Mint (Mentha)

September 17, 2017

THE MINT FAMILY:

Mentha, commonly known as mint, is a genus of plants in the Lamiaceae family. There are a number of different species of mint, along with many hybrids, due to the natural occurrence of cross-breeding between species.

Mint plants are aromatic, mainly perennial herbs with highly fragrant, toothed, opposing leaves, and tiny white, pink, or purple flowers, arranged in clusters forming whorls or a spike. Many characteristics of the mint plant can vary with differing species, but will always be characterized by a square stem. The colour of the leaves can vary from a dark green to grey, purple, blue, and even pale yellow. These plants can often grow up to about 2 – 3 feet tall, and will commonly spread out along the ground. Mint plants produce a fruit called a nutlet which contains 1 to 4 seeds. Propagation is considered an easier form of reproduction for mint. The volatile oils which are extracted from the plant are found in resinous dots located in the leaves and stems.

The name Mentha is derived from the Greek word minthe, personified in Greek mythology as Minthe, a naiad who was transformed into a mint plant by Persephone when she tried to seduce Hades. The mint plant originated in Europe, Asia, North America, Australia, and Africa, but has been widely distributed throughout the temperate areas of the world, and have naturalized in many places. It has been used as a part of the human diet since the Roman Empire, and is now used medicinally, aromatically, and in foods, drinks, toothpaste, perfumes, and cosmetics.

PLANTING:

Mint plants thrive in light soil with good drainage and prefer a moist environment similar to their native habitats along river beds and stream banks. They tend to prefer full sun, to partial shade, with some species requiring protection from direct sunlight. They prefer a soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0, and only really require regular watering. Mint plants are also highly invasive and fast-growing. Mint quickly covers any ground available so they are best grown in pots or containers, and not planted within 2 feet of each other, or other plants.

HARVESTING:

Frequent harvesting is best for keeping mint plants healthy and younger leaves have more flavour than older ones. Harvesting should be done right before flowering by cutting the stems an inch from the ground. Mint can be frozen or air dried in bunches, and the sprigs will last a few days in water. You can also just pick the leaves when needed. To air dry mint, hang the stems upside down in bundles or spread them loosely on a small tray, and then store them in an airtight container.

COMMON SPECIES OF MINT:

  • Peppermint: This variety of mint is actually a natural hybrid cross between water mint and spearmint and is indigenous to Europe and the Middle East. Peppermint’s flavour is similar to that of spearmint, except it contains a higher level of menthol which makes its flavour stronger and more pronounced. The leaves are a deep green colour and are longer and more pointed than spearmint leaves.
  • Spearmint: Spearmint has a relatively mild flavour which comes from the chemical ingredient carvone. Leaves are bright green in colour with pink or white flowers shaped into spikes. It is native to Europe and Asia, but has spread throughout the rest of the world and has been naturalized on five continents.
  • Apple mint: Sometimes known as woolly mint, this herb is characterized by large, fuzzy, bright green leaves, with an oblong oval-like shape. The scent of this herb is sweet, and smells like a cross between spearmint and apples. The leaves also have a slightly fruity taste.
  • Pineapple mint: The flavour of pineapple mint is very mild: slightly bitter, and is almost rubbery. It has patches of yellow/white, and fuzzy, irregularly shaped leaves.
  • Pennyroyal: This variety is native to Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, and has an aroma similar to that of spearmint. It is one of the smallest in the mint family and has glossy green leaves. This variety of the plant can be highly toxic, even in small amounts.
  • Ginger Mint: This type of mint is a cross between corn mint and spearmint, and can be difficult to identify. They have round green leaves on reddish stems and lavender coloured flowers on long spikes. It has an apple/ginger like aroma.
  • Catmint: This herb produces bright lavender-blue flowers and has grey-green foliage. It is from the Nepeta genus in the Lamiaceae family & therefore belongs to a different genus than the mint family.
  • Chocolate mint: This plant smells sweeter than the other mint varieties and the stems have a distinctive brown-purple tinge.
  • Orange mint: This variety has a softer aroma than spearmint, with a floral hint to it. It has a slightly sour taste to it and the leaves are darker than those of spearmints, with less ragged edges, a more even surface, and slightly curved umbrella shaped leaves.
  • Lavender mint: This plant has grey-green leaves, with purple undersides, lavender coloured flowers, and is distinctly lavender scented.
  • Basil mint: This species is a hardy mint with shiny round leaves and a distinctive mint-basil aroma.
  • Watermint: this variety, often found near water bodies, is characterized by thick dark green leaves that are tinged with purple, and are deeply veined and slightly hairy.
  • Lemon mint: Also known as lemon balm, this plant has an aroma of lemon with a hint of mint and leaves that look like oversized mint leaves. It is part of the mint family, but in a different genus (Melissa) to the rest of the mint plants mentioned.
  • Corn or field mint: Also known as American Wild mint, this specie is the only one of the mint family to have adapted to tropical areas. It has bluish to slightly violet coloured flowers with flower bunches growing at the upper leaf axil.
  • Curly mint: This variety of mint has unusually clustered, bright green leaves which are pointed with curled edges, and lilac flowers. It also has a strong spearmint aroma and sweet flavour.
  • Corsican mint: This species is very low growing, with bright green oval-shaped leaves and tiny mauve flowers. It is one of the smallest species of the mint family, growing 3 – 10cm tall.

