Family Name: Labiatae
Though stomach abuse is currently at an all-time high, poor eating habits have been a problem throughout human history. Since day one mint as been used to improve digestion and settle an upset stomach. If poor digestion is a problem, a cup of mint tea following meals may be the answer.
Chapter from “Backyard Medicine Chest” by Dr. Douglas Schar
Chapter from “Gardening Book”
Parts Used: Leaves
Remember This: Digestive Aid
Reasonable Uses: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sluggish digestion, digestive insufficiency, slow digestion of the elderly and the infirmed, discomfort of over eating.
History and Traditional Uses
With its sharply aromatic scent and handsome, dark green leaves, peppermint’s specific stomach-soothing and gas-suppressing powers have a long history. In medieval Europe, mint jellies aided diners ingesting heavy meats at banquets. In the Arab world, mint tea is favored as an after-dinner drink. One seventeenth-century English herbalist praised peppermint as a remedy for “nausea, retchings, and looseness.” In North America, the Cherokee took it for vomiting, colic, and gas. At the turn of the century, doctors prescribed peppermint to stop nausea and vomiting, ease stomach cramps and indigestion.
Scientific Back Up
Peppermint leaves carry menthol-rich volatile oils as well as tannins and bitters. Research has revealed this triad of compounds form a digestion improving cocktail that only nature could devise. Its oils sedate unhappy digestive tract nerves and reduce the shipment of nausea impulses to the brain. The tannins reduce any inflammation that might be present in the gut. The bitters increase the production of the digestive juices necessary to process food thoroughly and efficiently.
In a nutshell, peppermint is a one stop shopping digestive tonic.
Herbalists Use It To…
Speed digestion after a pig out
The problem with over eating is the body has a hard time producing enough digestive juice to process all of the food we dump into the gut. The result, food sits there forever waiting to be processed. This
Improve weak digestion
People who over produce digestive acid get all the attention. Commercials on television, one after the next, selling products to the human acid factories. But what about the under achievers, the people who do not produce enough digestive juices? Are there any products for them? Herbalists would say yes, there are products for those who do not produce enough digestive juice and one such product is peppermint. Peppermint can be used by those who suffer from chronically sluggish digestion caused by poor digestive enzyme production!
Treat childhood queaziness
What do you do when a child feels slightly naseous? Herbalists recommend a cup of sweetened mint tea. Most children who enjoy the taste and it is often just the medicine a child needs when his or her “tummy is feeling funny”.
Peppermint is readily available at the grocery store tea section and health food shops. If you are unable to make tea, think about using a ncture. It is equally effective and can be carried in a brief case. Avoid products containing other herbs.
• Considered very safe.
• If a food upsets your stomach, stop eating it. Using peppermint to cover up the fact your stomach does not like a certain food is asking for trouble.
• Bad eating ruins health. Do not use peppermint to enable your bad eating habits.
Chapter from “Backyard Medicine Chest” by Dr. Douglas Schar
Great balls of Fire in my gut
Indigestion….Acid Burps……Heartburn……Stomach pain…..
Its really hard to be pleasant when your stomach feels like its got red hot coals floating around in it. Invariably when find yourself bent over in stomach pain caused by indigestion, someone calls you with a stupid question and all you want to do is scream, ” I cant talk to you now, I am dying at the moment.” Indigestion is truly a horrible thing to have and nobody likes to stay in that state for very long.
Our next set of snappy figures emphasizing how much of a problem digestive upset is are truly shocking. In America people shopping for over the counter drugs spent 752 million dollars on digestives and 825 million dollars on antacids. In Britain people spent 79 million pounds on the same preparations. On the prescription side of things it’s even grimmer. Have a gander at some of the top selling drugs prescribed for people who’s upset stomachs have gotten to the point that the over the counter no longer works.
Xantac 1.89 billion dollars
tagamet 620 million dollars
prilosec 580 million dollars
pepcid 481 million dollars
axid 330 million dollars
carafate 160 million dollars
As I said, the figures are staggering and in fact most indigestion drugs are considered to be quite hot in future prospects, each year more and more people suffer from indigestion, and purchase more drugs to resolve their acid burps. The figures continue to rise and before long the whole world will have to take pills to eat food. There is something radically wrong with this picture.
