For most people, the word “mint” conjures images of icy cool freshness. While the peppermint and spearmint of gum and toothpaste are extremely popular, Lamiaceae – the “Mint Family” – is a group of roughly 3,500 species of plants with square stalks, simple opposite leaves, and an aromatic quality. Many mints are common kitchen herbs, and a great number of them are have medicinal qualities.
I love learning about medicinal herbs within the context of their family group for several reasons. For one, knowing some of the key characteristics of common plant families can help you identify plants. My favorite resource for information on plant families is Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification by Thomas J. Elpel. This was the first herb book I ever purchased, and I still absolutely love it. Additionally, medicinal plants within a given family often have similar therapeutic uses.
Without further ado, below is a list of 7 familiar mint family plants and some medicinal uses for each 🙂 Enjoy!
Peppermint is well-known as a digestive remedy. Tea of peppermint helps dyspepsia, cramps, and nausea. Although the aroma of the herb is awakening and stimulating, it relaxes intestinal muscles, relieving digestive cramping. Peppermint also induces sweating, and is thus a popular and effective herb to use in a fever tea. Avoid during pregnancy.
Sweeter in flavor but similar in use, spearmint shares many of peppermint’s digestive uses. It is, however, preferred for nausea a related to headaches and migraines.
Though it may not look like a mint at first glance, lavender does have all of the characteristics of a Lamiaceae plant. Next time you see a lavender plant in person, feel the stem. You will notice four corners; a square stem. Though the leaves are thinner than many mints, they are still simple in structure and they grow opposite from each other. Lavender, like other mints, is very high in volatile, aromatic oils.
Lavender is bitter in taste, and in tea it becomes more bitter the longer it steeps. Bitter flavors help to stimulate bile production, and therefore digestion. Lavender is also calming and uplifting – it supports a sense of confidence, and reduces feelings of stress. Because it stimulates blood circulation to the head, it can be helpful for stress-related headaches. My favorite ways to use lavender are as part of a tea blend (a little goes a long way!) or as an essential oil. Lavender essential oil is well known for its healing power when applied to burns and skin irritations, but a drop may also be inhaled from a tissue or applied to the temples to help stress and headaches. Keep essential oil away from the eye area, and be aware that too much lavender has a stimulating – rather than calming – effect.
Yet another aid for the digestive system, sage helps to calm the digestive system and expel gas from the intestines. Sage tea is one of my favorite helpers for inflammations of the mouth, throat, and tonsils. Use it as a mouthwash or gargle, and definitely drink it as tea. Sage also decreases milk production when weaning from breastfeeding. Avoid during pregnancy.
First and foremost, I think of lemon balm as the “gladdening herb.” Lemon balm is a great help for blues and worries that come up because of major life changes (positive or negative). Also, if you are someone who doesn’t sleep well because you lie awake worrying that you won’t sleep, lemon balm is your friend. Tea and tincture are my favorite ways to take this herb. Great for grouchy kids (and adults) who need to relax. Lemon balm does affect the thyroid, so it should be avoided by those with hypothyroidism.
It’s not just cat drugs, folks! Catnip is a very useful nervine sedative. This means that it helps you reach a state of relaxation and fall asleep. Catnip, lemon balm, and lavender would make an awesome sleep tea blend. Catnip also helps menstrual cramps and stomach upset.
Rosemary, like its relatives, is helpful for digestion. It also helps to stimulate circulation and brain activity. Rosemary’s stimulating effects make it a good fit for supporting memory and cognitive function: As Ophelia says in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Rosemary, for remembrance.” Rosemary is one of the ingredients in my mental clarity tea blend, Where Is My Mind?, and essential oil of rosemary is also helpful during study time; just inhale a drop from a tissue.
Did any of these surprise you? What are your favorite mints?