Health benefits and uses of less well known mints

Eight less well known mints

Eight less well known mints. Left to right, top to bottom from top left: Australian mint, Brisbane pennyroyal, cornmint, Hart’s pennyroyal, horsemint, red mint, slender mint and water mint.

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

I’ve already dealt with a number of different mint species including peppermint, spearmint, apple mint, ginger mint, Corsican mint and (European) pennyroyal. But there are a number of other species in the Mentha genus, most of which are used less frequently and are less readily available in nurseries. Of course, the availability will depend on where exactly you live. In Australia, you’re probably more likely to find at least two of these “less well known mints” as I’m calling them here, since they are native to Tasmania and the Queensland coast. I expect the same goes for some of the others in different parts of the world.

All mints are species in the genus Mentha and have some things in common. They all have a minty fragrance and flavour, they all prefer a richer soil than you’d use for most other herbs, they all attract bees, butterflies and similar wildlife while deterring rats and mice, and they all have a strong tendency to become invasive if you don’t take steps to prevent this – the normal method being to plant them in a big flower pot (bottomless if you like) and then plunge that into the soil. Even then, some of the more prolific seeders and the ones that lean over and root from the tips of their stems will need to be watched like a bunch of naughty school children, or they’ll get out of control and start running all over. All the mints on this page also like a moist soil, in fact some will thrive actually in the water, if it’s not too deep.

For medicinal use, gather leaves just as the plants come into flower to use immediately or for drying. To dry them, lay them out in a single layer in a cool, dry, airy place out of direct sunlight, turning now and then until completely dry, then store in an airtight jar (preferably made of dark-coloured glass), label and store in a cool, dry cupboard.

Please note that none of the herbs covered in this post are suitable for internal use during pregnancy.

Australian mint

Australian mint

Australian mint aka river mint, Mentha australis. Native to Australia including Tasmania, where it is listed as a threatened species.

An erect or sprawling herb reaching a height of 50-75cm (20″) with long thin lance-shaped toothed fairly hairy leaves up to 6cm x 2cm. Found growing wild by streams or in clay depressions. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

Not often used in cooking, but may be used as a substitute for other mints when these are not available.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal

Brisbane pennyroyal aka bush mint, creeping mint (or native pennyroyal in Australia), Mentha satureioides. Native to Australia.

A mat-forming herb which reaches 30cm x 1m with leaves up to 35mm x 7mm and hairy stems, found growing wild on riverbanks, open forest and pasture. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used as a general tonic, for muscle cramps, high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Cornmint

Cornmint

Cornmint aka field mint, wild mint (see horsemint which is also called wild mint), or pudina in ayurvedic medicine, Mentha arvensis syn. M. austriaca. Native to Europe including Britain, northern Asia and the Himalayas, naturalised across much of northern USA.

An erect or semi-sprawling herb which reaches 60-100cm x 1m with hairy toothed leaves up to 65mm x 20mm and hairy stems. Found growing wild in moist heathland and woodland edges. Suitable for any dry or moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses. It is used in ayurveda as an appetiser and for gastric disorders.

Cornmint is the most likely essential oil you’ll find apart from spearmint and peppermint. However, it’s not actually used in aromatherapy, but mainly by the pharmaceutical industry.

As with all essential oils, cornmint essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Hart's pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal

Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint (see also water mint), Mentha cervina syn. Preslia cervina. There is a variety with white flowers: Mentha cervina alba. Native to Algeria, Morocco and Southwest Europe. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.

This plant is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

A semi-evergreen herb which reaches a height of 30cm with narrow lance-shaped greyish-green leaves. Found growing wild in damp places. Suitable for any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves contain high levels of pulegone, which is poisonous, so this plant is not edible raw, though toxicity is reduced by cooking.

The essential oil in the leaves is antiseptic, but also toxic.

Horsemint

Horsemint

Horsemint aka biblical mint, buddleia mint, silver mint or wild mint (see cornmint, which is also called wild mint), Mentha longifolia syn. M. incana, M. sylvestris, M. tomentosa. Native across Europe, Asia and Africa, naturalised in North America, also cultivated.

An erect or creeping herb reaching 1m x 1m with slightly furry leaves up to 10cm x 3cm. Found growing wild in wasteland and roadsides. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can be used raw, cooked, in salads and chutneys, as a peppermint flavouring and for tea.