In reality there are three sorts of indigestion a person can have. The first form is caused by to a digestive system doesn’t work that well. Some people simply dont digest food that well and every time they put food into their mouths they end up with indigestion. This tends to run in families. The second form is caused by over eating or accidentally eating something that disagrees with your system. Say you are on holiday and you eat a local dish and your stomach and the local cuisine get into a head on collision. The third form is one that you cause yourself by eating foods you know full and well will upset your stomach. Not all foods agree with all people, some can eat mexican food and others cant. The amazing bit is the fact that many people continue to eat foods that are a guaranteed to give them indigestion.
Lets start with indigestion that people cause themselves as this is one of my pet peeves. I know an endless list of people that knowingly eat food that upsets their stomachs. They know it upsets their stomach, every time they eat it they end up with heartburn or cramps. There is nothing wrong with their stomach, the problem is with their heads or lack thereof. They are fools, and if you eat food that you know is going to upset your stomach, you can consider yourself a candidate for admission into this club of morons. Pat yourself on the back and tell yourself you dont use the sense god gave you. Eating food that is guaranteed to give you gut rot is beyond dumb and you deserve whatever pain it causes. If you indigestion is caused by eating foods that dont “sit well” with you, you don’t need a drug, you need a brain transplant.
The second category of folks are those that just suffer from poor digestion and this tends to run in families. There are different theories as to why this happens, its likely to be an insufficient production of some sort of digestive juice responsible for breaking down the food. When the food isn’t broken down efficiently it hangs out in and around the guts a little too long and this causes indigestion. As well people that have had some surgeries like a gall bladder removal have chronic upset stomachs for the same reason, lack of the necessary digestive juices. The third category is what I call Thanksgiving syndrome. There are occasions when we over eat or eat something new and it just doesn’t sit well. In these two cases you have my sympathy and there is a great herb that will help you out with the problem. The plant will also help people that lack common sense and eat foods that always upsets their stomach.
The plant we will use to treat indigestion is most unlike the medication we purchase over the counter and indeed get from prescription medicines. Antacids and stomach tranquilizers alike merely mask the problem and in fact they create new ones. When you take an antacid it neutralizes the acids found in the stomach meant to be there to digest the food. Acid is not a bad thing in the least, its there for a reason. If you are already having a digestive disturbance the last thing you want to do is disturb the balance a little more by introducing chemicals into it that would never normally be there. Similarly with stomach tranquilizers, all you are doing is covering up the problem with drugs. The problem that caused the pain is still down in your belly, you just cant feel it. With both treatments of indigestion the reason the stomach was upset in the first place is never touched. This is great for doctors and drug companies, if they solved the problem you wouldn’t be coming back for another prescription. With mint we will depart from this symptom treating business and go on the attack to the real problems that result in indigestion.
You may have noticed that almost all acid stomach preparations available over the counter are mint flavored. You may have thought this was due to the fact that mint is a nice flavor. Wrong. Mint is one of the oldest treatments for indigestion going and its inclusion to this day in pharmaceutical formulas is due to the plants ability to settle a problem stomach. In the Lewis Materia Medica published in 1799 the following is said of Peppermint, ” For flatulent colics, languor, hysterical affections, retchings and other dyspeptic symptoms, acting as a cordial and often producing immediate relief, from its stomachic, antispasmodic and carminative qualities. It seems to act as soon as taken , and extend its effect through the whole system, instantly communicating a glowing warmth. Water extracts of the whole pungency of this herb by infusion.”
You will note the plant is said to have an immediate impact on the stomach, much like a tranquilizer or antacid. The difference is that mint takes care of the problem at hand and as well works to improve the over all functioning of the stomach. It doesn’t hurt in the process of helping and in the case of chronic indigestion it will strengthen the stomach so it can digest food properly in the future.
What we call mint is really any number of plants belonging to the labiatae family- all of which produce the characteristic mint scent when the leaves are crushed. The common scent is the product of scent glands located on the leaves of the plant, some types of mint produce more oils than others and some an oil of a higher quality. The most medicinal of the mints is mentha piperita, peppermint, and when you are looking to use mint for the stomach make sure you specify that you want peppermint .
