All sorts of mint. We have a local no name variety that has been here since long before my time. Mint returns reliably and spreads like crazy but we are devotees so don’t mind. Plus, we have plenty of room. In addition to the nameless kind, we grow chocolate mint which smells incredible and Egyptian mint, also lovely, and then there’s the tall horsey mint I brought with me years ago from my mother’s garden. It may be called Apple Mint, seems like I recall that name. The runners crept under the wall of the small greenhouse my husband built for me and grows in there now. That gets too invasive, but it’s also a desirable variety, whatever it is. And then there’s catmint, which is related to catnip and makes a fragrant, appealing addition to the herb/flower gardens. More on catnip later in this session.
As to making tea, we find its best to gather the leaves on a sunny day after the dew has dried, about mid-morning. If you wait until too late in the day the essential oils that give the best flavor will have dissipated. Wash and blot the leaves then stuff them into a glass or porcelain container, not metal or plastic, (we use large mouthed canning jars) and pour boiling water over the leaves and allow them to steep. After about 20 minutes we drain the brew and dilute with water if it’s too strong and sweeten to our liking, or mix the mint tea with regular tea to flavor it. If you use a glass jar, stick a metal knife or spoon inside with the leaves before pouring the hot water in to keep the container from cracking. You can also dry the leaves for winter use. Mint tea is soothing to my stomach. Don’t give strong mint tea to infants/toddlers without consulting a physician as I did when my daughter was ten months old and it made her break out in hives around her mouth.
More on brewing tea: For a single cup of tea put a small amount into a tea ball, infuser, or tea bag, cover with hot water and steep until it reaches the desired strength. Herbal teas will give you more of the herbs benefits if you steep for at least 5 to 20 minutes.~
Now, onto the herbal lore and historic medicinal uses which will, no doubt, astound you.
From A Modern Herbal: (Bear in mind that by ‘modern’ she means early 20th century, so this is not all current medical thinking)
The common garden mint is originally a native of the Mediterranean region, and was introduced into Britain by the Romans, being largely cultivated not only by them, but also by the other Mediterranean nations. It was in great request by the Romans, and Pliny according to Gerard says of it: ‘The smell of Mint does stir up the minde and the taste to a greedy desire of meate.’ Ovid represents the hospitable Baucis and Philemon scouring their board with green mint before laying upon it the food intended for their divine guests. The Ancients believed that mint would prevent the coagulation of milk and its acid fermentation. Gerard, again quoting Pliny, says:
‘It will not suffer milk to cruddle in the stomach, and therefore it is put in milk that is drunke, lest those that drinke thereof should be strangled.’
Many other references to it in old writings – among them, that of the payment by the Pharisees of tithes of Mint, Anise and Cumin – prove that the herb has been highly esteemed for many centuries. Mint is mentioned in all early mediaeval lists of plants; it was very early grown in English gardens, and was certainly cultivated in the Convent gardens of the ninth century. Chaucer refers to ‘a little path of mintes full and fenill greene. ‘
Turner states in his Herball (1568) that the garden mint of his time was also called ‘Spere Mynte.’ Gerard, in further praise of the herb, tells us that: ‘the smelle rejoiceth the heart of man, for which cause they used to strew it in chambers and places of recreation, pleasure and repose, where feasts and banquets are made.’
It has, in fact, been so universally esteemed, that it is to be found wild in nearly all the countries to which civilization has extended, and in America for 200 years it has been known as an escape from gardens, growing in moist soils and proving sometimes troublesome as a weed.
Parkinson, in his Garden of Pleasure, mentions ‘divers sorts of mintes both of the garden and wilde, of the woods, mountain and standing pools or waters’ and says: ‘Mintes are sometimes used in Baths with Balm and other herbs as a help to comfort and strengthen the nerves and sinews. It is much used either outwardly applied or inwardly drunk to strengthen and comfort weak stomackes.’
The Ancients used mint to scent their bath water and as a restorative, as we use smelling salts to-day. In Athens where every part of the body was perfumed with a different scent mint was specially designated to the arms.
Gerard says of its medicinal properties: ‘It is good against watering eies and all manner of breakings out on the head and sores. It is applied with salt to the bitings of mad dogs…. They lay it on the stinging of wasps and bees with good success.’
Culpepper gives nearly forty distinct maladies for which mint is ‘singularly good.’ ‘Being smelled into,’ he says, ‘it is comfortable for the head and memory, and a decoction when used as a gargle, cures the mouth and gums, when sore.’ Again, ‘Garden Mint is most useful to wash children’s heads when the latter are inclined to sores, and Wild Mint, mixed with vinegar is an excellent wash to get rid of scurf. Rose leaves and mint, heated and applied outwardly cause rest and sleep.’