A traditional remedy for bad breath and with vinegar for dandruff, recommended in Culpeper’s Complete Herbal. A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water is used for asthma, coughs, colds and other respiratory conditions, stomach cramps, flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), indigestion and headaches. It is also used in many places as a gargle and mouthwash to treat disorders of the mouth and throat. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Red mint

Red mint

Red mint aka red raripila mint or rust free mint, Mentha x smithiana syn. M. rubra. A hybrid between Mentha aquatica, M. arvensis and M. spicata. Native to Northern and Central Europe and with a reputation for being resistant to mint rust.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1.5m with red stems and red-tinged foliage. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves are excellent used raw, cooked, for tea, and as a spearmint flavouring for desserts, ice cream etc.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. It can also be used externally as a wash for skin infections, cuts and grazes. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Slender mint

Slender mint

Slender mint (or native mint in Australia), Mentha diemenica syn. M. gracilis. Native to Australia including Tasmania. Found growing wild in grassland and forest habitats. Due to its native habitat, it would benefit from some protection in cooler regions during the Winter months.A prostrate or upright herb 10-25cm x 50cm with flat hairless leaves up to 20mm x 12mm. Suitable for any moist soil in full sun/partial shade.

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for flatulence (“gas” or “wind“), high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.

Water mint

Water mint

Water mint (see also Hart’s pennyroyal aka water spearmint), Mentha aquatica syn. M. hirsuta. Native to Africa, Asia and Europe, naturalised in New Zealand and the USA, cultivated in Mexico, Cuba and Guatemala.

An upright herb which reaches 1m x 1m. Found growing wild in swamp, marsh, fen and any wet ground. Suitable for pond edges or any moist or wet soil in full sun/partial shade. Can grow in water (up to 4 inches of water above the growing medium).

The leaves can used raw, cooked, as a flavouring and for tea.

A standard infusion made from 3 handfuls fresh or 15g (a half ounce) dried leaves to a cup (250ml, 8fl oz) boiling water can be used for high temperature, headache, indigestion and other digestive disorders. Take no more than 1 cup a day, split into three equal doses.


Ylang ylang essential oil, benefits and uses

Ylang ylang is used in perfumes as well as aromatherapy

Ylang ylang is used in perfumes as well as aromatherapy

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Ylang ylang essential oil is extracted from the freshly picked flowers of Cananga odorata, a tropical tree which is native to Indo-China, Malaysia and Queensland, Australia.

As with all essential oils, ylang ylang oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.
 

The oil is extracted by water or steam distillation, and like olive oil pressings there are different grades depending on when the distillates are collected. These grades are: extra, grade 1, grade 2 and grade 3. You may also find 2 or more grades mixed together and sold as “ylang ylang complete”. A concrete and absolute are also produced.

Extra grade ylang ylang oil is the first distillate and is generally used for top class perfumery because it has the most full-bodied scent. Grade 3 is the fourth distillate, used commercially as a fragrance in soap, shampoo and similar purposes. Grade 1, the second distillate, is most frequently offered for use in aromatherapy, though other grades are found. Complete ylang ylang oil is either a blend of all the distillates or a distillate which has just continued from start to finish, without fractionating.

The cheapest ylang ylang essential oil on sale is likely to be an imitation/fake oil or a mixture of ylang ylang and other ingredients, neither of which is suitable for aromatherapy. Remember to check that the oil offered is 100% pure essential oil and always buy from a reputable supplier, not just someone online with no provenance.

Cautions: Not suitable for use on children under 13 years of age. May reduce concentration. Use in moderation. Excessive use may cause headache or nausea, even though it’s used as an ingredient in some motion-sickness remedies.

When mixing an ylang ylang massage oil, you may want to reduce the quantity of oil used from the normal 5 drops per 10ml to, say, 3 drops. As it is such a strongly fragrant oil, when making a mixed blend, you may wish to use less ylang ylang in proportion to other oils in the mixture so as to avoid the ylang ylang overpowering the other scents.

Despite its heady fragrance, ylang ylang is a cooling oil and makes a good general tonic. It’s also used to reduce high blood pressure (hypertension), over-breathing (hyperpnea) and palpitations (tachycardia).

Ylang ylang oil is used topically to treat irritated skin, acne, insect bites and for general skin care. It normalizes sebum production which makes it useful as a skin softener for both dry and oily skin-types. It’s also used as a hair rinse and rubbed into the scalp to promote hair growth. To treat split ends, massage the ends of the hair with a blend of ylang ylang oil in apricot or jojoba base oil.

