[Author's Note: All material presented here is for historical and informational purposes only and not intended as medical advice.]
One of the banes of many gardeners is a cute little family of herbs that we know as the Mint family. If left to its own devices, mints will attempt to take over the garden, the yard, and quite probably eat the house while it's going. There are a wide variety of mints available for planting and use and, so long as you keep the plants restricted to a specific area or grow them in pots, you should have very little trouble growing them. To restrict the growth of your mints, try sinking metal or plastic barriers at least 6 inches into the ground around the area you wish to plant them in.
Some people will try to tell you that mints are just annoying little weeds, but don't believe them for a minute. Mints are used all around the world in cooking, medicinally, and even for such lowly things as groundcover. Just imagine mowing a yard full of this hardy little plant.
Mints have been around for a very long time. They were used by monks in the Middle Ages to cure mouth sores, to heal stings and bites, to keep milk from curdling, and to repel rats and mice. These days, mints are wonderful for those who suffer from allergy or sinus irritations. The menthol scent helps to clear nasal passages and stuffy heads as well as settle upset stomachs. Peppermint was admitted into the London Pharmacopeia in 1721 under the name Mentha piperitis sapore. It is also listen in Germany's Commission E list of approved therapeutic herbal medicines.
As a tea, peppermint can help upset stomach and indigestion. Used as an inhalant, lozenge, or rub it can help relieve symptoms of coughs and colds. As a general rule, peppermint oil that has been diluted into other oils or that is used as a rub will cause no side effects. Some people's skin will be more sensitive than others, however, so patch testing is always advisable. Do not put onto the faces of babies or small children as the oils is often too strong for them. Additionally, peppermint may cause a rash that is similar to hives in people that are sensitive. Do not ingest pure peppermint oil as it is poisonous. Chewing on the leaf won't hurt you, but the oil should be avoided. Spearmint is slightly less effective, medicinally, but it can be used in the same way as peppermint.
For a stuffy head, place half a dozen drops of peppermint oil into a cup of hot, steaming water. Drape a towel over your head and the cup and inhale the steam. If you're congested while trying to sleep, place some mint in the pillowcase. The weight of your head will crush the herb and release the scent as you sleep.
Magickally, mints are good for spells involving money, love, lust, healing, exorcism, travel, hospitality, and protection. If you have a secret wish, write it on a piece of paper and wrap the paper in the leaves of spearmint. Bundle this into a red bag and sew it shut. Keep the bag hidden away until the mint loses its sent. If you wish hasn't come true by the time the scent is gone, it is unlikely to happen. Burn the bag once your spell is completed.
Some of the varieties of mints
Peppermint/Brandy Mint, Mentha piperita spp., has a strong menthol scent and comes in several different varieties. Blue Balsam Mint is a variety of peppermint that is strongly scented. This mint is another of the low growing varieties with light shiny leaves. Chocolate Mint is also a variety of peppermint that has overtones of chocolate in its scent. Orange Mint, Mentha piperita citrata, has an overtone of Bergamot to its scent. This mint is a wonderful addition to fruits, drinks, and deserts.
Corsican Mint, Mentha requienii, has a strong menthol scent reminiscent of Creme de Menthe. This mint has a shallow root system and does not tolerate a wide variety of temperatures or moisture level fluctuations. It is one of the more difficult mints to grow. If you keep it away from the midday sun and keep it moist and well fed, you should have a happy little plant on your hands.
Spearmint, Mentha spicata, is somewhat less menthol smelling than peppermint, with a milder taste. Curled Mint, Mentha spicata crispa, is a variety of spearmint has curled leaves that makes it perfect as a garnish for foods and will aid in digestion after a large meal if you can convince your guests to crunch away on it. Grapefruit Mint is a variety of spearmint with a tart grapefruit overtone. Try it in tea for a nice pick me up. In late summer it will produce beautiful lavender flowers. Kentucky Colonel is the favorite spearmint to put into Mint Juleps. It has dark crinkled leaves and is a favorite of lowcountry growers. This is one of the hardier varieties of mints, so remember to plant it where it will be contained. Lemon Mint is another of the Spearmint varieties that has its own distinctive scent. It is sweet and fruity with just a hint of lemon overtone that produces distinctive lavender flower spikes.
Japanese Field Mint, Mentha arvensis piperascens, has dark, smooth green leaves and a very strong menthol aroma. This little plant is the main source for Japanese menthol used to flavor candies and drinks.
Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum pilosum, has a strong minty/menthol scent and can be used like peppermint. This mint spreads rapidly and can grow up to a height of two feet. Remember to plant this one where its growth can be restricted.
Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium, is an excellent ground cover. It is low growing and dense with penny shaped leaves. An added benefit of having this in your garden is that it will keep away fleas if you have pets that romp outside. Be careful with this mint, however, as it has been known to induce miscarriage in pregnant women.
Red Stemmed Apple Mint, Mentha gracilis, is a rare variety of mint as it carries both spearmint and peppermint oils. If you like both, this is a good variety to try.
Mint Honey: Fill a canning jar halfway to the top with honey. Add fresh mint leaves (make sure they are dry!!) and then fill the jar to the top with more honey. Let sit for 2-6 weeks before opening.
Mint Tea: Fill a tea ball with mint leaves or just place them into a cup of steaming water. Strain leaves or remove tea ball after 3-4 minutes. Add honey and lemon.
Mint Fruit Compote: Obtain a wide variety of fresh fruits. My favorite combination is watermelon, honeydew melon, strawberries, currants, cherries, and raspberries. Cut fruit into bite sized pieces. Place in a bowl and add about an inch of water. Pour in a cup of sugar. Just before putting into the refrigerator to sit, add in either peppermint water or sprigs of fresh mint and the juice of several lemons. Serve cold.
Used here by permission of the author.
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