In the fourteenth century, mint was used for whitening the teeth, and its distilled oil is still used to flavour tooth-pastes, etc., and in America, especially, to flavour confectionery, chewing gums, and also to perfume soap. Mint ottos have more power than any other aromatic to overcome the smell of tobacco. The application of a strong decoction of Spearmint is said to cure chapped hands. Mice are so averse to the smell of mint, either fresh or dried, that they will leave untouched any food where it is scattered.
It is probable that Spearmint was introduced by the Pilgrim Fathers when they landed in America, as it is mentioned among many other plants brought out from England, in a list given by John Josselyn. When in this country apparently found growing wild, it occurs in watery places, but is rather rare.
Professor Henslow (Origin and History of our Garden Vegetables) does not consider it truly native to any country. He says: ‘The Garden Mint (Mentha viridis, Linn.) is a cultivated form of M. sylvestris (Linn.), the Horse Mint, which is recorded as cultivated at Aleppo. Either M. sylvestris, or some form approaching M. viridis, which is not known as a truly wild plant, was probably the mint of Scripture.’
Bentham also considers it not improbably a variety of M. sylvestris, perpetuated through its ready propagation by suckers, and though these two plants are sufficiently distinct as found in England, yet continental forms occur which bridge over their differences.
Its generic name, Mentha, is derived from the mythological origin ascribed to it, and was originally applied to the mint by Theophrastus. Menthe was a nymph, who because of the love Pluto bore her, was metamorphosed by Proserpine, from motives of jealousy, into the plant we now call mint.
*A bit more about peppermint: Ms. Grieve says, “Pliny tells us that the Greeks and Romans crowned themselves with Peppermint at their feasts and adorned their tables with its sprays, and that their cooks flavoured both their sauces and their wines with its essence. Two species of mint were used by the ancient Greek physicians, but some writers doubt whether either was the modern Peppermint, though there is evidence that M. piperita was cultivated by the Egyptians. It is mentioned in the Icelandic Pharmacopoeias of the thirteenth century, but only came into general use in the medicine of Western Europe about the middle of the eighteenth century, and then was first used in England.
It was only recognized here as a distinct species late in the seventeenth century, when the great botanist, Ray, published it in the second edition of his Synopsis stirpium britannicorum, 1696. Its medicinal properties were speedily recognized, and it was admitted into the London Pharmacopceia in 1721, under M. piperitis sapore. The oldest existing Peppermint district is in the neighbourhood of Mitcham, in Surrey, where its cultivation from a commercial point of view dates from about 1750.
Peppermint oil is the most extensively used of all the volatile oils, both medicinally and commercially. The characteristic anti-spasmodic action of the volatile oil is more marked in this than in any other oil, and greatly adds to its power of relieving pains arising in the alimentary canal.
From its stimulating, stomachic and carminative properties, it is valuable in certain forms of dyspepsia, being mostly used for flatulence and colic. It may also be employed for other sudden pains and for cramp in the abdomen; wide use is made of Peppermint in cholera and diarrhoea.
It is generally combined with other medicines when its stomachic effects are required, being also employed with purgatives to prevent griping. Oil of Peppermint allays sickness and nausea, and is much used to disguise the taste of unpalatable drugs, as it imparts its aromatic characteristics to whatever prescription it enters into. It is used as an infants’ cordial.
The oil itself is often given on sugar and added to pills, also a spirit made from the oil, but the preparation in most general use is Peppermint Water, which is the oil and water distilled together. Peppermint Water and spirit of Peppermint are official preparations of the British Pharmacopoeia. In flatulent colic, spirit of Peppermint in hot water is a good household remedy, also the oil given in doses of one or two drops on sugar.
Peppermint is good to assist in raising internal heat and inducing perspiration, although its strength is soon exhausted. In slight colds or early indications of disease, a free use of Peppermint tea will, in most cases, effect a cure, an infusion of 1 ounce of the dried herb to a pint of boiling water being employed, taken in wineglassful doses; sugar and milk may be added if desired.
An infusion of equal quantities of Peppermint herb and Elder flowers (to which either Yarrow or Boneset may be added) will banish a cold or mild attack of influenza within thirty-six hours, and there is no danger of an overdose or any harmful action on the heart. Peppermint tea is used also for palpitation of the heart. In cases of hysteria and nervous disorders, the usefulness of an infusion of Peppermint has been found to be well augmented by the addition of equal quantities of Wood Betony.~
*Herbal treatments can pose health risks in some instances, so check with your health care provider before undertaking any.