Herbs and spices were used by ancient cultures to heal the body, mind, and spirit. While the western world has largely replaced these natural remedies with pharmaceuticals, roughly 80 percent of people worldwide still use traditional or ancient medicine. This is not surprising considering that more than 80 percent of pharmaceuticals are derived or developed from natural products, including plants. In this series, we will explore the healing power of herbs and spices while learning how to incorporate these ancient remedies into our daily diet.
Mint (Mentha) is widely used for its culinary, medicinal, and aromatherapeutic properties. It represents a group of perennial herbs that includes 18 species and 11 hybrids. The most commonly known are peppermint, spearmint, and wild mint.
Today, mint is primarily known for its refreshing taste and aroma. However, in ancient times, it was recognized for its numerous health benefits.
Thousands of years ago, mint was used in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome to treat indigestion and soothe the stomach. Peppermint leaves have been found in Egyptian pyramids dating back to 1,000 B.C.
In the Middle Ages, peppermint was used to polish teeth and to keep rats and mice out of stores. By the 18th century, in Western Europe, peppermint was used for nausea, morning sickness, vomiting, menstrual disorders, and respiratory infections. Mint was listed in the London Pharmacopoeia in 1721 as a remedy for colds, headaches, sores, and venereal disease.
Mint was also acknowledged for its ability to interact with the central nervous system in traditional medicine. For example, in South Africa, the dried leaves were burned and the smoke inhaled as a treatment for mental illness. In Mediterranean countries, mint was used to treat neuralgia (nerve pain), as well as an anticonvulsant and sedative.
Recently, scientists have confirmed the many healing properties of mint through numerous studies demonstrating its effectiveness in regulating the nervous system.
Modern Science Catches up to Ancient Wisdom
While the healing power of mint has been harnessed among ancient cultures for thousands of years, modern medicine has been slow to recognize its benefits. However, the perception of mint is changing as scientists have begun validating the wisdom of the ancients through studies that demonstrate numerous healing abilities, such as:
Fights cancer: Peppermint inhibited the growth of colon cancer cells, according to a study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Peppermint may also inhibit prostate cancer growth. According to preclinical research, peppermint contains menthol, which was reported to induce prostate cancer cell death.
Reverses diabetes: Mint is a “promising treatment” for diabetes, according to a study published in 2017. Mint was found to decrease fasting blood sugar, total cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol. “These effects were comparable with the effects of [the] standard antidiabetic drug (glibenclamide),” according to the researchers.
Alleviates pain from osteoarthritis: Combining peppermint with rosemary essential oil reduced pain from osteoarthritis by increasing antioxidant capacity and improving the integrity of the structure of the knee joint in rats, according to a study published in 2021.
Improves memory and cognitive ability: Peppermint aroma can enhance memory and increase alertness, according to a study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience. A second study confirmed that peppermint, whether exposed orally or through aroma, positively affected cognition and mood.
“Treats” Alzheimer’s disease: Mint extracts protect nerve cells and can be used as “possible sources of treatments in managing AD,” according to a review article published in the journal Antioxidants in 2020. For example, mint extract reportedly protects against age-induced stress and neurodegeneration and improves memory and cognitive ability.
Diminishes skin aging: Peppermint peel skin treatment was effective in treating signs of skin aging, including discoloration, wrinkles, and skin inelasticity, according to a study published in the Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents.
Relieves allergies: Peppermint may relieve symptoms of allergic rhinitis, according to a 2001 study. Peppermint inhibited histamine release from rat mast cells. Nasal symptoms, including sneezing and nasal rubbing, were also inhibited. Consequently, peppermint extract “may be clinically effective in alleviating the nasal symptoms of allergic rhinitis,” according to the researchers.
Diminishes shingles-associated pain: A 2002 case study reported that applying peppermint oil directly to the skin resulted in an “almost immediate improvement” in pain caused by shingles. Pain relief persisted 4-6 hours after application. Furthermore, peppermint continued to exert a “strong analgesic effect on neuropathic pain” during the two months of follow-up monitoring.
Improves sleep: Aromatherapy with peppermint essential oil reportedly improved sleep quality in cardiac and cancer patients.
Promotes alertness: The smell of peppermint led to increased alertness among drivers, as well as decreased frustration, fatigue, and anxiety, according to a study published in the North American Journal of Psychology.
Antifungal: The most common human fungal pathogen is Candida albicans. It is normally present in small amounts in the mouth, skin, and gastrointestinal tract. When out of balance, it can result in painful mucosal infections such as vaginal yeast infections and oral thrush. Peppermint showed strong antifungal action against Candida albicans, according to a 2021 article in Mini-Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry.
