slowly sipping a cup of peppermint infusion helps settle a stomach overcome by nausea and spasms, motion sickness and morning sickness. Its antispasmodic properties also make it effective against uterine or menstrual cramps.
The Chinese use Mentha arvensis, called bo he, as a cooling remedy for colds, fevers, sore throat and headache. They also consider it a liver herb, using it to move stagnant energy. Ayurvedic physicians have used peppermint for centuries as a digestive tonic and a treatment for colds, coughs, and fever. Hildegard von Bingen used peppermint to relieve indigestion and gout.
First Nations also use peppermint to treat colds, coughs and chest congestion. Menominee use peppermint against pneumonia, Cree use it to soothe sore throats, Cherokee and Montagnais to relieve headache. Delaware use it to relieve menstrual disorders.
In Arab countries, strong mint tea is taken after dinner to ease digestion and ensure virility. In fact, all the mints are considered sexual stimulants.
In Southern Italia folk tradition mint, menta romana, has long been used for its anthelmintic action. Children are given either the juice of mint, garlic and onion crushed together, or small balls of bruised mint leaves. External use helps to counter parasitic infections as well as ease the spasms caused by them, so poultices of wormwood, mint and rue cooked in vinegar are placed on the abdomen for this purpose. While nursing, mothers traditionally chew a combination of garlic and mint as an effective remedy against worms in the baby. Mint has a long history of use as an emmenagogue as well. And, wild and cultivated mints are commonly used to flavor omelettes, eggplant, mushrooms and a number of other culinary dishes.
Peppermint's antibacterial properties fight infection. Menthol, one of mint's volatile oils, is germicidal and decongesting, relieving nose, sinus and chest infections. Essential oil of peppermint inhibits herpes simplex virus. All mints are mineral-rich. Peppermint offers very high amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, riboflavin, thiamine and vitamin A, and abundant calcium, iron, niacin, potassium, protein, sodium, selenium and vitamin C. In addition to volatile oils like menthol, cineol and azulene, peppermint contains resins, tannin, tocopherols, choline, flavonoids and a bitter principle.
Added to the bathtub or a foot bath, peppermint is analgesic and energizing. This is an excellent way to take in its benefits when dealing with a cold. Peppermint opens pores and is great for people with oily skin. The freshly powdered dried herb added to a mask or scrub leaves skin glowing and fresh. Avoid too much peppermint when nursing as it may reduce milk flow. Peppermint is a bit strong for small ones. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is usually a better choice for them.
Flower Essence Peppermint flower essence brings an active, awake, alert state of mind, and overcomes mental lethargy or sluggishness.
Magical Lore Mints bring pleasure, success and protection when planted nearby or hung inside. Peppermint has long been considered a visionary herb. Burned at sunset it brings dreams of prophecy. Keep some in a special pouch to enhance intuitive skills and drink the tea to nourish skills in the healing arts. Use peppermint as a ritual water sprinkler.
Culture Peppermint is very easy to grow and is particularly happy in a humus-rich, moist area. It is easier to get going from roots than from seeds. Roots spread in no time, while seedlings are tiny. We seed them in the greenhouse by tamping the seeds into well prepared soil and transplant seedlings 6-8 weeks after germination. Peppermint plants have stout, reddish-purple, square stems, green, finely-toothed leaves and a light violet flower plume at midsummer. Peppermint can easily reach three feet or more, and is a rampant grower, so plant it where it can spread. Mints make good companion plants in the garden, keeping nearby plants healthy and do an excellent job of deterring harmful insects and attracting an array of beneficial pollinators. Mint is an important nectar source for many butterflies, including several swallowtails, cabbage white, common buckeye, gray hairstreak, American painted lady, painted lady, red admiral, monarch, and pearl crescent. Just smelling the low hedges as I walk by is energizing and stimulating.
We cut peppermint tops a few inches from the ground in summer after they begin to flower and while the leaves are still green and vibrant. I hang the sprigs upside down or lay them on screens to dry for use in teas and infusions. I tincture fresh peppermint in alcohol, put some in vinegar, or infuse it in oil or honey.