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Spearmint

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Names of Spearmint, past and present

French: herbe menthe / menthe verte / menthe des jardins
Spanish: yerbabuena / herba buena / hierbabuena
Filipino: herba buena / herbabuena
Indian: pahari pudina / putiha
English: spearmint / garden mint / lamb mint / sage of Bethlehem / Lady's mint
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Mentha spicata

Background and History

Spearmint is a variety of the mint family that is chiefly grown for its culinary and medicinal uses. This small shrub grows in many parts of the world, although it is considered a native of the Mediterranean and some parts of Asia. Known for its distinctive aroma and iconic leaf-structure that features edged serrations and a pointed tip that earned it its name, spearmint is considered a valuable culinary spice, and is in life with the more popular, albeit stronger (aroma and taste-wise) peppermint.

Despite its preference for cool, moist environments, spearmint can be a quite hardy plant, which is why in some areas is can become an invasive species. Due to this, gardeners who wish to cultivate their own spearmint plants for general use in the herbal garden usually plant them in small pots that are regularly trimmed, to ensure that it does not overrun a garden, as is the case if left to its own devices as seen in the wild. Despite traditional tracts that describe how all the parts of the plant have its own medicinal value, nowadays, only the leaves are employed for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Due to the fact that the leaves lose their distinctly invigorating aroma once their flowers (small blossoms that resemble tiny spikes – as on a spearhead – usually pink or white-hued) bloom, most spearmints are harvested prior to this stage, or are otherwise used while yet immature. [1]



General and Esoteric Uses

Spearmint is commonly used as a culinary herb and garnish. Due to its astringent quality and cooling effect, it is oftentimes used to season gamey meats like lamb, as is the common custom in India. Spearmint is also a useful addition to soups and stews that require a subtle, but not quite prominent 'kick', especially for dishes that are served warm during cold nights. Spearmint is also incorporated into a number of savoury treats and desserts to add subtle nuances of flavour. An extract of spearmint is also often found as a major ingredient in a wide assortment of candies (i. e. breath mints), while its essential oils are a common constituent of everything from chewing gums, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and even soaps and shampoos.

Spearmint is also a highly useful medicinal plant with a myriad of different curative uses, although it's most common application is as a relaxing and calming tisane. This is usually done by either infusing fresh or dried spearmint leaves in hot water, or by creating a light decoction of the leaves via a slow simmer. This tisane, or more commonly 'tea' as it is often attributed, can be made solely with spearmint leaves alone or otherwise mixed with other medicinal herbs. Spearmint tea (or any tea made from the mint family, with the exception of pennyroyal) is a very common beverage in countries like Arabia and the Levant – as it has become somewhat of a traditional custom for them to serve mint tea sweetened with honey or raw sugar as a sign of hospitality.

This relaxing beverage is replete with a myriad of different curative properties, many of which are evident just after a few minutes of drinking spearmint tea. It is a known coolant, relaxant, and astringent. Its varying medicinal properties prove helpful when consumed primarily as a tisane. When consumed in moderation, spearmint tea may be helpful in alleviating stress and fatigue. [2] Traditionally, spearmint has also been said to invigorate the mind and body. A light infusion of spearmint tea may also help relieve the symptoms of indigestion and stomach upset, as it was traditionally served in the Levantine cultures as an after-dinner drink to 'calm the stomach and soothe the nerves'. [3] A stronger decoction of the fresh or dried leaves may also be used as an all-natural astringent mouthwash minus the unpleasant sting, as spearmint contains potent astringent properties. A very strong decoction of leaves may even be used to help combat oily skin and acne breakouts if used as a facial rinse by itself, or mixed with raw apple cider vinegar. [4]

A maceration of spearmint with a carrier oil such as olive or almond oil may be used to help relieve sore and tired muscles, as it is a relaxant. This works best in conjunction with other pain-relieving herbs such as ginger and chili, or thyme and wild oregano. This oil may also be used as a hair-growth stimulant when heated warm and applied topically into the scalp. [5]



A moderate consumption of fresh or dried spearmint tea may also help alleviate the severity of female hirsutism, as several compounds found in spearmint (as well as its relatives, peppermint and ginger mint) have been shown to have anti-androgenic properties that help to control the production of free testosterone in the body, without affecting the normal production of testosterone. [6]

Because of the recent advancements in the studies regarding male-pattern baldness and its relation to the production of free-testosterone, spearmint is even believed to help slow the ravages of alopecia, and a number of topical remedies containing macerated spearmint or otherwise its essential oil or extracts derived from the herb have been made available as possible anti-baldness oils and hair tonics. This may not as far-fetched as it first seems, as traditional herbal medicine not only attributes lustrous hair with a regular topical application of either spearmint leaves macerated in olive oil, or otherwise a warm hair rinse from a strong decoction of leaves if not a diluted mix of a carrier oil and spearmint essential oil, but it also recommends such remedies for the treatment of dandruff, hair loss, lice, and to relieve headaches by increasing blood flow to the scalp. [7] It is now known that one of the most common reasons for hair-fall and hair loss is a lack of blood flow to the scalp, and consequently, a lack of nourishment into the hair roots. Due to its astringent, antifungal, and antibacterial properties, spearmint is also a good remedy for scalp troubles such as dandruff, eczema, and an excess production of sebum, which also increase the chances of eventual baldness if left unchecked.

The regulated consumption of spearmint also shows that it has significant antioxidant properties that help to keep free radicals (the chemicals responsible for accelerated aging) in check. Spearmint is also chock-full of trace nutrients such as vitamins (A, folate, C, thiamine, B6) and minerals (potassium, manganese, magnesium, and iron) that give a well-deserved health boost, [8] and may be a welcome aid when recovering from illnesses such as fever or flu. Regardless of the method of ingestion, keeping a pot or jar of spearmint handy is a must-have for every aspiring herbalist.

References & Further Reading

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mentha_spicata
[2] http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/spearmint.html
[3] http://www.livestrong.com/article/338231-spearmint-tea-benefits/
[4] http://herbs.ygoy.com/spearmint/
[5] http://www.bewellbuzz.com/wellness-buzz/spearmint-health-benefits/
[6] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6376599.stm
[7] http://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/essential-oils/health-benefits-of-spearmint-essential-oil.html
[8] http://www.bewellbuzz.com/wellness-buzz/spearmint-health-benefits

Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt, © herbs-info.com 2013

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