Mint has long added its bright flavor and scent to drinks and dishes, especially in Balkan and Middle Eastern cuisines. The fresh or dried leaves are used as an ingredient, while the essential oil is extracted as a flavoring and scent. The young leaves are continuously harvested from spring through fall, but mint can also be grown indoors and so is available year-round. Mint is used in a variety of delicious baked treats, savory sauces, and drinks, from hot mint tea to cool mint juleps and mojitos.
What Is Mint?
Mint is an aromatic herb produced by various species of the mint plant (Methane). Native to the eastern Mediterranean, mint gets its name from a mythic nymph named Minthe (Mint-ho). Jealous Persephone turned her into a lowly mint plant after she had an affair with Pluto, the god of the underworld. The mint plant is common and a favorite of many gardeners, so it’s easy to grow your own. As an herb, it is gluten-free and suitable for vegan, vegetarian, and paleo diets.
Spearmint and curly mint are the varieties most often grown to use as an herb in cooking and beverages. Peppermint is a little too strong to use fresh for most culinary purposes. Instead, it is grown and processed into peppermint oil, which is then used as a flavoring, and it can be further refined into a menthol.
You can find other varieties of mint that have interesting flavors and aromas. Apple mint has an apple scent; orange mint has a citrus flavor; chocolate mint has a bit of chocolate taste.
Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Mint
Mint is a perennial with very fragrant, toothed leaves and tiny purple, pink, or white flowers. It has a fruity, aromatic taste.
There are many varieties of mint—all fragrant, whether shiny or fuzzy, smooth or crinkled, bright green or variegated. However, you can always tell a member of the mint family by its square stem. Rolling it between your fingers, you’ll notice a pungent scent and think of candy, sweet teas, or maybe even mint juleps.
As well as kitchen companions, mints are used as garden accents, ground covers, air fresheners, and herbal medicines. They’re as beautiful as they are functional, and they’re foolproof to grow, thriving in sun and shade all over North America. In fact, mint can be vigorous spreaders, so be careful where you plant it.
- Mints are vigorous perennials that thrive in light soil with good drainage.
- Ideally, they prefer a moist but well-drained site, something like their native habitat along stream banks.
- Most will tolerate some shade, and the variegated types may require some protection from direct sun.
- For growing outdoors, plant one or two purchased plants (or one or two cuttings from a friend) about 2 feet apart in moist soil. One or two plants will easily cover the ground. Mint should grow to be 1 or 2 feet tall.
- For the best growth in confined areas such as containers, topdress plants with a thin layer of compost or organic fertilizer every few months. Above ground pots will need winter protection in cold climates.
- In the garden, plant mint near cabbage and tomatoes—in pots, if possible, in order to prevent it from spreading and stealing nutrients from your crops!
- Minimal care is needed for mint. For outdoor plants, use a light mulch. This will help keep the soil moist and keep the leaves clean.
- For indoor plants, be sure to water them regularly to keep the soil evenly moist.
- At first, mints develop into well-behaved–looking, bushy, upright clumps, but they soon set out to conquer new territory with horizontal runners and underground rhizomes. Unless you block the advance, a pert peppermint plant can turn into a sprawling 4-foot giant in just 1 year. It’s not the stuff of horror movies, however. Mints benefit from picking and pruning. They are shallow-rooted and easy to pull out, so there’s no reason to worry, as long as you provide physical barriers such as walls, walkways, or containers.
- Frequent harvesting is the key to keeping mint plants at their best. Young leaves have more flavor than old ones, and mint can be harvested as soon as it comes up in spring. Although fresh is best and sprigs keep for a few days in water, mint leaves can be frozen or air-dried in bunches.
- Right before flowering, cut the stems 1 inch from the ground. You can harvest one mint plant two or three times in one growing season.
- You can also just pick the leaves as you need them.
- You can grow the plants indoors for fresh leaves throughout the winter. If you want to dry them, it’s best to cut the leaves right before flowering. Store the dried leaves in an airtight container.
The best way to propagate mints is by taking cuttings from those that you like best. It’s easy—take 6-inch cuttings of rooted stems and plant them horizontally in the soil. Mint stems will also root in a glass of water. Start with a small cutting from an established plant. Any gardening friend will give you a cutting of a favorite mint.
Is mint good for you?
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Mint or mentha belongs to the Lamiaceae family, which contains around 15 to 20 plant species, including peppermint and spearmint. It is a popular herb that people can use fresh or dried in many dishes and infusions. Manufacturers of toothpaste, gum, candy, and beauty products often use mint oil.
