The mints (Mentha spp.)are looking good in the little herb bed outside the kitchen window. I grow them in pots, since they are very invasive. Some have escaped, and I have to work hard to keep them under control.
I grow several varieties. A monk writing during the ninth century said there were so many kinds of mint that he would rather count the sparks of Vulcan’s furnace.  It is generally accepted that there are about six species of mint with more than six hundred varieties available which continue to hybridise. They include water mint (Mentha aquatica), field mint (Mentha arvensis), English horsemint (Mentha longifolia), peppermint (Mentha piperita), and spearmint (Mentha spicata syn. M. viridis or M. sativa).
It has many uses in the kitchen, fresh in salsas, dressings, pesto and potato salads or add it to light summer soups such as pea or asparagus, and try sprinkling it over strawberries or peaches, add it to fruit drinks, Moroccan-style sweet tea, cocktails such as mojitos and juleps, rub the leaves around cocktail glasses before putting in the drinks, or just pop a sprig in fresh lemonade. Mint leaves can be frozen, dried or infused in oil or vinegar.
Of the hundreds of varieties and cultivars of the mints, peppermint (M. piperita) is the most used medicinally. It is a cross between water mint and spearmint. The German Commission E (equivalent of the FDA) approves the use of fresh or dried peppermint leaf to treat spastic disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, and considers it effective in relieving gas in the digestive system. It has been used for hundreds of years for digestive problems, indigestion, bloating, wind and nausea. Peppermint Tea is a common home remedy:
1 tsp. dried mint leaf (or 1 tbsp. of fresh)
250 ml boiling water. Steep together, covered, for 10 minutes.
You can add any variety of mint a bowl of boiling water and inhale the steam to relieve congestion and stuffy nose. It contains menthol, a natural aromatic decongestant that helps to break up phlegm and mucus, making it easier to expel. Mint Tea also cools and soothes the throat, nose and other parts of the respiratory system and helps alleviate congestion brought on by coughs and colds.
Mint Tea also provides quick relief for nausea and may relieve headaches and migraines.You could try simply crushing some fresh mint leaves and rubbing them on your forehead when you feel a headache coming on.
The Latin word mente means ‘thought’ as it was believed that mint stimulated the brain. Pliny advised scholars to wear a crown made from the plant to aid concentration. Gerard said of it: “The smell of Mint does stir up the minde,”  and Culpepper commented “Being smelled into, it is comfortable for the head and memory”.  Peppermint Tea is particularly good for calming the nerves, insomnia and anxiety. A mild infusion acts as a sedative whilst a stronger infusion acts as a stimulant and a tonic.
Menthol, the compound in mint leaves that gives them their distinct aroma, also has painkilling and anaesthetic properties. For insect bites, irritated skin, rashes etc. bathe the affected area in mint tea to cool and soothe. Fresh leaves rubbed on the affected area will reduce the pain of bee and wasp stings.
Mint is a natural anti-microbial agent and breath freshener. Peppermint Tea has a painkilling effect, as a mouthwash can help sore gums and toothache or be used as a gargle for sore throats.
Make a mint infusion by steeping several stalks of fresh mint in boiling water for 15 -20 minutes. Pour this into the bath for a refreshing, relaxing soak, or put it in a footbath for tired feet that will leave them soft and deodorised.
Use a mint infusion rinse to reduce frizz and increase shine in your hair.
Avoid large doses of peppermint if breastfeeding as it can reduce the milk flow.
It should be avoided by those with gallstones, those who have a hiatal hernia or heartburn caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Peppermint should not be given to children under five. Do not take the essential oil internally. Pennyroyal should not be taken internally.
© Anna Franklin 2020
 Strabo. ed. H. L. Jones, The Geography of Strabo. Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, Ltd, Cambridge, Mass, 1924
 Gerard’s Herbal, Senate, London, 1994
 Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, W. Foulsham & Co. Ltd, n/d