Spring is floating around out there somewhere, just waiting for its moment to, well, spring. It’s been quite the winter around the majority of the country, bringing moisture that was well needed; there is no arguing that. I think for most of us though, we are ready to move on. We are ready to dig our hands into the dirt and feel the sunshine on our faces.
One of the things I most look forward to is the smell of mint in the air. It grows wild throughout my yard and when a strong breeze kicks up, it sets me on a peppermint cloud, bringing me to a standstill from whatever task I happen to be involved in at the moment. I know that for many, the mint family is a nuisance, spreading like wildfire wherever its heart desires. But for me, that nuisance was a blessing for my less than green thumb when I began my journey into the gardening world. And when I discovered just how useful the sprawling bugger was, it was easy to say: let it grow.
Though many in the mint family pack a whole health wallop, the herb we are loving on presently is Mentha Piperita, or Peppermint. This common weed is widely used for its properties as an antibacterial (inhibiting the growth of bacteria), antiseptic (applied to skin to prevent bacterial growth), and carminative (to relieve gas and griping). It is also a mild analgesic (pain relief without loss of consciousness) and has nervine (calm nervous tension and nourish the nervous system) properties.
Let’s begin with the easiest and most common form for getting that healing dose of peppermint: A simple cup of tea, made by steeping about 1 tsp of the dried herb or 2 tsp of the fresh leaves in 8 ounces of boiled water for about 15 minutes, is a lovely remedy for many everyday ailments, including headaches and stomach upset. Drinking a cup of peppermint tea about an hour after a meal helps to keep your digestive juices in working order and when taken prior to eating, might help you to avoid gas pains. Its mild anesthetic properties can sooth the stomach wall and relieve the vomiting associated with pregnancy and motion sickness.
Peppermint can help to relieve anxiety and maintain focus, aiding those who deal with daily stress. And while it can be a soothing herb, it also has the opposite function of encouraging circulatory flow and treating lethargy. A cup or two of a stronger brew, say a tbsp of herb per 8 ounces hot water, can offer you a boost without the caffeine hangover. It’s a valuable help for colds and flu. I usually turn to peppermint when I feel a cold coming on. Making an extra strong dose and letting it steep for an hour or two will usually do the trick when caught early. Right now though, I go easy on the peppermint because I’m breastfeeding and it has been known to reduce mother’s milk.
Another way to utilize the tea is for compresses. Soaking a clean towel in the hot, steeped herb can do wonders for headaches. Just place the towel on your forehead, lie down and relax. You can use the same method for sunburn. Just allow the towel to cool and replace as needed.
In addition to the herb, I always keep some pure peppermint essential oil on hand. It packs a bigger punch than the fresh or dried herb and one or two drops will usually do the job. A drop massaged into each temple always eases my headaches. Be sure to wash your hands afterwards because you DO NOT want to get it in your eyes. If you do: washing your eyes out with cool water will usually help. Because of its antiseptic properties, a couple drops of the oil on a minor kitchen burn or scrape can help sterilize the skin and ease the pain.
Putting a few drops into steaming water and draping your head over the water with a towel can relieve sinus congestion. You can also put a couple drops into your palms and rub them together briskly, creating warmth, and then cup your hands at your nose and breathe deeply. This also helps for concentration and focus. But be careful to only breathe this two or three times, as this can stimulate the heart and possibly cause lightheadedness and burning eyes. Use in an aromatherapy diffuser to provide an overall uplifting and enthusiastic feeling to any room.
I keep a bar of peppermint soap in my shower. For me, there is nothing like the magic of mint in a steaming bath or shower. It lifts my spirit and is super soothing for skin rashes. Adding a few drops of oil to your favorite lotion makes a great foot balm, and gargling with an infusion of the herb freshens the breath!
While the benefits of this herb are far-reaching, exercise caution if you are pregnant or nursing. Do not overuse peppermint in any form for any condition. The suggestions printed here are from experiences I’ve benefited from personally and do not mean they will work the same for you. Every body is different. Consult your doctor if you are more comfortable doing so.
The possibilities of this aromatic herb are many, far more than what I’ve included here. I encourage you to explore it further and maybe plant some in your own yard to enjoy its plentiful benefits. However, if you would like to avoid a mint takeover, I’d suggest potting it.
Visit me at Folkways Farm, to read about urban farm life and the happy shenanigans of my family! Thanks for reading Mother Earth News!
My resources for this article include: The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal, by David Hoffmann, The Essential Herbal for Natural Health, by Holly Bellebuono, The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, by Valerie Ann Worwood, and The Way of Herbs, by Michael Tierra.
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