On our last stops of the herbal tour of Zaytuna Farm we met Rosemary, Yarrowand Aloe. This stop is with the iconic, delicious, aromatic staple of any herb garden, Mentha spicata, you might know him as garden mint, common mint or spearmint. You might also know him by his numerous cousins; there are over 20 species of mint, and over 200 varieties. You might know his Egyptian cousin Mentha sylvestris, the star of Egyptian mint tea, or the tiny, prostrate Corsican mint Mentha requeinii. Or perhaps you know Peppermint, Pennyroyal, the surprising Pineapple Mint, or the truly delightful Chocolate Mint.
But don’t let me get distracted by the mints we don’t have, let’s just stick to the one we do. Zaytuna Farm’s plant community has plenty of varieties that seem to come and go, travellers that come with the stream of volunteers and visitors that gift the gardens cuttings and personal favourites, but the staple Garden Mint or Common Mint is a popular and abundant herb in Zaytuna’s kitchen garden.
Here he grows under our bananas, interplanted with comfrey, sweet potato, roses and other herbs. In Zaytuna’s subtropical climate mint is a perennial herb but in colder climates it can be deciduous. Mints have creeping rootstock and stem, and can spread both above and below ground, something to keep in mind when planting it. Mint likes rich, loose soil, with plenty of sunshine and water.
Mint is propagated by seed, cuttings, roots or runner. Mint species will readily cross fertilise so if you’re hoping to save seeds be aware of different varieties flowering at the same time. While some mints are richer in volatile oils than others they all have similar properties. And in common with other familiar herbs they pack a surprising punch in the vitamin and mineral department. Specifically mints contain Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, B12 and K, as well as calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, selenium and zinc. It’s also interesting to note that mint (like all plants) can vary in appearance and constituents depending on soil and growing conditions.
Mint is common but never dull. He’s a star used in kitchens around the world, most commonly fresh or dried for teas. Mint salads are common across the Mediterranean. Mint yogurt is a traditional side dish in Indian, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines. Mint gravy is a traditional side to lamb dishes. Mint is also a delicious addition to soups, curries and stir fries. Mint tea is a refreshing digestive aid that helps breakdown rich and fatty food by stimulating digestion. Mint left in drinking water gives a light minty flavour that’s lovely in summer especially.
Medicinally, mint is used primarily for its effects on the nervous system, stomach and colon. It’s an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, antiviral, carminative, cholagogue, digestive, diuretic, and stimulant. It’s been used to help colds and flu symptoms,colic, indigestion, diarrhea, muscle spasms, menstrual cramps, headaches, fever, heartburn, and travel sickness. Peppermint tea is a traditional remedy for nerves and tension. Peppermint oil capsules are an effective treatment for the symptoms of IBS. Mint, yarrow and elderflowers is a traditional herbal formula for colds, flu and fever. Mint is also reputed to repel insects and mice.
Peppermint essential oil has been shown to be effective in treating tension headaches, as well as being soothing to bites, sore muscles and cramps. Mint essential oils should be checked for the specific species, as their use and cautions vary. In high doses peppermint oil can be a neurotoxin and a skin irritant. Peppermint oil should not be used on or near the faces of young children or by people with cardiac fibrillation or G6PD deficiency. Spearmint oil has an invigorating scent, and although it may not be as therapeutic as peppermint it is generally considered safer (and suitable for children). Pennyroyal in any form can be toxic when ingested and should not be taken during pregnancy as it may be an abortive. Although mint is a traditional remedy for heartburn in can occasionally increase it in some people, especially those with active GERD symptoms. Excessive amounts of mint may dry up breast milk.
Because of the refreshing flavour, you’ll often find mint in tooth powders and homemade mouthwashes. Mint essential oils are often used in blends for breathing/congestion and muscle aches and pains. Mint leaves can be used in a paste to treat acne and skin issues. As a hydrosol mint is used as to tone and hydrate the skin and may help balance oily skin, cool sunburn, and soothe inflamed skin or itchy bites. Peppermint oil (properly diluted of course) is reputed to help hair growth and scalp health.
Mint is, in my humble opinion, a great gateway herb, a simple, delightful companion, who doesn’t ask for much, but will give more back. He will sit quietly in a pot, or stretch his legs and take over half your garden if you let him. His aroma is uplifting and calming simultaneously, in the same way that he is ordinary (everyone knows a mint or two) yet also extraordinary, (breathe in the smell of fresh mint tea and honey and see what I mean,) all at the same time. Mint is good company, the neighbour who as you (b)rush by him releases an aromatic reminder to be grateful and to appreciate what you have, to never undervalue the simple pleasures of life.
“We may think we are nurturing our garden, but of course it’s our garden that is really nurturing us.”Jenny Uglow
- The Modern Herbal Dispensatory by Thomas Easley and Steven Horne
- How can I use Herbs in my Daily Life? By Isabell Shipard
- 375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols by Jeanne Rose
- Alchemy of Herbs by Rosalee de la Foret
- Essential Oil Safety by Robert Tisserand and Rodney Young