Using fresh mint and other herbs and spices in cooking can help a person add flavor while reducing their sodium and sugar intake.
Throughout history, people have used different species of mint plants in medicine. Different types of mint plants offer a range of antioxidant qualities and potential health benefits, especially for people who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
In this article, we provide a nutritional breakdown of mint and explain its possible health benefits. We also give tips on including more mint in the diet.
Managing gastrointestinal problems
Mint is a calming herb that people have used for thousands of years to help soothe an upset stomach or indigestion.
A 2019 review found that placebo-controlled studies support the use of peppermint oil as a remedy for a range of gastrointestinal conditions, including indigestion, IBS, stomach pain in children, and feelings of sickness after surgery.
The authors of the review found that mint works against harmful microbes, regulates muscle relaxation, and helps control inflammation.
A different review from the same year assessed 12 randomized controlled trials and found that peppermint oil was a safe and effective intervention for pain symptoms in adults with IBS.
However, a 2019 randomized, double-blind trial of 190 people with IBS found that peppermint oil did not significantly reduce symptoms.
More research is necessary to confirm the benefits of mint products in managing IBS.
Mint plants contain an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent called rosmarinic acid.
A 2019 study on rats found that rosmarinic acid reduced symptoms of asthma when compared to a control group that did not receive a supplement.
The mint plant family provides a range of plant compounds that have anti-allergenic effects, according to a 2019 review published in Frontiers in Pharmacology.
However, the content of mint extract in oils and ointments may be far stronger than dietary mint. There is very little research into the effect of dietary mint on the symptoms of allergies.
Soothing common cold symptoms
Mint contains menthol. This an aromatic decongestant that might help to break up phlegm and mucus, making it easier to expel.
Applying menthol ointments or vapor rubs may be a safe and effective treatment for children who have a common cold.
However, the American Lung Association (ALA) advise that scientific studies do not support the use of menthol for managing cold symptoms.
Despite this, some people may find that cold symptoms reduce after applying a menthol vapor rub.
The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) advise that peppermint oil may cause skin irritation and redness. They recommend that parents or carers do not apply the ointment directly to the chest or face of a child due to serious possible side effects after direct inhalation.
Mint leaves are a tender herb with gentle stems. It is best to add them raw or at the end of the cooking process. This helps them maintain their delicate flavor and texture.
When buying mint, look for bright, unblemished leaves. Store them in a reusable plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Mint is relatively easy to grow, and people can cultivate it at home, making it a sustainable way to add flavor to meals.
When preparing mint, use a sharp knife and cut gently. Using a dull knife or over-chopping will bruise the herb and lead to a loss of flavor on the cutting board surface.
Middle Eastern cuisines, such as lamb, soups, and vegetable salads often contain mint for flavor.
Other ideas include:
Making a mint limeade by mixing lime juice with sugar or stevia and muddled mint leaves. Top it off with filtered water and ice cubes.
Incorporating mint into a fresh fruit salsa with chopped apples, pear, lemon or lime juice, jalapeno, and honey. Serve with cinnamon pita chips or on top of baked chicken.
- Jazzing up your water by adding mint leaves and cucumber for a refreshing treat.
- Adding a few chopped mint leaves to your next chocolate chip cookie dough.
- Pouring hot water over mint leaves and steeping for 5-6 minutes for homemade mint tea. Try using chocolate mint leaves for a twist.
- Chopping mint and tossing with fresh pineapple for a quick snack.
Alternatively, you can try these healthful and delicious recipes from registered dietitians:
Like many herbs, mint can adversely affect some people.
People with gastrointestinal reflex disease (GELD) should not use mint in an attempt to soothe digestive issues. According to a 2019 review, mint commonly acts as a trigger for GERD symptoms.
Taking peppermint oil in large doses can be toxic. It is essential to stick to the recommended doses of peppermint oil.
Pure menthol is poisonous and not for internal consumption. People should only ever apply it to the skin or a nearby surface, such as a pillow, to disperse fumes.
Do not apply mint oil to the face of an infant or small child, as it may cause spasms that inhibit breathing.
Speak with your healthcare provider to determine whether any of your medications could interact with mint or mint oil.
Quick Guide to Growing Mint
- Plant mint in spring after the last frost. This fast-growing herb can grow just about anywhere and makes an excellent addition to indoor and outdoor gardens.
- Space mint plants 18 to 24 inches apart. It’s best to grow them in pots to keep them from taking over your garden (even if you’re planting in the ground).
