No herb is more popular than the mint. It is the herb that flavors our toothpaste, breath fresheners, cough drop and chewing gum invokes a cool, refreshing feeling. There are over 600 varieties of mint are known. All the plant varsities feature square stems, opposite leaf arrangement, and flowers in terminal heads, spikes or whorled arrangement. The leaves usually are creased, serrated, round to oval, and pointed at the tip. Purple, pink or white blooms appear in mid- to late-summer.
Mint is a plant of the genus Mentha. It is characterized by aromatic foliage and nearly regular flowers. True mints have square stems, oppositely arranged aromatic leaves. Small flowers usually pale purple, pink, or white, are arranged in clusters, either forming separate whorls or crowded together in a terminal spike. All Mentha species contain volatile oil in resinous dots in the leaves and stems.
Mint has been an important herb since the early starts of civilization. The Greeks believed mints could clear the voice and cure hiccups. Romans are responsible for carrying the herb throughout Europe. Mint was known to be treasured as an important aromatic herb in medieval times. People scented their baths and strew their homes with mint because of its fresh scent. In the eighteenth century, mint was valued for its medicinal uses. Remedies for everything from colic, to digestive odors, to mad dog bites called for mint. When the colonists came to the New World they brought along their mints for teas for headaches, heartburn, indigestion, gas and insomnia. They also drank mint tea for pleasure, not only because it tasted good, but also because it wasn’t taxed.
Mint has also come to symbolize hospitality in many cultures. In ancient Greece, mint leaves were rubbed on dining tables to welcome guests, while in the Middle East, the host still traditionally offers mint tea to guests upon their arrival.
The species name Mentha is derived from Roman mythology. Minthe was a lovely young nymph who caught the eye of Pluto, the ruler of the underworld. When Pluto’s wife Persephone found out about his love for the beautiful nymph, she was enraged. She changed Minthe into a lowly plant, to be trodden underfoot. Pluto couldn’t reverse Persephone’s curse, but he did soften the spell somewhat by making the smell that Minthe gave off all the sweeter when she was tread upon. The name Minthe has changed to Mentha and become the name of the herb, mint.
As for the origins of mint’s reputation as the herb of hospitality, Greek mythology tells us the story. Two
strangers were walking through a village. The villagers ignored them and offered neither food nor drink. Finally an old couple, Philemon and Baucis, offered them a meal. Before the four sat down for their meal, the couple rubbed the table with mint leaves to clean and freshen it. The strangers turned out to be the gods Zeus and Hermes in disguise. As a reward for the hospitality Philemon and Baucis had shown them, the gods turned the humble home into a temple. Mint thus became the symbol of hospitality.
Mint is one of the herbs that has it all. It grows like a weed, is perfectly safe for use, and is an excellent remedy for reducing symptoms related to digestion. It is well known for its properties related to indigestion, stomach cramps, menstrual cramps, flatulence, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and colic in children. Make a Tea out of fresh or dried leaves for a tasty and refreshing after-dinner stomach soother. For the younger crowd, it can also be heated with milk for the same effect (and they will like it).
Mint also can be used as an appetite stimulant. It reduces hunger for a short time, but when the effects wear off the hunger returns stronger than before. For those lucky enough to need to gain a few pounds, a tea might be tried 30 minutes before a meal for appetite stimulation.
Peppermint is much more effective as a medicinal herb than Spearmint, which is mostly a culinary herb. However, use Spearmint in place of Peppermint in cases of digestive problems or colic in very small children, as Peppermint may be a bit too strong.
For a refreshing and cleansing facial wash, place a handful of bruised Mint leaves (any kind) in a quart-sized pan of cool water. Let sit for an hour or so, then chill in the refrigerator and use as desired. Mint combined with Rosemary in a vinegar is reported to help control dandruff (place the sprigs in a bottle that can be tightly sealed, and let sit for at least a week out of direct sunlight).