Soothes irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): Enteric-coated peppermint oil capsules were reported as safe and effective in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome, according to a study in the Journal of Gastroenterology. 79 percent of adult patients who consumed the capsules three to four times daily, 15-30 minutes before meals for one month reported an alleviation of the severity of abdominal pain, 56 percent were entirely pain-free and 83 percent reported less abdominal distension.
The healing effect of enteric-coated peppermint oil extends to children, as well as adults. Seventy-five percent of children receiving peppermint oil for two weeks reported reduced severity of pain associated with IBS, according to a study in the Journal of Pediatrics. The researchers concluded, “Peppermint oil may be used as a therapeutic agent during the symptomatic phase of IBS.”
Mint may be effective, in part, in relieving symptoms of IBS by relaxing the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract. According to a study in Gastroenterology, researchers concluded that peppermint oil had a relaxing effect on the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal tract of rabbits and guinea pigs due to reducing calcium influx.
Relieves tension headache: Local topical application with peppermint oil is effective in treating tension-type headaches, the most common form of headache. Peppermint oil is as effective at relieving tension headache as acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) or paracetamol (acetaminophen).
Relieves nausea: A 2016 study concluded that “peppermint oil inhalation is a viable first-line treatment for nausea in postoperative cardiac surgery patients.” Post-surgery, 34 patients experienced nausea with an average nausea rating of 3.29 on a scale of 0 to five, with 5 being the greatest nausea. Two minutes after inhaling peppermint oil, the average nausea rating significantly dropped to 1.44.
Likewise, a 2021 study concurred that peppermint essential oil is “an effective independent or complementary modality for relief” of nausea and vomiting in hospitalized patients when inhaled using aromatherapy.
Reduces anxiety: Peppermint has been shown to reduce anxiety. For instance, a 2022 study concluded that peppermint essential oil inhalation significantly reduced anxiety in patients with acute coronary syndrome.
Relieves coughing: A 2013 study, reported that patients with chronic cough benefited from inhaling menthol, an active component of mint. Compared to the placebo, patient’s cough thresholds were significantly higher following inhalation of nebulized menthol.
How to Add Mint to Your Diet
The whole mint plant is edible, including the stems, leaves, and flowers, and can be used in culinary and medicinal applications. Mint can also be consumed as an essential oil.
How to procure mint
Mint can be grown in your yard or indoors. The plant needs a good amount of sun, plenty of water, and space to grow. Alternatively, fresh mint can often be purchased at a local farmers market or grocery store. Dried mint can also be purchased online. Only consume mint that is organically or regeneratively grown.
Simple ways to incorporate mint into your diet
- Herbal tea: Boil water, reduce heat to simmer, add 5-10 mint leaves and stems, cover, and steep for 10 minutes.
- Smoothies: Add a few fresh mint leaves or a drop of essential peppermint oil to your favorite smoothie or drink—pairs nicely with lemonade (see recipe below).
- Soups: Add a few mint leaves to soup while cooking. Cream-based soups, such as pea soup, are ideal.
- Salads: Toss a few mint leaves on your salad to enhance the flavor. Mint pairs well with cucumber and pomegranate.
- Dressing: Grind fresh or dried mint with a pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle and add to an olive oil and vinegar dressing.
- Desserts: Mint pairs well with chocolate, such as peppermint bark, peppermint fudge brownies, or chocolate peppermint ice cream.
For a refreshing drink on a hot summer day, try mint lemonade!
Yields 8 glasses
1-1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice (~10 large organic lemons)
½ teaspoon lemon zest
5 cups cold filtered water
1 cup lukewarm filtered water
½ cup raw, unfiltered local organic honey
1 cup organic mint leaves, loosely packed
2 ice cubes
- Juice lemons and add to a glass pitcher along with 5 cups cold water.
- In a high-powered blender, combine 1 cup lukewarm water, lemon zest, honey, and mint leaves. Blend until thoroughly combined. Add to glass pitcher and stir until combined.
- Add ice to the pitcher. Garnish each glass with a sprig of fresh mint. Serve immediately or store covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Please do not try this recipe if you are allergic or sensitive to any of the ingredients.
Precautions and Possible Interactions
Pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult their healthcare provider before consuming mint. Peppermint may interact with some prescription drugs, such as cyclosporine, acid-reducing medications, ulcer medications, calcium channel blockers, and other drugs used for hypertension or high blood pressure. People with a hiatal hernia, gastroesophageal reflux disease, diarrhea, or a condition where the stomach does not produce enough acid should consult with a healthcare provider before consuming mint. Peppermint oil is contraindicated in children under two years of age.