Q: What can I use mint for besides an upset stomach or in ice tea and how do I grow it? – Chasity
Where do I start? First, by asking what kind of mint you have! There are many varieties of mint and, in fact, I don’t think anyone knows exactly how many varieties of mint are out there. Spearmint and peppermint are the most common and medicinal, however, my favorite is chocolate mint which is hmmm hmmm good and a hybrid of peppermint! There is also orange mint, mountain mint, grapefruit mint, curly mint (spearmint with twisted leaves), pineapple mint, ginger mint and apple mint. Although there are many other mints, these are easiest to find at your local nursery. Of the above list, the only ones I’ve never grown are grapefruit and ginger mints. I even planted a new one last year that was called candy something but I really wasn’t impressed by its flavor. The other one that is not real appealing flavor-wise is pineapple mint, but I grow it because it is so pretty with its green and white variegated leaves. I use this one in a pot with pink yarrow because they look so beautiful together. Most true mints are perennials so you don’t have to replant every year. Note: I brought lemon verbena and chocolate mint inside last fall and was able to use both sparingly most of the winter. The pot is now back outside and gearing up for another abundant season.
As for growing mint, if it gets at least four hours of sunlight a day, is watered often (doesn’t like to dry out) but is not covered in water, it will grow. In fact, eventually it will outgrow everything else in the area by sending out root runners. If you have plenty of room, you may want to plant mint at the edge of the woods or against a fence and just let it have it’s way, however, plant only one variety in each area because they will co-mingle if they manage to intertwine.
If you don’t want to be overrun with mint, you can always plant different mints in separate pots. I grow about six varieties of mint on my deck in pots. I love going out there and clipping fresh mint to add to tea or just to nibble a couple leaves after a meal–especially if that meal included garlic or onion. If I am hungry for something sweet, I go for my chocolate mint which tastes like a Peppermint Patty but is almost calorie free and definitely sugar free! Just a note about chocolate mint; all chocolate mints are not equally delicious. Before I buy this mint, I either taste a leave or gently crush a leaf and sniff. If it doesn’t smell strongly of chocolate, I pass.
Harvest your mint in the summer just before it blooms. Use a sharp knife or scissors to clip the mint (so it can put out more leaves for you) and use it fresh or dry it. After the mint is dry and the leaves are crumbly, I store it in an old tea canister for up to a year. Make sure your storage container is airtight and stored out of direct light and away from heat sources.
And now we get to the “what can I use mint for” part. Everyone knows it freshens the breath, but some people think it comes in little blue chips like they find in their toothpaste. It doesn’t. Fresh or dried mint can be used to make tea, add to recipes (both dishes and deserts) but is also used medicinally as tea, capsules, tinctures, infusions and oils. It can be used internally and externally. As herbalists, when we use the term mint we are referring to spearmint and peppermint, but mostly peppermint. Peppermint is a hybrid of watermint and spearmint. Both are excellent mints and are milder than peppermint and for that reason peppermint is usually the mint that we use medicinally.
For identification purposes, spearmint leaves are shorter, more rounded, crinkled and a lighter green than the longer, more pointed and deeper green peppermint leaves.
Mint is excellent for most digestive issues such as colic, cramps (including menstrual cramps) and gas, indigestion, upset stomach (especially good as mint tea after vomiting); irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (soothes an irritated bowel), diarrhea and constipation. It can also be used for travel and altitude sickness. Mint increases the flow of bile and digestive juices while relaxing the muscles of the gut. Mint tinctures are best for digestive issues and capsules are usually used for IBS while mint tea may be drank for indigestion.
But mint benefits do not stop with the digestive system. Mint has also been recommended as a sedative to calm heart palpitations (a couple of drops in a glass of hot water), depression and insomnia. A friend called me the other night and wanted to know how to calm her husband down (he has very serious heart problems) because he was nervous and pacing. I told her to fix him a cup or two of mint tea (you can also use a drop of two of peppermint oil in a cup of hot water which may also work for nausea). I always have peppermint oil on hand at home and while traveling, especially in the winter when fresh mint is not handy.
“Mint has one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any food” says Megan Ware RDN LD in the February 2016 edition of Medical News Today. Knowing that, it stands to reason that a couple cups of mint tea a day may prevent cataracts and other oxidant issues.
Mint has also been used for the respiratory tract for sore throats (gargle with strong mint tea), bronchitis and cough. Mint tea induces sweating and reduces fever. It can be used for pain relief. You could try a tea made from dried leaves to relieve pain from kidney stones, gallstones or even headaches. For headaches, back pain and neck pain you can drink the tea (flower tops and leaves are good for these issues). You can also soak a cloth in the tea and apply externally to the area.
Externally, you may find mint helpful with painful muscles, insect bites or stings and eczema. Full strength mint oil may irritate the skin, so compresses and washes made with mint tea or diluted oils are the safest.
Cautions: If pregnant do not use mint without checking with your health care professional!! Do not use for hiatal hernia or acid reflux. Do not use mint oil if you have liver disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or neurological diseases (i.e.,Parkinson’s). Also, be aware that pure mint essential oil is toxic and a teaspoon can be fatal to an adult. Always dilute this oil before use. Be aware that mint oil can also lower blood pressure, and may lower it dramatically in young children or those with LBP issues. As with all oils, if you experience any adverse reaction, do not continue using it!
After scaring you with the cautions, I want to tell you that I just can’t live without my mints. And while an individual may be allergic to any plant, I feel it is very safe when used correctly and it just adds zip to drinks, food and desert. In fact, I use fresh chocolate mint straight from the vine as my “after dinner mint” or a cup of mint tea as an after dinner stomach soother. Mint has been used safely for eons so grow mints and enrich your life!Important Note! The information in Wholistically Speaking is for educational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose and/or treat diseases. If you have a health problem, I highly recommend you consult a competent health practitioner and educate yourself before embarking on any course of treatment.