The plant can be found growing on every continent on the planet, though originally native to the mediterranean region it has spread world wide due to its voracious growing habit and its ability to settle the stomach. Though stomach abuse is at an all time high, at various moments in human history poor eating habits have been a problem. The Romans, the original pleasure pigs carried mint with them where ever they colonized as the relief it offered was much needed at the end of a dinner party/orgy. The Arabians drink its tea and chop it into salads, the Asian Indians include it in chutney recipes, the British make jellies of its juice to be served along with heavy meat dishes, and the Germans, famous for their light cuisine concoct schnapps as an after dinner drink. Please note that all these cultures include mint into the diet to improve digestion and avoid indigestion. Universally mint is used to settle the stomach a use that predates the bible.
If you look at the actions peppermint has to offer you will see that it is truly the all purpose indigestion treatment. The list of ways in which it improves the functioning of the stomach is so long it could be a book in its own right. I think a ninth century monk put it best when he said the following, ” If you wish to enumerate completely all the virtues, kinds, and names of mint, you would be capable of saying how many fish swim in the Red Sea.” What more can an herbalist say. Its actions include carminative(anti-gas), anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, anti-emetic(anti-vomiting), nervine(sooths the nerves), anti-microbial, and last but not least analgesic, or pain killing. When you have all these actions working together the end result is an end to your misery.
Chemicals contained in the plant have the ability to relax the muscles of the digestive system, upset stomach is often caused by the muscle spasms in the tract which causes discomfort and pain. Oils contained in the plant act as a anesthetic to the lining of the stomach walls, thus deadening sensitivity to the acids present. This anaesthetic quality helps to relieve the urge to vomit, which is caused by nerves in the stomach! The anti-microbial elements will knock out bacteria if that is indeed the source of our discomfort.
As we have already learned the digestive tract is wildly impacted by the nervous system as it is so cleverly hooked into it. In some cases this close association that makes us stay alive can turn around and bite us in the ass. A disturbance in our emotional life can equally disturb our digestive life. An emotional upset can fry our nerves and suddenly the stomach is over producing acid-and then we have heart burn. Chemicals contained in the plant sooth the nerves and with the nerves soothed the stomach relaxes and the pain and discomfort we feel goes away.
Most importantly peppermint facilitates digestion and it does this by stimulating the secretion of bile and digestive juices. Many times indigestion is caused by food sitting in the gut for too long. The food swallowed has to be broken down into smaller bits and this is done by chemicals released by the stomach itself and related organs. If there is insufficient production of such juices or an abnormally large intake of food, food sits in the stomach and begins to decay, which causes indigestion. A cup of mint tea will get the digestive juices flowing and digesting the food so it can move on down along the line. When you have indigestion the last thing you want to do is neutralize the stomach acids-without them the food cant be properly processed.
With the plant growing in the garden you will have all the upset stomach medicine you could ever use or need right on hand. The ideal way of using the drug is in the fresh state and all one has to do is run out into the garden and grab a handful, that is as long as the plant is above ground. The plant disappears back into the ground in the winter and due to this you will need to put some mint up for winter use. The active constituents in mint are delicate and they will actually disappear if not stored properly. As such my manner of preserving the herb for winter use is as follows. Get a coffee can and keep it in the freezer. Every so often, when the mood hit, go out and cut all your mint down to the ground and take the plants to the kitchen table and sit down. Strip the leaves off the stems and place them in the freezer in the coffee can. When you have indigestion you simply take a few teaspoons of frozen leaves out of the freezer and make some tea.
As we have already established nerves can cause indigestion and if you know you are heading into a stressful situation, make you a thermos full of mint tea and start drinking before the scene starts and keep on drinking all the way through. This tip comes from my sister who always brings her antacids to visits to her in laws house. She starts half an hour before the visit starts and keeps at until she is driving home. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, Isn’t that how that goes?
