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Lesser Calamint

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Lesser Calamint - Background and History

Lesser calamint is a plant originally native to Italy but is otherwise found throughout the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, and some parts of the Americas, where it flourishes in arid landscapes and in waste areas, often being confused for no more than a weed. It was once a popular culinary herb for the Early Roman societies. Belonging to the mint family, it is characterised by its somewhat faint flavour and for its slightly pungent aroma redolent of a mix between oranges and peppermint, or more often, of peppermint and oregano. The plant is a perennial, with a distinctly woody base and lush, matte to semi-glossy ovate dentate leaves which sport tiny hairy inflections in the obverse and reverse sides. The plant grows to a minimum of twenty centimertres in length, although wild specimens have been found to grow as tall forty centimetres to as tall as three feet in length. It is also highly discernable for its somewhat leafy and slightly gaudy inflorescence, which boasts pale purple to lavender-hued flowers with slight deep-purple spots near an ivory-white or light-purple centre.



It played an integral role in early Italian cuisine, and to this day is still employed by some traditional Eastern European cooks, although its employment for medicine has fallen largely out of vogue. The lesser calamint is a relative of the more well-known calamint (Calamintha officinalis / Calamintha grandiflora), which is really simply a larger version of the lesser calamint, and that sports a gaudier and inflorescence than the former. Both the lesser calamint and calamint proper are often referred to as catmint (although they are only slightly related to true catmints which belong to the genus Nepeta), and may sometimes be sold under that moniker, as they have a slightly similar arousing or agitating effect on cats as catnep (Nepeta cataria). Calamints are a viable garden plant, and be grown as a type of potherb for ease-of-access and harvest. Calamints are a very hardy species, and are notorious for their capacity to propagate readily, even in the most unforgiving of conditions, and have a tendency to spread very quickly given the right soil type and environment. Because of this penchant, it can easily overrun garden plots and can become a nuisance if not controlled. [1]

Lesser Calamint - Common / Popular Uses

Lesser calamint is now largely a relatively unknown herb, with its most common employment being its use for gardening and landscaping - it's hardy, beautifully lush, and relatively low-maintenance features making it excellent for the creation of live garden hedges. It is generally grown for ornamental purposes, as its medicinal and culinary uses have largely fallen out of vogue, or have otherwise been forgotten save by a few. It does remain in a few botanical and horticultural gardens, chiefly due to their gaudy flowers and their soothing, faintly aromatic leaves. Cat lovers have knowing or unwittingly grown, been given, or purchased seeds of the plant and employed it as catnip, as it, like it's distant relative, possesses the uncanny ability to soothe, excite, agitate, or intoxicate cats. It must be noted beforehand that the knowing cultivation of calamint only began sometime in the early 17th century, but throughout much of its long and varied history, calamint has chiefly been wildcrafted.

Lesser calamint was once a favoured culinary herb throughout much of Italy, being a very popular alternative to mint and oregano during the heyday of the Roman Empire, and until well into the latter part of the 1800s. It was used, often extensively, to flavour gamey meats and an assortment of other hearty, meat-based dishes, not limited to lamb and veal, but inclusive of everything from beef to goat's meat. Depending on personal preference, it's mellow flavour and subtle aroma may even compliment the taste of seafood such as shrimp and heavier fish like tuna, although its incorporation for 'lighter' fish like salmon is not at all lost, while its subtle aroma can even be incorporated in a variety of egg-based dishes and some desserts. [2]

The plant can be employed for medicinal purposes, although its usage for such purposes has largely become forgotten with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Prior to that time however, lesser calamint was once a very popular medicinal plant, especially throughout much of Eastern Europe, where it grew prolifically. Generally employed in its fresh state, although perfectly usable even in dried form, lesser calamint can either be decocted or infused for various purposes. Weak to mild infusions of the leaves, often those who have reached their utmost maturity, are taken as a 'cordial tea' and one very popular during the mid-1700s until the heyday of the Victorian Era. This cordial was drunk as a remedy for indigestion, stomach aches, colic, bloating, flatulence, and lumbago. Moderately strong decoctions of the leaves were initially believed by early herbalists to help cure restlessness, hysteria, tremors, palsy, and whopping cough. Drunk some eight times daily in half-cup doses, it was even employed as an expectorant. Because of its varied usage, lesser calamint was often made into a conserve, usually with honey, but later on with sugar or molasses. [3] This conserve constituted a large amount of the leaves, but some recipes suggest the integration of its inflorescence, perhaps more for the sake of flavour than for any added medicinal benefit. Very strong decoctions of the leaves were employed as a diaphoretic for the treatment of very high or intermittent fevers, as well as to remedy bronchitis and asthma, often in combination with honey and cinnamon. This remedy, when slightly modified by replacing the cinnamon with salt, or simply by adding salt to the already prepared mixture, is even believed to possess anthelmintic properties, and is potent enough to expel tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, and flatworms without adverse effects associated with toxicity, as is commonly found in other anthelmintic herbal preparations such as wormwood, anise, etc. When left to infuse in spirits or in wine, it was taken as a remedy for everything from anaemia to jaundice. [4]



