Finding that mint cleaned the breath and settled the digestion, Romans of classical times valued it; they didn't have chocolate, but they did have after-dinner mint! They also brought mint to Britain. Perhaps, indeed, chewing mint leaves is superior, given that our chocolate "mint" doesn't contain any of the herb, and precious little of its oil. It's also moot whether it'd be better for us to clean our teeth on freshly picked mint than use a spurious "mint" toothpaste.
The savor or smell of the water Mint rejoyceth the heart of man, for which cause they use to strew it in chambers and places of recreation, pleasure, and repose, and where feasts and banquets are made.
"Altogether," says Dr Braddon, "the oil of Peppermint forms the best, safest, and most agreeable of known antiseptics."
- William Thomas Fernie (1897)
The essence of summer: flowering mint, meadow grasses, sultry sunshine, and feeding butterflies. Norfolk, England in July
The vertues of the wild Mints are more especially to dissolve winde in the stomack, to helpe the chollick and those that are short-winded, and are an especiall remedy for those that have venerous dreames and pollutions in the night, used both inwardly, and the juyce being applyed outwardly to the testicles or cods.
- Parkinson (1640)
Caution: Avoid taking pennyroyal if you are pregnant.
Peppermint's higher levels of aromatic oils come with necessary cautions, especially if you use peppermint essential oil. For example, while a mint tea of any species is soothing to the stomach, taking peppermint essential oil internally can lead to stomach spasms; it has been implicated in miscarriages. A drop or two of the essential oil, diluted with a carrier oil and applied to the brow, can relieve a migraine but larger quantities can cause bad headaches.
Using any of the wild mints is considered safe, although pennyroyal should not be taken in pregnancy. Peppermint is the strongest and most cooling mint and is the "official" mint. Mints with more of a spearmint taste are gentler and warmer, and are better for children's fevers, lack of appetite and weak digestive systems.
Medicinally, mint is classified as both cooling and heating, depending on use, species and form taken. This dual energetic pattern, tellingly, is recognized in traditional Chinese, Ayurvedic and western herbal traditions. You can feel the effect when taking mint tea: it warms, then cools the palate and digestion, even the skin; it is stimulating and then soothing.
The heating effect is seen in the way mint is used as a heart tonic, which relieves palpitations, sending blood to the skin's surface, in the form of sweating. Hot mint tea is an excellent recourse for disturbed digestion, relieving spasms and relaxing the stomach walls, while also anesthetizing them. It is a proven and peerless remedy for such socially embarrassing conditions as bad breath, flatulence, and hiccups; it works for indigestion, bloating, griping, colic, nausea, and vomiting (including morning and travel sickness).
Mint is also antiseptic and mildy antiviral and antifungal. It combats mouth ulcers caused by Herpes simplex virus. It is good for coughs, colds, and fever, alone or with elderberry. It also has a traditional use in treating gallstones and for hives, sinusitis and emphysema, earache and toothache, all in addition to its culinary versatility. And, who knows, as Parkinson writes (see left), mint may still be used to reduce "venerous dreames and pollutions in the night," if that is what you want.
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