Benefits of Mint Plants: Medicinal, Culinary, and More

Mint Plants
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What do you know about the mint family, Lamiaceae, the sixth- or seventh-largest of the flowering plant families?

There’s a lot to admire about the family of plants that provides most of our common culinary herbs (e.g., basil, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, sage, thyme, summer and winter savories), many of our favorite tea herbs, and dozens (perhaps hundreds) of traditional medicinal herbs, not to mention many aromatics for use in flavorings, perfumes, and cosmetics.

You’ll also find some of them among our favorite landscaping plants. Think salvias, agastaches, and lavenders, bee-balms, hyssop, and Russian sage.

Many, if not most mint-family members contain strongly aromatic oils (think lavender, rosemary, basil, thyme, and sage), which account for their many uses as seasoning, flavoring, and perfuming agents.

Most of the mints that grow where I live in northern New England also have telltale square stems and delicate pinkish, lavender, or blue flowers. One outlier that’s become a favorite in my summer herb garden: the bright red bee-balm that seeds itself all over the place, makes a great cut flower, and serves as a tasty tea to boot.

I grow most of the annual and perennial culinary species, plus bee-balm, lemon-balm, and hyssop in my garden (or, cold-sensitive species such as rosemary and lavender) in my greenhouse year ’round.

Wild Mint Varieties

Out of curiosity, I started researching this plant family a couple of weeks ago because of the numbers of wild, invasive mint species that sprawl impressively, though uninvited, over my lawns and gardens. These perennials spread through underground stems (rhizomes) as well as seeds.

The spearmint (see photo), especially nasty, has woven an enormous network of tough, quarter-inch-thick rhizomes under an entire flower bed, spilling out into a large section of lawn, sending up a new plant every inch or two from the underground nodes. I’ve pulled up yards and yards and yards of the ropey invaders, but they still keep coming.

Wild catnip has invaded my biggest vegetable garden, seeding itself especially thick around the edges of the asparagus bed. We haven’t had cats for a couple of years to enjoy rolling around in the fresh leaves, though I’ve pulled many of the small plants to dry for winter tea. But the caztnip I’ve pulled and disposed of would make a cup or two of soothing nighttime tea for every resident of Merrimack County.

The ground-ivy comes up all over the lawn, but especially enjoys wandering into tilled soil. Once the snow melts and the spring rains come, it spreads rapidly into the vegetable garden beside our pond, turning into a thick mat sporting delicate purple flowers.

Although I find it annoying, it’s nowhere near as difficult to eradicate as spearmint. I’ve learned I can pull up a large mat of it using a spading fork stuck in at a shallow angle. During one of these digging exercises, I had an epiphany: What if I tilled up the poor, weedy soil around our septic system clean-outs and planted a few of these ground-ivy mats to grow as a ground cover in the unsightly spot? I plan to do just that right after our regularly scheduled septic-system maintenance this week.

Medicinal Use of Mint Plants: Use Caution

One thing I’ve learned from my research is that most Lamiaceae have been used for centuries in traditional medicine. Many, perhaps most, are currently under investigation for potential uses in human and veterinary medicine, as insecticides or insect repellents, and as antifungal or antibacterial protection for crop plants.

These are potent plants, full of phytocompounds that plants manufacture to protect themselves against harmful bacteria, viruses, and other assaults from the environments they evolved in.

If herbal medicine interests you, please approach the mints, especially their essential oils, tinctures, and concentrated extracts, with care. This goes for both over-the-counter and homemade remedies.

Although many have been used by traditional healers around the world for centuries, most herbs haven’t undergone rigorous testing for safety and efficacy, especially in pregnant/nursing women, children, elders, and people with chronic illnesses.

Seek out as much information as you can from books, online sources, and experienced herbalists in your area. Inform your healthcare practitioner whenever you begin using an herbal remedy.

Most herbalists recommend staying away from ingesting essential oils as medicines unless under the care and observation of a medical provider experienced with herbal medicines. Out of an abundance of caution, herbalists also urge pregnant and breastfeeding moms, as well as people with serious chronic diseases to avoid even using mint-family essential oils in massage oils.

Peppermint herbal tea

Many mint-family species contain potent phytocompounds that affect the endocrine system, sometimes dramatically. For example, sage and peppermint, even as tea or food flavorings, can reduce the milk supply in breastfeeding women. The essential oil of pennyroyal, historically used to induce menstruation or as an abortifacient, can be lethal if ingested in a large enough dose to accomplish those purposes.

Some mints contain strongly psychoactive compounds. Among the most potent: the hallucinogenic Salvia divinorum, whose use and/or sale has been banned in many nations, as well as half of U.S. states.

But there are many safe uses for mint-family herbs besides beautifying your gardens.