VASI - Mint

HEALTH BENEFITS OF MINT:

  • High in antioxidants: Antioxidants play a role in preventing health problems such as cancer, and heart disease.
  • Antimicrobial: The essential oils of mint, particularly peppermint are effective at inhibiting the growth of many different bacteria, including Helicobacter pylori, Salmonella enteritidis, Escherichia coli, and Staphylococcus aureus. It has also been found to inhibit the growth of certain types of fungus as well.
  • Aids digestion and treats nausea and bloating: Mint aids digestion as it activates the salivary glands, as well as the glands that secrete digestive enzymes, thereby improving digestion. This is why many places incorporate mint into meals as appetizers before the main course to help digest the food properly. It also soothes inflammation, in the case of stomach aches due to its anti-inflammatory properties, and aids with nausea, bloating, and motion sickness as well. Mint also relieves indigestion by relaxing the muscles of the digestive tract, and by making bile flow more efficiently.
  • Treats gastric ulcers: The menthol found in mint helps to protect the stomach lining from the negative effects associated with alcohol and certain medications
  • Pain relief: External use of mint has been shown to increase a person’s pain threshold, and studies show that certain species are as effective for pain relief as the aspirin style drug Indomethacin. When the mint extract is applied to a painful area, it immediately provides a cooling effect, causing the area to partially become numb.
  • Improves oral health: Mint is a natural antimicrobial and antibacterial agent, preventing excessive bacteria in the mouth, and reducing inflammation.
  • Treats headaches and migraines: Applying a mint balm to the forehead, temples, and around the nose has been known to be effective for relieving headaches due to its anti-inflammatory properties which help to reduce the inflammation and temperature rise associated with headaches and migraines.
  • Prevents respiratory disorders such as asthma: The strong aroma of this herb is effective at clearing congestion of the nose, throat, and lungs. Due to the soothing properties of the menthol found in mint, this plant relieves the irritation and inflammation which causes chronic coughing and sore throats as well. It is also effective at breaking down the mucus and phlegm associated with colds. The Rosmarinic acid present in mint is also known to block the production of pro-inflammatory chemicals such as leukotrienes, and encourages cellular production of substances called prostacyclin’s which keep the airways open for easy breathing.
  • Reduces fatigue, stress, and treats depression: Mint is a natural stimulant and can be applied topically, ingested, or inhaled to give a boost to energy levels. It also causes the brain to release small amounts of serotonin which is a mood boosting hormone.
  • Aids with breastfeeding: Breastfeeding can damage the breasts and nipples. Studies show that mint oil can reduce nipple cracks, and the pain associated with breastfeeding.
  • Alleviates skin problems and conditions: Due to its antiseptic, antipruritic, and soothing properties, mint is effective at curing itchiness and infections. It also contains salicylic acid which brings down swelling, reduces pimples, and alleviates acne and blackheads. There are also certain compounds present in mint which help to increase the shedding of old dull and dry skin, which helps to avoid the clogging of pores. The antioxidants present in this herb also help to promote healthier glowing skin.
  • Prevents memory loss: Mint has been linked to an improved cognitive function in relation to aging, suggesting its stimulant properties have a beneficial impact on mental processes.
  • Aids with weight loss: Mint stimulates the digestive enzymes that absorb nutrients from food and turns fat into useable energy. Therefore mint causes an increase in the amount of fat being consumed and converted into energy rather than storing it, resulting in increased weight loss. It also acts as an appetite suppressant.
  • Lessens the severity of allergies: Mint contains an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent called rosmarinic acid, which is effective in relieving seasonal allergy symptoms.
  • Natural bug repellent: This plant repels pests such as ants, flies, mosquitos, lice, and fleas.
  • Relieves muscle pains: The menthol in mint acts as a natural muscle relaxant, helping to ease stress induced aches and pains.
  • Natural deodorizer: Most deodorants are full of dangerous toxins which can cause health issues. Eating natural deodorizers such as mint or basil, or incorporating them into natural topical deodorants can be effective at preventing body odour.
  • Stops hiccups: The menthol found in mint is a relaxant and helps to stop muscle spasms.
  • Prevents cancer: Mint is full of antioxidants which help to prevent the formation of cancer by seeking out and neutralizing free radicals, which are dangerous cancer causing by-products of cellular metabolism. Peppermint, in particular, contains perillyl alcohol, which studies show can prevent or stop the spread of cancer. It also contains a phytonutrient called monoterpene which has been shown to stop the growth of pancreatic, liver, and breast cancers in animal studies.
  • Treats hormonal imbalances: Mint has been shown to help treat conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome and other forms of hormonal imbalances due to its natural anti-androgen properties. Mint contains powerful organic compounds which can inhibit and stimulate the endocrine system in different ways. When the male hormone, androgen, is produced excessively, the human body has trouble functioning properly. The mint plant is naturally high in phytoestrogens, which act to counter the androgen hormones.
  • Improves circulation: Mint contains most of the daily recommended serving of iron per 100g (5.1mg per 100g with recommended iron intake between 6 and 8mg per day), which helps to stimulate the production of red blood cells and hemoglobin. This aids to treat and prevent anemia, and improve circulation as well as boost energy and promote wound healing.
  • Improves heart health: Along with many other vitamins, mint contains large amounts of potassium (569mg per 100g) which is crucial for maintaining healthy blood pressure. Potassium is what is known as a vasodilator which means that it acts to take the stress off blood vessels and arteries, therefore preventing conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, and atherosclerosis (clogged arteries).
  • Improves hair health: Studies found that applying a mint based essential oil to the scalp positively affected the health of new follicles, treating conditions such as thinning hair and hair loss. Mint helps to prevent hair loss because of a few factors. These include: increases circulation, prevents and treats infections (such as ringworm), balances the pH of the scalp, and moisturizes and strengthens hair.
  • Improves immunity: Mint is a good source of Vitamin A, which is effective at stimulating the production and improves the health of white blood cells.
  • Protects against radiation: Studies suggest that mint protects against radiation-induced cell damage and cell death.

