I have always loved mint, from Kentucky Derby Day bourbon juleps to Girl Scout cookies. One of my proudest accomplishments was starting a mint patch from the tiny seeds. I moved some of that peppermint to the yards of the next three places I lived. Aromatic mint repels pesky ants and flies.
My mom, however, thinks mint is a nuisance weed. The spreading plants, easily identified by its upright, square, branched stems, have overtaken her garden, she says. Once established, it is, indeed, hard to get rid of.
Some people (including a certain ex-husband of mine) simply can’t stand the taste of mint.
“‘Each to his own,’ said the milking maid as she kissed the cow.'” – as my mother would say at this point in the conversation.
The mint family (Mentha) includes over a dozen species. Most people recognize peppermint and spearmint, both popular chewing gum and toothpaste flavorings. But did you know that catnip and lemon balm are also types of mint?
The leaves of mint plants impart a cooling quality when applied to the skin, chewed or swallowed. This comes from menthol, an organic compound made derived from the oils of corn mint, peppermint, and other mints.
Menthol is released when the leaves are bruised. Take a mint leaf and crush it between your fingers, then sniff that distinctive aroma and sample the pungent taste. Menthol is a potent decongestant that breaks up phlegm and mucus, helping expectoration (coughing and spitting). Menthol is known to cool and calm a sore throat.
I bought some little, clear, slightly waxy crystals of pure, natural menthol at a health food store. A friend had advised burning them on hot coals in an incensor to cleanse and purify a room (similar to how sage is used for this purpose) but I put one under my tongue, just to experiment. My conclusion: don’t try this at home, kids. Undiluted menthol is heavy-duty. However, it did render a potent, clarifying air purifier when heated to produce fumes.
Mint plants crave moisture. You’ll find them growing near water sources throughout the world: in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia.
People around the world have used mint to help relieve digestive discomfort such as stomach upset. Once ingested, it lines the stomach with a protective barrier against indomethacin (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID) and ethanol (ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol), both of which have been associated with stomach ulcers.
Peppermint tea, in particular, is used to reduce gas and bloating, and to reduce embarrassing flatulence (farting). Some people report that taking capsules of potent peppermint oil effectively treats Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and eases stomach pain.
Because of its cooling menthol content, mint is also commonly used in skincare products, including shampoos, lotions, oils, creams, and ointment. A word to the wise: keep minty shampoos and facial scrubs out of your eyes to prevent a stinging sensation caused by the mighty menthol.
Mint can sweeten sour or bad breath (halitosis) by killing microbes in the mouth, throat, and digestive tract.
Rosmarinic acid in mint has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which many people who suffer from allergies say is an effective treatment.
Mint leaves can be eaten fresh or dried, brewed into a delicious tea or used to flavor other beverage. Fans of Middle Eastern cuisine undoubtedly know that mint features prominently in many savory dishes.
Like my father before me, I love a dollop of mint jelly on top of a lamb chop. Chocolate mint, another example of “two great tastes that taste great together,” is a delicious candy and unexpected hotel pillow treat.
Not just a pretty flavor, mint does provide some nutritional value.
Two tablespoons of fresh peppermint provide:
- Calories: 2
- Protein: 0.12g (grams)
- Carbohydrates: 0.48g
- Fat: 0.03g
- Fiber: 0.30g
One half-ounce (14 grams) of spearmint contains:
- Calories: 6
- Fiber: 1 gram
- Vitamin A: 12% of the RDI
- Iron: 9% of the RDI
- Manganese: 8% of the RDI
- Folate: 4% of the RDI
Mint also contains small amounts of potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin C, iron, and vitamin A.
As with any powerful herb such as mint, use with moderation and be careful not to overdose. Babies have very sensitive skin so avoid putting mint oil on their faces, especially near their tender eye tissues.
Whether used in the kitchen or as a medicinal remedy, you can count on Mighty Mint to keep your body well-tuned – you might even say, in “mint” condition.