Thursday, October 26, 2017

On the Use of Mint

Mint (Mentha longfolia) comes from the Greek word Minthe, a nymph who was transformed into an aromatic plant that was known in Greek mythology as the herb of hospitality.  One of earliest uses of mint was as a room deodorizer strewn across floors to cover other smells.  Stepping on the mint helped to spread its scent throughout the room.  Today it commonly used for a similar purpose in sprays and mouthwashes.

The Bible mentions mint in connection with taxes and tithing.  In Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42 Jesus preaches woe to the teachers of the law and pharisees who tithe a tenth of their mint and other herbs to the temple, but neglect the more important matters of the law. The ancient Jews strew mint on the floor of the temple to give it a sweet smell.

There are eighteen species and hundreds of varieties of mint.  Spearmint (Mentha spicata) and peppermint (Mentha piperata) are the two varieties with the most medicinal value.  As early as 1704 the Historia Plantarum identified peppermint as effective in treating stomach weakness and diarrhea. By 1721, peppermint leaves had attained official status in the London Pharmacopoeia, although spearmint was still the medicinal mint of choice.

Spearmint was cultivated in every convent garden in Europe by the nineteenth century. The Edinburgh New Dispensatory of 1789 recommended spearmint flavored water as a remedy for vomiting and symptoms of the flu.  One of the Shakers’ first medicinal preparations in colonial was a distilled peppermint water used as a digestive cordial. The American Herbal of 1801 listed mint as a treatment for stomach ache and chest pains.  Today Menthol from mint is an ingredient of many cosmetics and perfumes. It is used clinically use to alleviate nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, colds, headache and cramps.

Mint has one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any foods and is believed to have a number of health benefits including relief of allergy and cold symptoms, sore throat, upset stomach, indigestion, gas and bloating.  Peppermint oil has been found to relieve discomfort from Irritable Bowel Syndrome and heartburn.   Applying peppermint extract externally and taken internally in a tea is as effective as aspirin-style drugs in relieving pain.   Applied topically as an oil or lotion, mint has soothing effect on insect bites, rash or other skin reactions.  It is a natural anti-microbial agent and breath freshener.

Today 92% of the total production of peppermint comes from Morocco with the other 8% mostly from the United States and Argentina. In the United States, Oregon and Washington produce most of the country's peppermint.  Nutritionally peppermint contains  0.48 grams carbohydrates, 0.03 grams of fat, 0.30 grams of fiber and trace amounts of potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin C, iron and vitamin A.