WARNINGS:

While this herb is considered very safe, some people are highly sensitive or allergic to mint and may experience reactions such as a skin rash, dizziness, headaches, or throat irritation.

When used as an essential oil, it is advised that it does not come into contact with the skin without being diluted with a carrier oil. Essential oils should never be ingested. It is suggested that anyone using the essential oil, should conduct a patch test first to see if they are allergic.

While mint is known to soothe digestive discomfort, for people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or hiatal hernia, mint may exacerbate the condition.

People who suffer from gallstones or liver damage should also use with caution.

Mint can also interact and cause adverse reactions with other medications.

Because it contains menthol, too much exposure to the oil can cause respiratory problems. Mint oil and menthol products should not be applied to the nose, face, or chest of a child or infant as it can cause trouble breathing.

Studies suggest that it may slow down the rate of a person’s heartbeat; therefore anyone suffering from a heart condition should not use this oil.

Symptoms of allergic reaction include skin hives and eczema, nasal congestion, runny eyes, sudden numbness of the area where the mint contacts the skin, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, headaches, migraines, dizziness, and throat irritation.

While overdose is unlikely, excessive doses of mint could result in muscle weakness, brain damage, and seizures.

It is not recommended for pregnant women to consume large amounts of this herb as it can cause uterine relaxation, leading to miscarriage in extreme situations.

Certain varieties of mint such as pennyroyal mint are more toxic than others.

You should always consult with a doctor before starting new supplements.

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