- Give your garden a great foundation by improving native soil with several inches of aged compost or other rich organic matter. For container growing, consider a premium bagged potting mix.
- Keep soil consistently moist and water when the top inch becomes dry.
- Promote excellent leaf production by regularly feeding with a water-soluble plant food.
- Once plants are established, harvest mint leaves regularly by pinching off the stems.
Soil, Planting, and Care for Growing Mint
First, start off strong by planting young Bonnie Plants mint plants. After all, you can’t go wrong with a company that’s been supplying plants to home gardeners for over 100 years! Plant mint in the spring, or in the fall in frost-free climates, setting seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart. Try growing mint in a pot where you can keep it in check and handy near the kitchen for a constant supply of sprigs. To give roots a just-right growing environment, fill the pot with Miracle-Geo Performance Organics All Purpose Container Mix, which contains aged compost to improve soil texture and nutrition. To keep mint from taking over space needed by other plants, you may want to plant it solo in a 10″ pot, then plant the pot in a larger container or even in the ground. Give the pot a turn every week or two to keep roots from escaping through the drainage holes.
If you simply must plant mint directly in the ground (if you’re using it as a ground cover, for example), select a damp area in your garden or yard in either full sun or part shade. Mint prefers fertile soil with a pH from 6.0 to 7.0. If you don’t choose to test your soil, you can simply improve it by adding a few inches of Miracle-Nonperformance Organics All Purpose In-Ground Soil, also enriched with aged compost, in with the top layer of existing soil.
Mint is plenty vigorous on its own, but will grow even better when you pair great soil with regular doses of plant food, especially if you harvest a lot. Feed with Miracle-Geo-performance Organics All Purpose Plant Nutrition (follow label directions), which feeds the soil as well as the plants. Be sure to keep the soil moist via regular watering and add mulch around the plant to help slow the evaporation of all that crucial moisture.
To help keep plants in check, harvest the tips regularly and pull up wayward runners. Mint’s small flowers bloom from June to September; trim these before the buds open to keep the plant compact. Although slightly frost tolerant, the top of mint will eventually die back in winter except in zones 8 and south, but the root are quite hardy, surviving into zone 5 (some varieties even into zone 3). Lift and replant your mint every 3 to 4 years to keep your patch’s flavor and scent strong.
Troubleshooting when Growing Mint
Although mint is a rugged plant, when it is young it is vulnerable to white flies, black flies, spider mites, snails, and slugs.
How to Harvest Mint
Harvest mint leaves at any size by pinching off stems. For a large harvest, wait until just before the plant blooms, when the flavour is most intense, then cut the whole plant to just above the first or second set of leaves. In the process, you will remove the yellowing lower leaves and promote bushier growth. Three such harvests per season are typical for mint.
How to Use and Store Mint
Fresh mint leaves are a nice complement to lamb, fish, poultry, and vegetables such as peas, new potatoes, and carrots. Mint also blends well with green or fruit salads and beverages such as punch, lemonade, and tea. Two very well-known drinks, mint julep and Cuban mojito, both depend on spearmint for their cool zest. Freeze mint in cubes for iced tea. You can also preserve it in vinegar or dry it for potpourri or sachets.
8 Health Benefits of Mint
Mint is the name for over a dozen plant species, including peppermint and spearmint, that belong to the genus Mentha.
These plants are particularly known for the cooling sensation they impart. They can be added to foods in both fresh and dried forms.
Mint is a popular ingredient in several foods and beverages, ranging from teas and alcoholic drinks to sauces, salads and desserts.
While eating the plant offers some health benefits, research shows that several of mint’s health benefits come from applying it to the skin, inhaling its aroma or taking it as a capsule.
This article takes a closer look at eight science-based health benefits of mint.
1. Rich in Nutrients
While not typically consumed in large quantities, mint does contain a fair amount of nutrients.
Because of its dynamic flavor, mint is often added to recipes in small amounts, so consuming even 1/3 cup may be difficult. However, it’s possible you may come close to this amount in some salad recipes that include mint among the other ingredients.
Mint is a particularly good source of vitamin A, a fat-soluble vitamin that is critical for eye health and night vision
It is also a potent source of antioxidants, especially when compared to other herbs and spices. Antioxidants help protect your body from oxidative stress, a type of damage to cells caused by free radicals
2. May Improve Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common digestive tract disorder. It is characterized by digestive symptoms like stomach pain, gas, bloating and changes in bowel habits.
