Updated: May 24, 2019
Mint has been mentioned in Greek mythology; the Bible speaks of the Pharisees collecting tithes in mint; and in Japan, pomanders of leaves were worn for their restorative scent. By the 9th century, many varieties had been introduced into Europe and there are now more than 600 varieties...which continue to hybridize. The best way to select a good plant is by the nose rather than the name!
Common varieties include:
1. Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is most commonly used by Phytotherapists for medicinal purposes. It helps to boost exam-time fatigue and helps clear thinking. In Rome, Pliny recommended that a wreath of mint was a good thing for students to wear since it was thought to "exhilarate their minds."
2. Spearmint (Mentha spicata) is gentler than Peppermint and is often preferred when using mint in the treatment of children. It is also used to make traditional mint sauce and is commonly known by its refreshing chewing gum flavour.
3. Wild mint (Mentha longifolia) is known as horse mint because the leaves are usually unpleasantly scented. It is found in South Africa and often grows close to water-dense areas.
4. Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is a ground cover and excellent insect repellent (especially for mosquitoes). This mint is not edible. However, it is a great companion plant for strawberries, roses, tomatoes, green peppers and brinjals.
5. Bo He (Mentha arvensis) is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a cooling remedy for head colds and influenza, and for certain headaches, sore throats and eye inflammations. As a liver stimulant, it is added to remedies for digestive disorders and liver Qi stagnation.
A tea of this herb is drunk for fever, coughs, colds, asthma, flatulence, indigestion, painful menstruation, urinary tract infections and headaches. Externally, mint has been used to treat wounds and swollen glands. The following information is based on research that has been conducted on Mentha piperita (peppermint) specifically. Western herbalists and phytotherapists use this species most often in practice.
“If any man can name…all the properties of mint, he must know how many fish swim in the Indian ocean” – Wilafried of Strabo, 12th century
We have all seen the chewing gum adverts that claim to open your airways and allow you to breathe again. And, most of us have experienced the cooling sensation of a breath mint.
However, this sensation is a trick of the brain!
A group of sensory neurons in the mucous membrane of your mouth, nose and oesophagus can detect a wide range of temperatures. Transient receptor potential melastatin 8 (TRPM8) ion channels are triggered when they meet cold substances or menthol. The trigger from menthol is received by the dorsal root ganglia of the spinal cord and interpreted in the thalamus of the brain in the same way that genuinely cold substances are. And so, it leaves you feeling cool, refreshed and as if you can breathe.
Furthermore, hesperidine (a bioflavonoid) in mint can improve capillary function and this helps to reduce the inflammation associated with sinusitis.
Occasionally a sinus infection can be so severe that it turns into a cough. Mint has the added benefit of reducing the frequency of coughing and regulating temperature during a fever. Menthol decreases the surface tension between water and air and, therefore, improves lung compliance values. This may be very useful in those with various types of COPD.
Peppermint has been used as an antimicrobial and antifungal for centuries. However, research has now found that it has antiviral effects too. The oil demonstrated virucidal effects on herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2 in vitro. The oil affected the virus before its absorption into the cell and not after. It was also active against acyclovir-resistant strains of HSV-1.
In the GUT, mint reduces spasms and cramps, increases bile production. Traditionally, peppermint was used to treat flatulent colic, digestive pain, cramps and spasms of the stomach, dyspepsia, nausea and vomiting, morning sickness, ulcers and dysmenorrhoea.
How is it doing this?
Modern research shows us that in vitro effects of peppermint oil on gastrointestinal smooth muscle a
re similar to that of calcium antagonist drugs. It also reduced the contractile response to acetylcholine, histamine, serotonin and substance P. In fact, peppermint oil injected along the biopsy channel of the colonoscope in 20 patients relieved colonic spasm within 30 seconds and allowed easier passage of the instrument. It is also beneficial to use during upper gastrointestinal endoscopy and a double contrast barium enema examination.
Peppermint oil has high levels of clinical evidence to support its use in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Find dosages below.
The topical application of Peppermint oil in an ethanol solution induces blood flow to the capillaries in the forehead when applied to skin in that area. This helped to reduce the symptoms of tension headaches.
Daily consumption of peppermint tea (20g/L/day) was shown to decrease testosterone and increase follicle stimulating hormone and luitenising hormone levels.
6-9g of fresh or dry herb can be made into a tea to be drunk throughout the day.
A 1:5 Tincture (at 45% alcohol) requires 10ml a day.
If you are taking peppermint oil, 0.2ml is recommended...however, peppermint oil usually comes in pre-measured capsules. The capsules may contain 180 to 200 mg of peppermint oil and may be administered as 1 to 2 capsules 3 times daily, over 2 to 4 weeks. This is a usual protocol in the treatment of non-serious constipation and diarrhea associated with IBS.
Large or continual doses of Mint can irritate the mucous membrane. Therefore, avoid very prolonged use of the essential oil as an inhalant.
Only use mint-based preparations on children for one week and then take a break.
Do not give mint directly to a baby under 3 years old.
Peppermint can reduce milk flow, so use with caution while breastfeeding.
Do not consume Mentha pulegium or Mentha requenii.
Peppermint oil should not be administered to patients with gastroesophageal reflux or active gastric ulcers because the oil decreases esophageal sphincter pressure.
Peppermint oil should not be directly applied to the face, especially under the nose of a child or infant.
Use with care if you have salicylate sensitivity or aspirin-induced asthma.
Do not take peppermint supplements alongside iron supplements.
This article is written for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, cure or treat any reader.
Bautista, D., Siemens, J., Glazer, J., Tsuruda, P., Basbaum, A., Stucky, C., Jordt, S. and Julius, D. (2007). The menthol receptor TRPM8 is the principal detector of environmental cold. Nature, 448(7150), pp.204-208.
Galeotti, N., Di Cesare Mannelli, L., Mazzanti, G., Bartolini, A. and Ghelardini, C. (2002). Menthol: a natural analgesic compound. Neuroscience Letters, 322(3), pp.145-148.
Peier, A., Moqrich, A., Hergarden, A., Reeve, A., Andersson, D., Story, G., Earley, T., Dragoni, I., McIntyre, P., Bevan, S. and Patapoutian, A. (2002). A TRP Channel that Senses Cold Stimuli and Menthol. Cell, 108(5), pp.705-715.
Singh, R., Shushni, M. and Belkheir, A. (2015). Antibacterial and antioxidant activities of Mentha piperita L. Arabian Journal of Chemistry, 8(3), pp.322-328.