When it comes to indigestion and all the millions of people that suffer from it we again see the extent to which we have departed from natural living. There is nothing more natural than eating , it simply shouldn’t hurt There has been a steady rise in indigestion that corresponds to the hastening pace at which we now live, the faster we move the more indigestion we have. “The most common cause of acute gastritis are errors in diet or method of eating. We live in an age where competition is strong and travel at a pace incompatible with health. The business man hurries through his meal, only partially masticating his food, and washing it down with large quantities of fluid. Children catch the infection , and hurry through meals in order to reach school or resume play, and this continued rush of American life is productive in a high degree of stomach disorders. ” Rollo Thomas, Md. 1920
Rollo noticed 75 years ago that life pace was taking its toll on the digestive process and things moving a lot faster as we approach the year 2,000 than they were when this physician was writing. People with chronic indigestion need to examine the pace at which they live and slow things down. They might want to try a slower lifestyle on before resorting to taking drugs to cover up faulty living. Remember a healthy digestive process mean you will live- a poorly functioning one may have serious consequences later on down the road. As in you might not live to spend all that money you are working to retire on.
Getting your herb:
1. Buy it at the health food store.
2. Grow it yourself. If you have any gardening space what so ever there is no reason not to produce your own mint. It is such a voracious grower that some people plant it in pots and then submerge the pots in the garden to keep the runners from running all over the place. If you plan to use mint for stomach problems the object is to produce as much as possible so you can harvest as much as is possible. There are hundreds of varieties of mint and because you want to use peppermint, mentha piperita, you need to purchase the plants from a reliable source, such as a mail order nursery that specializes in medicinal herbs. You can get a cutting from a friend as long as you are reasonable sure the plant you are getting is peppermint. With you cutting in hand you can plant your mint just about any where in any soil, there could be no more forgiving a plant. It will take full sun and will even grow in a shady location. When it comes to harvesting mint the oils are at their highest amounts just before the plant blooms, bear this in mind.
Chapter from “Gardening Book”
Mint is mostly associated in this country with the sophisticated mint julep of the old south. Ironiclly its primary use two hundred years ago was to mask the nasty odors of public places and to repel odors. Gerard says of it ” the smelle rejoiceth the heart of man, for which casue they used to strew it in chambers and places of recreation, pleasure and repose, where feasts and banquets are made. ” many of the most common herbs were first used as strewing herbs. This class of herbs doesnt exist in todays world but it had great significance in years past. A mofor section of the herb garden was dedicated to the herbs of “strewing”. Sweet scented herbs were spred on the floor in the home, church, and court. Its really no differnt than the odour reducing sprays we see in most homes, just a little more quaint.
Many things we do today on a thoughtless ceremonial basis have roots in something real. Back to the everything comes from someting. As you probaly have noticed most resturants, from big boy to family style itlian, have a bowel of mints sitting right next to the cash register. Did you ever wonder why, or where this idea comes from? Why do we serve mint jelly with lamb? Are these things just so, or is there something more to? With all the flavors one would put in the company of lamb, would mint be one of them. Yes, id like a little toothpaste with my meat thanks. Im sure this one has kept you up at night, and atlast the question that has been killing you will be answered. Long ago people discovered that following a greasy meat dinner, mint would break up the fat, and relax a stomach put into knots by a meal that just doesnt sit well.
Thus entters the mint into the history of man. I always thought people used mint to hide bad breath, which is also true. But they first appeared mostly to sooth sore stomaches and to assist in the digestion of traditonally hard to digest foods, like lamb. So that glob of green stuff at the left of the lamb is actual going to help your digestion. Mint tea, called poleo is still a after dinner favorite of the spanish.
Orignally a native of the mediteranean, mint was carried to the far reaches of europe with the movement of the romans. The romans were quite fond of mint and carried it with them where ever they went. In those days labor was cheap and the household help would rub the serving platters and plates with ground mint to give them a fresh smell and to create an apetite. Gerard says:” the smell of mint does stir up the minde adn the taste to a greedy desire of meat.”
The minty dental paste is also an old usage of mint. From the 14th century forward mint was recongized as beneficail to the gums and teeth. In this century distilled mint oil was used to whiten teeth. Gargles of mint were made to treat sore gums. In time it has held its position as friend of the mouth and we still see it in toothpastes. One use that has fallen out of use is in treating chapped hands. If my hands get sore, i take several mint leaves and rub them on my hands until the leaves crumble and my hands are stained green. I leave the residue on my hands until i have to deal with the public, at which point i wash my hands. Big green hands only look good on the jolly green giant.