Safe Uses of Mint Plants

  • Tea: What we usually call the “mints” (peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, etc., in the genus mentha, and catnip, in the genus nepeta) are traditional tea herbs. They’re beloved not only for their delicious taste and invigorating aromas, but also for easing queasy stomachs, calming anxiety, and promoting restful sleep.
  • Flavor cubes: Freeze a few trays of strong mint tea, then use the ice cubes for cooling summer drinks.
  • Hair rinse: Add one part strong mint (especially rosemary) tea to one part cider vinegar for a conditioning rinse you can either leave in or rinse out. The vinegary smell dissipates after drying.
  • Facial astringent: Add a few finely minced leaves of fresh peppermint or other mint to a cup of witch hazel. Store in a glass jar for a week or more, shaking occasionally. Strain the herbs from the mixture after a week.
  • Mouthwash: Chop a quarter cup of fresh mint, bee-balm, lemon balm, basil, thyme, or oregano leaves and infuse in a quart of boiling water. When cool, strain the herbs and store in the refrigerator.
  • Breath freshener: Just chew on a few mint leaves. Sage teas and extracts have been used for centuries as a mouthwash for oral infections. Don’t use chew mint-family herbs if you’re breastfeeding, as even small amounts or sage and peppermint may reduce milk supply.
  • Scent up a space: Use the essential oil of your favorite mint-family plant in a diffuser, or using a cotton ball, spread a few drops on a light bulb.
  • Moth repellent/scented sachet: Tie a few branches of strongly scented mint (peppermint, sage, lavender, rosemary, bee-balm) together, or pull off a handful of leaves, and stuff them into the leg of an old nylon stocking. Suspend by a string inside a garment bag, tuck into bags of stored woolen clothing, or just place in your drawers to let your clothes soak up the scent. Refresh periodically to keep the scent fresh.
  • Dream pillows and nighttime face masks: Lavender is such a well-known relaxant, many folks buy or make their own pillows or face masks to lull them to sleep. To make your own, crumble a few dried lavender flowers into the flax seed you’ll use for the pillow stuffing.
  • Lavender mist: An easier way to use lavender to help you off to dreamland: Mix a few drops of lavender essential oil with a cup of vodka in a spray bottle. No, don’t drink it! Just mist your pillowcase, your sleep mask, or even your nightshirt lightly before turning in. It may take a bit of experimentation to get this whole thing right.
  • Rat Repellent (or not): You’ll read in lots of places that peppermint-soaked cotton balls or bags of fresh peppermint leaves will repel rats. Take it from someone who’s done battle with these canny rodents for decades: the only way to keep rats away is to seek out and seal every tiny crack and hole that lets them into your buildings, then clean up and securely tuck away any signs or smells of food, including unwashed tin cans in the cellar recycling bins. Keep your pet foods, as well as your full garbage bags, in tightly sealed metal containers.

About This Blog

"Living Naturally" is all about living a naturally healthy lifestyle. Margaret Boyles covers health tips, ways to avoid illness, natural remedies, food that's good for body and soul, recipes for homemade beauty products, and ideas to make your home a healthy, safe haven. Our goal is also to encourage self-sufficiency, whether it's re-learning some age-old skills or getting informed on modern improvements that help us live better healthier lives.

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Wasps and mint

Is it true that mint deters wasps?

Wasps and mints

I’ve often read that planting mint or spraying peppermint oil around a home or other structure will help deter aggressive aggressive wasp species. I found one bit of hard research to support this claim. not only for peppermint, but also for essential oils or mixtures of clove, pennyroyal, lemongrass, ylang ylang, spearmint, wintergreen, sage, rosemary, lavender, geranium, patchouli, citronella, Roman chamomile, thyme, fennel seed, and anise.

If aggressive wasps are nesting around a building and pose a threat to residents and visitors, consider hiring a professional to eliminate them, especially if you’re allergic to their stings. Check out this fact sheet for more information: “Controlling Wasps, Bees and Hornets Around Your Home“ 

Wasps and mints

I’ve often read that planting mint or spraying peppermint oil around a home or other structure will help deter aggressive aggressive wasp species. I found one bit of hard research to support this claim. not only for peppermint, but also for essential oils or mixtures of clove, pennyroyal, lemongrass, ylang ylang, spearmint, wintergreen, sage, rosemary, lavender, geranium, patchouli, citronella, Roman chamomile, thyme, fennel seed, and anise.

If aggressive wasps are nesting around a building and pose a threat to residents and visitors, consider hiring a professional to eliminate them, especially if you’re allergic to their stings. Check out this fact sheet for more information: “Controlling Wasps, Bees and Hornets Around Your Home“ 

wasps and other bothersome bees

I get wasps that nest under my porch every year. I was told that mint plants would keep them away.

Good question!

Some research shows that wasps (vespids include the yellow-jacket wasps I assume you worry about) are repelled by certain smells, including some of the mints. You might want to make a spray of one (or a mixture) of the essential oils mentioned. I’d suggest mixing 50-100 drops of the essential oil with half a cup of a carrier oil and spraying the mixture on the timbers under your porch.

You could also plant peppermint or other mints along the edge of your porch–not under it, because the plants will need full sun to flourish. Mints spread rapidly, though, so I’d suggest planting yours in a large container rather than directly in the ground. You’ll be able to harvest the leaves for making tea or adding to salads.

Good luck!

Very Helpful Article

Very Helpful Article

I have a bed of spearmint I got from my daughter's grounds. It grew out of control both places, but it DID cure 5 different stomach aches!

:)

As I have only a little

As I have only a little garden space, I contain my mint by burying a decent size pot and plant my mint in it. This keeps it controlled.

As I have only a little

As I have only a little garden space, I contain my mint by burying a decent size pot and plant my mint in it. This keeps it controlled.

Is it true that mint helps

Is it true that mint helps keep ants out of your house.

It's a persistent myth, Mike.

It's a persistent myth, Mike. But University of California research found that even 4% and 8% essential oil of mint did little to repel ants. http://bit.ly/1w1Ac3N

Is it true that mint helps

Is it true that mint helps keep
ants out of your house?

Thanks for the interesting

Thanks for the interesting article. I have mint and lots of Basil in my yard and great new ideas about using them.

Thanks for sharing your

Thanks for sharing your research and ideas about the mint family. My daughter and I are avid growers of every type of mint we can find. This stems from a childhood memory of mine from when my grandmother maintained an herb garden.
She used to send me out in the back yard to pick mint to use for tea. I loved the strong scents the plants freely gave up each time I touched them, to make my cuttings.

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