Fresh as Mint!
It's not just for mojito. Let's discover properties, benefits and uses of the many species of Mint, a homegrown plant that smells of summer.
What is mint?
Mint is part of the Lamiaceae family together with the equally famous sisters Melissa, Lavender, Salvia. The Mentha genus includes numerous species subject to strong hybridization phenomena. That’s why it may have happened to you too to find a type of mint in an urban garden that is completely different from the one you collected in your grandmother’s vegetable garden. It is a plant that grows spontaneously along roadsides, ditches and in humid environments up to 1600 m, but numerous varieties are also meticulously cultivated.
It is widespread in the Mediterranean basin and in the temperate areas of Europe, where it originated. It is a perennial herbaceous plant with a characteristic and intense odor; the flowers are violet, pink or white corolla and the leaves vary slightly from species to species. Mentha arvensis or field mint, Mentha longifolia or wild mint, aquatic mint or Roman mint, are just some of the typical varieties present in our country, each characterized by a different degree of aromaticity.
Of particular importance is the Mentha Piperita, a spontaneously created hybrid from the Mentha viridis and the Mentha aquatica. It was discovered in England in the 17th century, and it was given the name of Peppermint. Today it’s cultivated and appreciated all over the world; it is rich in enzymes and flavonoids, and owes most of its beneficial and aromatic properties to Menthol.
Where does mint come from?
A Greek legend about the origin of mint tells that the nymph Minta, loved by Pluto, was transformed by Proserpina, angry at her husband’s betrayal, into a small plant, so that anyone could step on her. Pluto, to console her beloved, gave her a pleasant and fragrant scent so that it could still be appreciated by humankind. In ancient Greece, the plant was used in funeral rites, but also to treat indigestion. Instead, it seems that in medieval Europe mint was combined with vinegar and used as a mouthwash to freshen the breath; both of these uses, as we know, were maintained and refined over the centuries, thanks to the possibility of extracting menthol and other essences from the fresh plant. From dental hygiene to the well-being of the digestive system, mint has become increasingly popular thanks to candies, chewing gum, toothpastes and herbal teas.
Is mint good for you?
The mint plant, in its many varieties, has a strong antiseptic and digestive power and, if applied as a solution on the skin, has a tonic and astringent power. Its infusion also has a calming power on cough and is useful against oral and respiratory inflammation. In large doses, mint has an exciting and, apparently, aphrodisiac effect.
Several studies on the bioactivity of peppermint seem to indicate significant antimicrobial and antiviral, antioxidant and anti-allergenic activities of the plant, as well as relaxing properties on the gastrointestinal system and analgesic on the central and peripheral nervous system.
How is mint used?
It probably goes without saying that mint leaves can be used in salads, sauces, drinks, juices, syrups and liqueurs.
For all of these purposes, peppermint is less suitable, since its flavor is a bit too strong. To fully enjoy its complex aroma, it is used in refreshing and digestive teas, or better yet in infusions. This is why we at wilden.herbals have chosen to include this variety within our Remedium n. 3 – Digestive, an herbal tea with a fresh and light taste to be appreciated after every meal, which promotes digestion and reconciles a correct intestinal cycle. The infused leaves release all the aromas and essences with the characteristic menthol flavor, favoring proper digestion and leaving a pleasant sensation of freshness.
Mint can then be used to prepare a herbal syrup for your favorite summer cocktails: just lightly crush 40 g of basil and mint leaves in a saucepan, add 150 g of sugar and 235 ml of water. Turn on medium heat and once the sugar has completely dissolved, let it cool. Filter the leaves and keep the syrup in the fridge, it will be perfect for a Mojito with a twist!
- To gently but effectively extract the essential oils from mint and in general from plants of the same family, the secret is to rub the leaves without breaking them, so that the “small hairs” on the surface can release the oils without dispersing chlorophyll. That’s why, when preparing your Mint Julep, you have to “slap” the leaves and not crush them!
- The name of the genus (Mentha) derives from the Latin mens “mind”, because it was believed that its infusion could strengthen the memory.
- In North Africa, mint is added to tea to combat heat exhaustion. Mint tea is generally very popular in the Arab world where alcohol is not consumed.
- Mint candies cause an immediate feeling of freshness because menthol stimulates the cold receptors in the nose.
- McKay, D. L., & Blumberg, J. B. (2006). A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of peppermint tea (Mentha piperita L.). Phytotherapy Research: An International Journal Devoted to Pharmacological and Toxicological Evaluation of Natural Product Derivatives, 20(8), 619-633.
- Bulgarelli, Gilberto, and Sergio Flamigni. Guida Pratica Alle Piante Officinali. Hoepli, 2011.