One other little fact ive read on numerous occasions, but having cats have never had the opoortunhity to try, it appears that mice cannot stomach mint and avoid it at all costs. People used to plant mint around crops traditonally eaten by mice and kept quantities of it in the pantry to keep mice out of the food store.
Mints latin name, mentha, has its roots in legend. Menthe was a beautiful nymph much adaored by pluto. Prosperine, a female goddess had her eyes on pluto and in jealousie turned menthe into a plant. So mint was born out of the jealousie of a woman. It wasnt enough that prosperine turned her into a plant, but she turned her into a common way side plant.
There is much confusion as to what mint is what. In the states we generically say mint, some say spearmint, peppermint, and usually nobody knows the differnce. The general term mint really isnt accurate, you are either growing spearmint or peppermint. The problem starts in that some spearmints look like peppermint, and vice versa. They grow about the same , and can be used interchangeably, but lets clear this little matter up once oand for all. Spearmint tends to have jagged edged leaves and has pink blossoms. Pepper mint, in general, has rounded leaves and blooms white. As i said these are generalities. It doesnt make a big nevermind, and it seems hopelessly confused at this ppoint. I see peppermint being sold as spearmint all the time.
Its interesting to note that it takes 350 pounds of mint to produce 1 pound of mint oil, thats a lot of mint for a litle oil. Pepper mint is used for oil as it is considered the most medicinally effective. The best is said to come from england , though it is cultivated in france , spain , and the united states. This oil finds its way into mints and toothpastes, and a variety of commercial uses. France is reported to fertilize her mint fields with sewage, an interesting thought one might want to forget right before using toothpaste.
In the past each city had a department of rat control and an occupation was made of rat exterminating. Peppermint was the friend of the rat catcher, they used it to stuff up the rat hole and get the rat to come out the other end running. Today the rat erradicator, the proper term have discontinued the use of pepermint in their strategy.
To quote our friend gerard, who was quoting discorides, “(mint) being applied to the secret part of a woman before the act, it hindreth conception” so it would seem that cookie old mint had use above and beyond mouth and room freshening. What do you suppose” “the act” was?
Mint is a great herb to grow , there are numerous uses, and it grows in such abundance, you have all the mint you could ever want. Its also one of hte easiest to get going. Its such a common plant it really doesnt pay to purchase it, just ask a friend for a cutting. Anyone that has mint in the garden has enough to share. The best time to get started on your mint operation is in the dormant monthes, late fall being the best moment. Mint seems to grow under the soil all winter spreading its suckers and planting it in the fall takes advantage of this fact.
If you want to order it from a mail order house you can specify peppermint or spearmint. They are actually quite similar in the kitchen, but peppermint is particularly good for people that suffer stomach problems, so id you have stomach aches, order some pepermint.
It can be started very easily from cuttings obtained at the supermarket, in fact its one of the easiest to get started. If you want to grow a plant in a pot, mint is one that will serve you well.
One added plus of mint for the gardener is that it does not mind being in a shady location. Most herbs really love the hot sun, mint being the exception to the generality. It will happily turn an unproductive corner into a veritable herb shop. Unlike its hot sun loving herb associates, mint like its soil moist and will do just fine in an area that does not drain well.they are not waterplants and don’t like sitting in water, but poor drainage wont do them any harm. Like lemon balm, this plant is a spreader and remember this. I have let my mint spread where ever its wanted to go, i use a lot of it , and the more the merrier. The anal gardener will want to pick a spot that will be easy to control it in. It will spread all on its own.
There are no real special planting instructions for mint, just take your plant, from what ever source, and stick it in the selected position. Mint seems to have taken over my compost pile, little piece of root have ended up in the pile and taken root. This is typical mint behavior. All the other weeded plants die and root nicely, not the mint. It just sets in some roots and starts life over. If you have some compost put a few shovels in with your mint start, ive found they love it. If you dont have any, dont worry about it. Like with most transplants , keep the plant well watered for the first year. This is the rooting in period and the better the mint roots in the bigger the plant will be.