Although treatment for IBS often includes dietary changes and taking medications, research shows that taking peppermint oil as an herbal remedy might also be helpful.
Peppermint oil contains a compound called menthol, which is thought to help alleviate IBS symptoms through its relaxing effects on the muscles of the digestive tract
A review of nine studies including over 700 patients with IBS found that taking peppermint oil capsules improved IBS symptoms significantly more than placebo capsules
One study found that 75% of patients who took peppermint oil for four weeks showed improvements in IBS symptoms, compared to 38% of the patients in the placebo group
Notably, nearly all research showing IBS symptom relief used oil capsules rather than raw mint leaves.
3. May Help Relieve Indigestion
Mint may also be effective at relieving other digestive problems such as upset stomach and indigestion.
Indigestion may occur when food sits in the stomach for too long before passing into the rest of the digestive tract.
Multiple studies have shown that food passes through the stomach quicker when people take peppermint oil with meals, which could relieve symptoms from this type of indigestion
A clinical study in people with indigestion showed that a combination of peppermint oil and caraway oil taken in capsules had effects similar to medications used to treat indigestion. This helped improve stomach pain and other digestive symptom
Similar to IBS, studies highlighting mint’s ability to relieve indigestion used peppermint oil rather than fresh or dried leaves.
4. Could Improve Brain Function
In addition to ingesting mint, there are claims that inhaling the aroma of essential oils from the plant could provide health benefits, including improved brain function.
One study including 144 young adults demonstrated that smelling the aroma of peppermint oil for five minutes prior to testing produced significant improvements in memory
Another study found that smelling these oils while driving increased alertness and decreased levels of frustration, anxiety and fatigue
However, not all studies agree that peppermint oil could benefit brain function. One study found that although the aroma of the oil was invigorating and led to less fatigue, it had no effect on brain function
More research is needed to help understand how it may work and investigate whether peppermint does, in fact, improve brain function.
5. May Decrease Breastfeeding Pain
Breastfeeding mothers commonly experience sore and cracked nipples, which can make breastfeeding painful and difficult.
Studies have shown that applying mint to the skin can help relieve pain associated with breastfeeding.
In these studies, breastfeeding mothers applied various forms of mint to the area around the nipple after each feeding. Typically, they used an essential oil on its own or mixed with gel or water.
One study showed that applying peppermint water after breastfeeding was more effective than applying expressed breast milk in preventing nipple and areola cracks, which resulted in less nipple pain
Another study similarly showed that only 3.8% of mothers who applied a peppermint gel experienced nipple cracks, compared to 6.9% of those who used lanolin and 22.6% of those who used a placeb
Furthermore, an additional study showed that both the pain and severity of nipple cracks decreased in mothers who applied menthol essential oil after each feeding
6. Subjectively Improves Cold Symptoms
Many over-the-counter cold and flu treatments contain menthol, a primary compound in peppermint oil.
Many people believe menthol is an effective nasal decongestant that can get rid of congestion and improve airflow and breathing.
However, multiple studies show that menthol has no decongestant function. That being said, research also shows that menthol can subjectively improve nasal breathing
This means that although menthol doesn’t work as a decongestant, it can make people feel like they are breathing through their nose easier.
This is likely to provide at least some relief to those affected by a cold or the flu.
7. May Mask Bad Breath
Mint-flavored chewing gum and breath mints are some of the first things people reach for when trying to prevent or get rid of bad breath.
Experts agree that most of these products can mask foul-smelling breath for a few hours. However, they only cover up bad breath and don’t reduce the bacteria or other compounds causing bad breath in the first place
On the other hand, drinking peppermint tea and chewing on fresh leaves may be able to both mask bad breath and kill bacteria, as test-tube studies have highlighted the antibacterial effects of peppermint oil (21Trusted Source)summary Breath mints and chewing gum can mask foul smells for a couple hours but aren’t an optimal long-term solution for bad breath. Peppermint tea and chewing on mint leaves may be more beneficial in reducing bacteria that cause bad breath.
8. Easy to Add to Your Diet
You can easily add mint to green salads, desserts, smoothies and even water. Peppermint tea is another popular way to incorporate it into your diet.
However, many of the studies showing the health benefits of mint didn’t involve eating the leaves with food. Instead, mint was taken as a capsule, applied to the skin or inhaled via aromatherapy.
When using mint for health purposes, it is important to evaluate what you are looking to achieve and how the plant was used in the research for that particular purpose.
The list below should help summarize some of the research discussed above.
- Eating fresh or dried leaves: Used to treat bad breath.
