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  • Diane Seufert Tait

The Wonderful Medicinal Mint Family

Sage, Salvia officinalis, and friend

After my first blog post about the word 'weed', a friend brought up the subject of mints in the garden. He was suggesting that they were maybe not a good inhabitant because of their tendency to roam. I knew he was probably talking about the garden mint that many have. Yes, it does wander, as does my Peppermint, Spearmint and Lemon Balm, but I became curious to know just how many members of the mint family I have in my pharmacy as tinctures.

It turns out that I have 13! That is about ten per cent of my inventory. I don't know what I would do without these powerful plants. Maybe you would like to know a bit about how they work in the body and why they are such an important part of my practice.

I will go through the list one at a time and give you a condensed explanation for each one. I like to include the Latin name because that way, if you decide to add some of these to your garden, you will be sure to get the right plant. And let's get the issue of spreading out of the way. Things like Peppermint and Spearmint spread by pushing roots along into new territory, very close to the surface. They are easy to stop by regularly patrolling the perimeter with a garden fork and gently pulling out the creeping roots and cutting them off. I would say about three times a season would do it. And now, the mints!

Peppermint, Mentha piperita - This plant is very good at raising our body temperature. That makes it a good drink when you have been chilled and is also used by herbalists to break a fever. Peppermint tea is a wonderful stimulating drink, a good way to start the day with a clear head. It's great for bloating, and unhappy tummies and has antimicrobial qualities that help with colds and coughs. Real Peppermint cannot be started from seed, you must buy the plant.

Spearmint, Mentha viridis - Spearmint shares a lot of qualities with Peppermint, but instead of being stimulating, it is more relaxing- a lovely mid afternoon treat as a tea. It is good at settling uneasy tummies, especially during the nausea of pregnancy.

Lemon Balm - Melissa officinalis - Melissa likes to calm our nerves and raise our spirits. It is a great sleep aid. But she's strong too, with anti-viral properties. I love using Lemon Balm in steams for colds and coughs along with Chamomile and another mint, Sage. This steam, for ten minutes twice a day, kills bacteria and viruses. Due to its anti-inflammatory constituents, it also relaxes nasal and bronchial airways, making it a good ally during the regular cold and flu season. ( It is not known if it would be effective against COVID.)

Lavender - Lavandula officinalis - Lavender is a fighter of infections of all kinds, but is also well known as being nervous system supportive. A few drops of Lavender essential oil in the bath, or some drops of tincture on the tongue, has been a wonderful help during the last year of continued stress for us all.

Thyme - Thymus vulgaris - Thyme helps to raise the energy in the body and restore the endocrine and nervous systems. It gives our immune and adrenal systems a boost. A strong cup of Thyme tea has long been used at the start of colds, due to its anti-microbial and immune supporting capabilities.

Sage - Salvia officinalis - Another good anti-microbial that also gives support to the immune system. It dries up congestion and secretions, and has been used to help dry up mother's milk. Sage is a tonic herb, strengthening the life force within us.

Skullcap - Scutellaria lateriflora - Skullcap has been a special friend to my nervous system during a pandemic. It is one of the herbs for the nervous system that does not cause drowsiness during the day. However, at the end of a long day, it calms us and lets us sleep. With five drops of Skullcap tincture, I drift easily off to dreamland.

Catnip - Nepeta cataria - This is such a help for parents struggling with a small child who is stuffed up, uncomfortable, achy, and restless with a cold. A strong infusion (tea) is made and strained into the little tyke's bath water. A ten minute soak, and "nighty, night"! It can help us adults sleep as well, but is better combined with other herbs, as it can stimulate strong dreams all on its own.

The rest of my list:

White Horehound - Marrubium vulgare - I use this herb in cough and respiratory formulae, especially with persistent coughs.

Ground Ivy - Glechoma hederacea - I like to use this herb as a decongestant. It is sometimes used to help clear out heavy metals, but should only be done with a registered herbalist's help for this.

Heal All, Self-Heal - Prunella vulgaris - The name says it all. It is used to heal wounds internal and external. The great thing is that you have probably seen this herb many times, as is true for the Ground Ivy. Have a look on Google...they will probably look very familiar!

Hyssop - Hyssopus officinalis - I use this for infections and to clear parasites.

Bee Balm, Oswego Tea - Monarda didyma - I have Bee Balm in my garden mainly to attract butterflies, bees and my favorite, the Shrimp Moths, into the garden. There are always interesting visitors to see on the Bee Balm.

All the mints attract legions of pollinators. A happy garden is full of such insects. Be brave and include some of these wonderful plants in your own garden, or find them, like Heal-All and Ground Ivy, in your yards or parks. You will notice, by their strong aromas, that all the members of the mint family are rich in essential oils. These oils give them their anti-microbial and relaxing properties. Remember to always make any tea with plants rich in these essential oils in a completely closed vessel. You want to keep those volatile oils in your tea. Okay, it is now time to get that mug of Peppermint tea!

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