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Herb of the week: peppermint and other mentholy mint-family plants.

or, true mints high in menthol. (Also see non-mentholy mints).

Photo: Mentha x piperita 12. A short profile:

Latin: Mentha-species:
Peppermint, Mentha x piperita.
Canadian / Japanese mint, Mentha canadensis (also called Mentha arvensis f. or var. piperascens, Mentha arvensis ssp. or var. canadensis, Mentha arvensis var. glabrata, Mentha haplocalyx, Mentha pedunculata, Mentha sachalinensis) and similar.
Other mentholy mint-family plants (they're not as strong but can be used the same way):
mountain mints, Pycnanthemum-species
showy calamint, Calamintha grandiflora
basil thyme, Calamintha nepeta
Family: Lamiaceae, mint family.
Parts used: Aboveground parts, in or out of flower.
Taste: Crisp, cold, fresh.
4 humors: Both cold and hot, I think.


  • Cooling.
  • Digestive.
  • Carminative.
  • Good for coughs, in syrups, teas and as inhaled steam.
  • It'll bring blood to the surface in external uses.
  • A nice all-round mint-family anti-inflammatory.

Food uses:

  • Mint sauce on lamb.
  • Mint twigs in the summery water jar.
  • Mint in rhubarb pie. Divine!
  • Mint sugar for all sorts of interesting things.
  • The mint cough syrup is meant for coughs, sure, but it does get used up long before anybody coughs.


  • The true mentholy mints (peppermint, Canadian mint) are the most widespread herb crop in the world, and it's not because of herb uses: it's to extract menthol. Guess which three industries menthol is used for!
  • If you overdo the peppermint people can see where you've been ... cos you leave a track of pee. After the usual suspects are ruled out (giving birth, menopause), the question to ask an adult with incontinence is: "Sooo. How much mint do you ingest in any given day?" If it's 10 cups of mint tea a day for months on end, slow down on the mint, and your incontinence is gone. (For the others, give Kegels and mullein root.)
  • Don't use the essential oil straight: you can get sensitive to it.
  • Peppermint is a hybrid between water mint (M. aquatica) and spearmint (M. spicata). Spearmint is sometimes considered a hybrid on its own, sometimes considered a true species. They've tried to produce another peppermint hybrid by crossing water and spearmint ... hundreds of young plants later, they had a lot of catpissy mints and not one single peppermint. Just think, if that botanist hadn't walked that field in the late 1700s in rural England, we'd have NO mentholy toothpaste ... it'd all be cloves and cinnamon. (And just think, how many botanists didn't walk fields someplace or other, so we didn't get fancy natural hybrids of various plants ...)


  • I add it to weird-tasting teas. The tea tastes better, and people take their herbal tea and get better.
  • It's really good for coughs, and to keep the respiratory tract open.
  • For a steam bath, you can also use the essential oil: a few drops in hot water, and inhale.
  • A peppermint oil capsule (in a fatty flour like corn or oats) will help with gut cramps.
  • Peppermint tincture or EO (essential oil) will get rid of halitosis-causing bacteria stuck to the esophagus. (Peppermint won't touch the halitosis that comes with liver problems. There, help the liver.)

Comments on Facebook:

  • From Cynthia S.:
    I love the mint family. Also don't forget the mint julips and mojitos,party time!
    19 February at 13:03
  • From Lauren H.:
    So -- toothpaste, gum/candy, and tobacco? Are these the three top industries using menthol?
    19 February at 15:17
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    You got it. I lump toothpaste under cosmetics, because there's also mouthwashes and things, but that's a very minor nitpick.
    19 February at 15:55
  • From Tammie G. C.:
    I use it a lot for flea repellent when cleaning. I love the smell of it!!!
    25 February at 13:38
  • From Henriette's herbal:
    :-) Flea repellent, eh? I've used the herb (not the EO) in salves, and peppermint requires more beeswax than other herbs in order to set. Nice scent, keeps the skeeters away too!
    25 February at 14:10
  • From The Greenfield Clinic:
    If you fancy growing mint in your garden, contain it a bit as it sure likes to grow, and spread! try planting it in a pot or bucket below ground. Unless your a mint nut and are quite happy for it to grow and spread !! Its my favourite part of a mojito !
    19 February at 17:30
  • From Andrea C.:
    Mint used to grow all over my grans fields.... i used to use it in the head collar of my horse and it kept the flies away (and on me!!)... mint brings back memories of summer days and no worries...
    19 February at 17:35
  • From Lauren S.:
    Wonderful, fun write-up! I enjoyed the image of the 18th century botanist unknowingly leaving behind the hybrid so many of us love. :) When I was an LMT, I sometimes used peppermint e.o. diluted in a carrier oil and applied topically for relieving the pain of sore muscles and joints. Increases circulation, but also has a cooling effect and sensation. And works as a counter irritant. Nice. :)
    19 February at 09:18

Please add your own experiences etc. in the comments!

Mentholy mints will be in my next book, out in 2013 or so. That book will be quite similar to my fabulous herb book Practical Herbs, with more herb, more fast-working tips, and more basics.

Also see Peppery mints.