When employed topically as a warmed poultice, the leaves make for a perfect remedy for bruises and may hasten the recovery of sore, tired muscles. While it is not specifically employed for the treatment of fractures, it can help to relieve the swelling often experienced during the recovery process. If combined with turmeric or ginger, it makes for an excellent analgesic, and may even be employed to treat rheumatism, arthritis, and gout. Because of its significant analgesic properties, the dried leaves may even be infused in one's choice of base oils along with a choice selection of other potent analgesic herbs and spices, or otherwise employed by itself for general pain-relieving purposes. [5] In the Middle Ages, where lesser calamint's use was at its most prolific, it was even said to have been steeped in wine, the resulting concoction then applied topically in very liberal amounts as a remedy for leprosy and all sorts of other skin diseases. [6] From the time of the Early Greeks until well into the latter part of the 1700s, it a poultice of its leaves was believed to be a potent remedy for snakebite, and was often used, especially in the countryside, along with a very potent decoction of its leaves in wine. Early herbalists believed that the diaphoretic properties found in lesser calamint helped to flush out the poison imbued in snake-bite. [7] While such a practice is no longer advised today, it may be of help in less severe cases.

The essential oil of calamint (a thing which is nowadays far more rarely employed than the herb itself) can also be used in a like manner as the leaves, as it possesses nearly all of the leaf's medicinal properties. When combined with a base oil, it can be applied topically to act as an analgesic, anti-fungal, antimicrobial, and antipyretic. When mixed with warm water, it can be used as an inhalant to help relieve nasal congestion, help to ease the discomforts of asthma and bronchitis, as well as aid in the expectoration of phlegm and the remedying of whooping cough. When employed for aromatherapeutic purposes, the scent of the essential oil of calamint is said to relieve anxiety, nervousness, depression, and agitation, and is a perfect all-around aromatherapy scent to have or otherwise employ, 8 especially for people on hectic schedules or children undergoing difficulties.

Lesser Calamint - Esoteric / Magickal Uses

In spite of reaching its zenith of usage sometime in the latter part of the 1800s, only to quickly be replaced by modern synthetic medicines and other more well-known alternative remedies that continued to persist at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, lesser calamint has a long history of esoteric employment. During the time of the Early Greeks and Romans, the herb was employed as an amulet to protect against snakebite and poison - a feature which persisted and remained until well into the Middle Ages, where its use for the selfsame purpose continued. When used as an amulet, it was either carried on one's person or encased in a medicine pouch, although more often than not it was prepared as a draught or made into a poultice and applied unto the afflicted area. It was believed that a medicine pouch containing lesser calamint leaves helped to prevent one from encountering snakes while journeying, and, if ever one did encounter them, simply waving the amulet in front of the reptile would drive the away. Its ability to fend off snakes went beyond the pale of regular serpentine creatures, as it was also believed to be powerful enough to drive away basilisks - the feared and famed 'king of serpents', and even to render cockatrices (a 'sibling' of the basilisk) to stop dead in its tracks. [9]

When employed for more conventional forms of magickal workings, tisanes or potions containing lesser calamint are believed to help relieve depression, imbue a person's heart with courage (i. e. dispel fear, anxiety, or worry), and to enliven and quicken flagging spirits. Alternatively, the dried leaves may be burnt as a type of incense to elicit a similar effect, at the same time functioning as an ample warding and cleansing smudge with similar properties to mint-proper. [10]

Lesser Calamint - Safety Notes

Because lesser calamint is now only very rarely employed as a medicinal plant, there is very little information about its possible adverse effects or any drug interactions that it may elicit. It can be surmised that, because it is an anthelmintic and diaphoretic, it may possess some degree of adverse effects if taken in very large or concentrated doses, and make cause nausea, vomiting, extreme sweating and a general feeling of weakness as is commonly experienced in overdoses of herbs with similar properties. As a general rule of thumb, pregnant and nursing women, as well as children below the age of ten should not be given very strong doses of lesser calamint, as it may result in complications for the former, and a possible danger for the latter; although weak infusions are generally well-tolerated by individuals of all ages and physical conditions.

Lesser Calamint - Other Names, Past and Present

French: baume sauvage / calament / calament de Montagne / pouliot de Montagne
Italian: nipitella / nepetella / mentuccia / metha puleguim (archaic name)
English: calamint / calament / mill mountain / basil thyme / mountain balm / mountain mint / mill mint / emperor's mint / catmint
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Calamintha nepeta / Calamintha officinalis (main varietal, of which C. nepeta is a minor strain)

Lesser Calamint - References:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calamintha_nepeta

[2] http://www.growtheplanet.com/en/blog/cook/article/614/wild-herbs-lesser-calamint-also-known-as-mushroom-herb

[3] [4] [5] http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/c/calami06.html

[6] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-613-CALAMINT

[7] http://www.altavaltrebbia.net/v/english/herbs/calamint.htm

[8] http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/mint/growing-calamint-herbs.htm

[9] http://www.themagickalcat.com/Articles.asp?ID=242

[10] http://www.magialuna.net/c.html

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt. © herbs-info.com 2014

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