On the non-physical side, ylang ylang essential oil is calming and sedative, recommended for treating anger, anxiety, depression, detachment, fear of failure, guilt, impatience, insomnia, irritability, jealousy, nervous tension, panic attacks, mood swings caused by PMS*, lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, selfishness, shock, shyness, stress and stubbornness.

*A mixture of ylang ylang, clary sage and neroli is also recommended for PMS.

Ylang ylang has a reputation as an aphrodisiac and for treating what used to be called frigidity, which is probably why the marital bed was customarily spread with ylang ylang flowers on Indonesian wedding nights. In the Philippines, it is one of the flowers used to make a lei (necklace) both for humans and religious images.

I offer
Ylang Ylang Extra Essential Oil (1st distillate)
Ylang Ylang I Essential Oil (2nd distillate)
Ylang Ylang III Essential Oil (4th distillate for soaps, etc.) and
Ylang Ylang Complete Essential Oil, Organic (blend of all fractions)
in my online shop.


Frankincense essential oil, benefits and uses: oil with a sacred pedigree

Frankincense is the resin collected from several Boswellia species

Frankincense is the resin collected from several Boswellia species

Originally published on Guide to Aromatherapy

Frankincense oil has an attractive scent I always associate with High Anglican churches, which I attended as a child. Frankincense is used in Roman Catholic and other “high” churches, and apparently in Lutheran ones as well. It was also used in ancient Judaism alongside the sacrifices in the Temple. Ancient Egyptians, by contrast, used it for cosmetics, perfumes, and rejuvenating face masks.

Well known in Christian circles as one of the gifts given to the infant Jesus by the three wise men along with gold and myrrh, frankincense is a resin which is collected from several different trees in the Boswellia genus (mainly B. sacra) several times a year. The trunk of the trees is slashed, the sap oozes out and congeals and is then collected.

Unfortunately, this has become unsustainable in recent years. Trees which are used for resin collection produce seed which has only 16% viability, in comparison with trees left alone, which have 80% or more viable seeds.

Frankincense is distantly related to Elemi.

As with all essential oils, frankincense oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.

Frankincense essential oil is made by steam distillation from the resin. It’s also sometimes called olibanum oil. It is a yellow or greenish liquid with a rich, balsamic scent and a fresh top note.

Frankincense oil should not be used during pregnancy (except during labor) or for children under 6 years of age. As with all essential oils, ensure that the oil you buy is pure frankincense oil, and not wholly or partly fake, or adulterated with chemicals. Even if they smell similar, oils which are not 100% pure essential oil will not have the same therapeutic effects, and may be dangerous when used in medicinal amounts.

Please note that in spite of widespread disinformation to the contrary, Frankincense essential oil does not cure cancer, despite a single anecdotal report of a skin cancer cure. The claim is based on the presence of boswellic acid in frankincense gum resin. However, it is not present in the essential oil, and the tumour-fighting benefits of boswellic acid are therefore not available to anyone using frankincense essential oil. Source

Frankincense is traditionally associated with spirituality. Used in an oil burner or diffuser, frankincense oil is an aid to meditation, calms anxiety of the mind, helps reduce the tendency to live in the past and encourages grounding and a feeling of inner peace. On the physical side, it is also useful for respiratory conditions including asthma, bronchitis, coughs and colds, laryngitis and shortness of breath.

In a blend of 5 drops to 10ml carrier oil, frankincense oil is a good general tonic and helpful for respiratory conditions, rheumatism, poor circulation, exhaustion, nightmares, heavy periods, delayed periods or the menopause. You could also add a few drops of oil (up to 5) to the bath for the same purposes. On top of all that, it’s great for dry and mature skin, scars, wounds and any disfiguring skin problems including wrinkles. The Egyptians knew a thing or two about beauty!Continuing on the beauty front, adding a few drops of frankincense to a base cream or lotion makes a great skin tonic which will rejuvenate, reduce oiliness, gradually reduce wrinkles, stretch marks and old scars and help with healing of general skin problems such as sores.

You can also use a few drops of frankincense in the water used to clean cuts as an antiseptic and to help prevent scarring, or to make a compress for cracked skin and bed sores. A compress is a clean bandage which is soaked in liquid (in this case warm), wrung out and applied to the area to be treated.

I offer pure frankincense essential oil and dilute frankincense essential oil in my online shop.


