Herb of the Week
Herb of The Week – Spearmint June 30, 2014 18:14
This week, we'll be looking into the medicinal attributes of Spearmint. The latin name of Spearmint is Mentha spicata. Other names it is known by include: garden mint, mackerel mint, Our Lady’s Mint, green mint, spire mint, sage of Bethlehem, fish mint, menthe de Notre Dame, yerba Santa Maria, lamb mint, and yerba buena.
Spearmint has been a popular herb in both culinary and medicinal uses for centuries, being prevalent in early medieval times and probably long before. Originating in the Mediterranean, it soon became widespread. It’s name in Spanish, yerba buena, which means “good herb”, points to its popularity and use for many things. Spearmint has been found in English gardens since at least the 9th century, and was brought over to the Americas on the first voyages. It was used to treat a variety of ailments in medieval times, including headache, stomachache, sores, and bee and wasp stings. Spearmint has also been used to stimulate the appetite, as a payment of tithes, and to whiten teeth. To this day, it is frequently used as flavoring in dental hygiene products. Early texts in which Spearmint is mentioned also make note of its use for stimulating the mind and helping with memory.
Native to the Mediterranean, Spearmint has been naturalized throughout Europe, in parts of Asia, Africa and the Americas. It is considered an invasive species in some regions of the United States, such as the Great Lakes region. Spearmint grows best in wet soils and in nearly all temperate climates. It does best in partial shade, but grows well in full sun to mostly shade. Spearmint is often planted in pots or planters due to its spreading rhizomes; it is sometimes considered a most obnoxious weed.
Spearmint can have a strong, sweet scent that is usually more subtle than other mint varieties. This perennial plant is a small shrub reaching about two feet in height, with square, erect stems. The elongated, pointed, wrinkled leaves are bright green with serrated edges. The names “Spearmint” and “spire mint” come from the shape of the leaves. The small flowers bloom between July and August in slender, cylindrical spikes in shades of white, pink, and lavender.
The main effects of Spearmint are: soothing aches, stimulating appetite and nerves, preventing infection, relaxing muscles and spasms, relieving restlessness, insomnia, and uneasiness, increasing concentration, promoting blood circulation, and reducing problems with menstruation. It is also an effective insecticide, particularly against ants, flies, moths, mosquitoes, wasps, hornets, and cockroaches. Spearmint also repels rodents.
Spearmint leaves are commonly brewed into a tea, like other varieties of mint, and should be given in 4 ounce doses when brewed at medicinal strength. It can also be made into a tincture, given in doses of ½ to 1 teaspoon. From 2 to 5 drops of Spearmint essential oil can be given with sugar. The essential oil is also used in dental hygiene products, soaps, and balms for external use. As Spearmint is less potent than other varieties of mint, it is recommended for use by children over stronger varieties such as Peppermint.
Ailments which indicate treatment with Spearmint include: headache, stomachache, indigestion, flatulence, vomiting, hiccups, cramps, muscle strains, chest pain, nervous convulsions, spasmodic coughs and aches, nervous tension, restlessness, insomnia, uneasiness, poor blood circulation, open wounds, ulcers, poor appetite, irregular menstruation periods, obstructed menses, and early menopause.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and may interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, you should take herbs with care, under the supervision of a health care provider.
Contraindications: It is not recommended to take Spearmint if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you are going into surgery.
Latin Name: Mentha spicata
Medicinal Actions: antiseptic, antispasmodic, disinfectant, carminative, cephalic, emenagogue, stimulant, restorative.
Indications: aches such as headache, stomachache, cramps, muscle strains, chest pain; indigestion, flatulence, vomiting, poor appetite, nervous convulsions, spasmodic coughs, spasmodic aches, restlessness, uneasiness, nervous tension, insomnia, open wounds, ulcers, irregular menstruation periods, obstructed menses, early menopause, poor blood circulation.
Contraindications: pregnancy, breastfeeding, going into surgery.
For the Salad
3 large heirloom tomatoes, best if of different varieties
1 pint cherry tomatoes -- halved
3-4 middle eastern cucumbers, halved lengthwise and sliced into chunks
3 scallions, bulb end removed, sliced
¼ red onion, thinly sliced (optional)
4 pieces good quality pita bread
¼ cup spearmint, roughly chopped
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sumac
salt and pepper, to taste
For the Dressing
Juice of ½ lemon
3 tablespoons pomegranate syrup
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon crushed dried spearmint
½ teaspoon sumac
salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350. If pita is pocket-style, slice open. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over pitas. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and sumac. Bake pitas for 15-20 minutes, until crisped.
- Remove toasted pita from oven, and break into uneven bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
- Set aside a bowl for making the dressing; as you slice tomatoes, you’ll add the collected juices to the bowl. Rinse and dry large heirloom tomatoes. Halve tomatoes, then slice each into wedges, taking care to reserve the collected juice and transfer it into the dressing bowl.
- Halve cherry tomatoes. Transfer all tomatoes to large, shallow bowl or rimmed serving platter.
- Add cucumbers, red onions if using, scallions, and mint to salad bowl, and carefully incorporate without smushing tomatoes. Add pita chips on top.
- To make the dressing, combine all ingredients except oil, and whisk to combine. Add oil in a slow stream, whisking as you pour to emulsify the dressing.
- Drizzle dressing over salad, and let sit for 20-30 minutes before serving, tossing every 10 minutes or so to meld flavors.