- Inhaling essential oils: May improve brain function and cold symptoms.
- Applying it to the skin: Used to reduce nipple pain from breastfeeding.
- Taking capsules with food: May help treat IBS and indigestion.
A true botanical wonder, mint is a breeze to care for, and its pleasing aroma makes it a welcome addition to the garden. The best part about this easy-to-grow herb is its usefulness. Mint makes a delicious addition to meals, a healthful tea, a fragrant potpourri and an insect-deterring spray. This sweet-smelling plant also has soothing and anesthetic properties that make it a great fit for homemade body-care products. To grow mint, get a cutting from a friend or purchase a starter plant at a nursery. (Mint doesn’t reproduce true from seed.) Mint can actually be too easy to grow—it sometimes takes over the garden—so give this attractive ground cover plenty of room to spread, or plant it in a container.
15 Uses for Mint
1. All a Buzz:
Growing mint will keep your yard and garden buzzing with beneficial insects. Mint is rich in nectar and pollen, and its small flower clusters keep these sweet treats easily accessible for helpful bugs such as honeybees and hover flies.
2. Bug Off
While it attracts “good bugs,” mint also deters “bad bugs.” Repel ants and flies by growing penny royal mint right outside your door, or spray diluted peppermint essential oil (10 parts water to one part oil) around doorways and windows.
3. Flea Free:
Keep pets free of bothersome fleas with this homemade repellent: Bundle 2 parts fresh spearmint, 1 part fresh thyme and 1 part fresh wormwood, and tuck it inside a small pillow. Place the pillow near your pet’s bed or another favorite resting place.
4. Room Refresher:
Keep your home smelling fresh by adding a few drops of mint essential oil to your favorite homemade or unscented store-bought cleaner. Try this simple floor cleaning solution, good for wood, concrete or tile floors: Dilute a cup of white vinegar in a gallon of water and add 3 to 5 drops of mint essential oil.
5. Beverage Booster:
Mint is refreshing in iced beverages. Add sprigs of fresh mint to a pitcher of water or plain iced tea, let it sit for 30 minutes or more, and serve it over ice. If you enjoy cocktails, mix fresh mint into homemade juleps or mojitos.
6. Veggie Revamp:
Enjoy an interesting twist on a vegetable medley by adding fresh or dried chopped mint to peas, green beans, carrots or cauliflower during their last two minutes of cooking.
7. Divine Desserts:
Mix 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves into chocolate chip cookie dough and bake as usual for wonderfully minty treats.
8. Breath Saver:
You don’t have to rely on mint gum or candies to freshen your breath. A sprig of your favorite fresh mint variety will get rid of bad breath just as well. Simply pluck and chew.
9. Tummy Tamer:
Peppermint tea is an excellent way to ease an upset stomach. Peppermint helps calm the digestive tract and alleviate indigestion, intestinal gas and abdominal cramping.
10. Hiccup Help:
ion that can cause hiccups: Pour a glass of lukewarm water, then add a couple squeezes of fresh lemon juice, a pinch of salt and a few mint leaves.
11. Steam Clean:
A peppermint steam can help clear sinuses and congestion and fight infection. Bring a pot of water to boil, turn off the heat, add a few drops of peppermint essential oil and lean over the pot, draping a towel over your head. Breathe in the minty steam. Mint steams also act as a cleansing and stimulating facial.
12. Nausea Nix:
Peppermint essential oil can boost your mood and reduce feelings of nausea. Simply add a couple drops to a clean handkerchief and breathe in.
13. Headache Healer:
Apply a few drops of peppermint essential oil to your temple to relieve migraines, as compounds in peppermint oil are known to calm muscle spasms. You can also make a simple compress to get rid of tension headaches: Pour 3 cups hot water over 3 peppermint tea bags. Steep, covered for 5 to 7 minutes; remove tea bags and add ice. To use, dip wash cloth into cold tea and apply to forehead.
14. Fresh Feet:
Mint soothes aching feet thanks to the pain-relieving properties in menthol, a compound in mint. Menthol also triggers a cooling sensation, perfect for foot scrubs. Try this one: Combine 1 cup sea salt, 1⁄3 cup olive oil and 6 drops peppermint essential oil. Scrub feet and rinse.
15. Sunburn Soother:
Menthol cools and refreshes the skin, making mint a handy herb to keep around in the summer. Use it to ease sunburn pain by making a strong peppermint tea and refrigerating the mixture for several hours. To use, gently apply to the burned area with cotton pads.