Poppy health benefits: for anxiety and insomnia

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Poppy flowers are beautiful and fragile

Poppy flowers are beautiful and fragile

The poppy, Papaver rhoeas, also called the red poppy, field poppy, corn poppy or Flanders poppy has become synonymous in the UK with the annual Remembrance Day celebrations. Each year, millions of imitation poppies are made and sold in aid of retired and injured soldiers, sailors and airmen and their families, as well as those who have been killed in combat. The poppy was chosen because after the First World War was over, the fields of battle at Flanders were a sea of red poppies, as if seeded by the blood of the fallen.

Until agriculture turned industrial in the middle of the 20th century, cornfields used to be much prettier than they are now, as they were dotted with poppies and cornflowers. Poppies thrive where the soil is disturbed by cultivation or other causes, but farmers use selective weedkillers to protect the purity of their crop. In my view we lose more than we gain by this practice.

The name red poppy is used to distinguish this plant from the closely related opium poppy, which is sometimes called the white poppy. Although the wild poppy is naturally red (though there are occasional whites and bicolors), cultivated poppies are available in many combinations and shades of red and white, some with black markings.

The poppy is a hardy annual plant which reaches a height of about 2 feet (60cm). Sow it once, and even if you deadhead religiously, you are likely to find that it selfseeds, and you will never need to buy seeds again. Poppies require moist but well drained soil, but are not fussy as to type. They will not grow in the shade.

Poppy is not suitable as a herbal remedy during pregnancy.

Medicinally, poppy has a long history of use, particularly for children and the elderly. The petals and leaves are a good general tonic, and is useful as a treatment for anxiety and insomnia, as an expectorant and to relieve minor pains and sore throat. It also promotes menstruation and fights cancer.

For all these purposes make a standard infusion using 3 handfuls of fresh petals and leaves or 1 ounce of dried to 570ml (2.5 US cups, 1 UK pint) boiling water. Stand for 15 minutes to 4 hours then strain before use. The daily dosage is up to 240ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) split into 3 doses.

As with all herbs grown for medicinal use, poppies must be grown organically to avoid their active constituents being masked or changed by the effects of foreign chemicals. To find out more about growing organic poppies visit the Gardenzone.


Herb Fennel health benefits: for cough, cold, sore throat and more

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Feathery fennel is an attractive herb

Feathery fennel is an attractive herb

Fennel, or herb fennel as it is sometimes called to distinguish it from its larger relative sweet (or Florence) fennel grown as a vegetable, Foeniculum vulgare (although you might find it labelled as Foeniculum officinale), is an attractive herb which comes in both green and maroony-red forms. Other common names by which it is known include aniseed weed, herb fennel and hui xiang. It is one of the sacred herbs of Wicca.

Fennel is a member of the family of Apiaceae (Umbelliferae) – which includes several very poisonous species including Hemlock – so for safety’s sake it is not a good idea to gather it from the wild.

Fennel is a perennial, although as a Mediterranean and African native (naturalized all over the place, including the UK and the USA) it’s only half-hardy, but if you give it a warm, sheltered position it will probably survive all but the worst winter. However, it does not like to be moved, so if you are growing it from seed, you need to sow it where you want it to end up, for best results. In colder climates, it would probably do best in a conservatory or greenhouse.

A standard infusion is made from 2 teaspoonfuls of seeds, fresh or dried, to 1 cup of boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes before straining for use. Use it as a treatment for colic, coughs, flatulence (“gas” or “wind”) and indigestion, also as a laxative and tonic. A cold infusion can be used as a mouthwash for gum disease and a gargle for sore throats.

You can make a decoction of the chopped roots, using 30g (1oz) of fresh or 15g (½oz) of dried root to 570ml (1 UK pint, 2½ US cups) of cold water. Put them in a saucepan, bring to a boil, then lower the temperature to a simmer and continue to cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain before using hot or cold to treat urinary disorders.

Fennel is used by the Navajo to make lip balm.

As with all herbs grown for use as herbal remedies, it’s important that fennel is grown organically, so as to reduce the risk of ingesting large quantities of chemicals with your remedy. For more information about growing herb fennel organically, visit the Gardenzone.

I offer a selection of fennel products in my online shop.

Aromatherapy

Sweet fennel essential oil is used mainly for respiratory and digestive conditions, including improving appetite. It’s not suitable for children, during pregnancy or for anyone suffering from epilepsy, cancer, or taking prescribed blood thinners. It should not be used on sensitive skin.

As with all essential oils, fennel essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.