Several kinds of the Mints have been used medicinally from the earliest times, such as Balm, Basil, Ground Ivy, Horehound, Marjoram, Pennyroyal, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Savory, Spearmint, and Thyme, some being esteemed rather as pot herbs, than as exercising positive medicinal effects. The most useful as Herbal Simples which have yet to be considered are Pennyroyal, Peppermint, and Spearmint. The Cat Mint (Nepeta cataria) and Horse Mint are of minor importance.
All the Mints are severally provided with leaves of a familiar fragrant character, it having been observed that this aromatic vegetation is a feature of deserts, and of other hot, dry places, allover the world. Tyndall showed the power exercised by a spray of perfume when diffused through a room to cool it, or in other words to exclude the passage of the heat rays; and it has been suggested
that the presence of essential oils in the leaves of these plants serves to protect them against the intense dry heat of a desert sun all effectively as if they were partly under shelter. Nevertheless Mints, with the exception of "Arvensis," are the inhabitants of wet and marshy wastes.
They have acquired their common name Mentha from Minthes (according to Ovid) who was changed into a plant of this sort by Proserpina, the wife of Pluto, in a fit of jealousy. Their flowering tops are all found to contain a certain portion of camphor. Pliny said: "As for the garden Mint, the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes the spirits, as the taste stirs up the appetite for meat, which is the reason that it is so general in our acid sauces, wherein we are
accustomed to dip our meat." The Mints for paying tithes, with respect to which the Pharisees were condemned for their extravagance by our Saviour, included the Horse Mint (Sylvestris), the round-leaved Mint, the hairy Mint (Aquatica), the Corn Mint (Arvensis), the Bergamot Mint, and some others, besides the "Mint, Rue, and Anise," specially mentioned. "Woe unto you Pharisees; for ye tithe Mint and Rue, and all manner of herbs. Ye pay tithe of Mint, and Anise, and Cummin."
The Mint Pennyroyal (Mentha Pulegium) gets its name from the Latin puleium regium, because of its royal efficacy in destroying fleas (pulices). The French call this similarly, Pouliot. It grows on moist heaths and pastures, and by the margins of brooks, being cultivated further in our herb gardens, for kitchen and market uses. Also, it is produced largely about Mitcham, and is mostly sold in a dry state. The herb was formerly named
Pudding Grass, from its being used to make the stuffing for meat, in days when this was termed a pudding. Thus we read in an old play, "The Ordinary":
"Let the corporal Come sweating under a breast of mutton stuffed with [pudding]."
The Pennyroyal was named by the Greeks Bleekon and Gleekon, being often used by them as a condiment for seasoning different viands. Formerly it was known in England as "Lurk in ditch," and "Run by the ground," from its creeping nature, arid love of a damp soil. Its first titles were "Puliall Royall," and "Hop Marjoram." A chaplet of Pennyroyal was considered admirable for clearing the brain. Treadwell says, the Pennyroyal was especially put into hog's puddings, which were
made of flour, currants, and spice, and stuffed into the entrails of a hog.
The oil of Pennyroyal is used commercially in France and Germany. Its distilled water is carminative and anti-spasmodic; whilst the whole plant is essentially stimulating. The fresh herb yields about one per cent. of a volatile oil containing oxygen, but of which the exact composition has not been ascertained. From two to eight drops may be given as a dose in suitable cases, but not where feverish or inflammatory symptoms are present.
If added to an ordinary embrocation the oil of Pennyroyal increases the reddening and the benumbing (anodyne) effects, acting in the same way as, menthol (oil of Peppermint) for promptly dispelling severe neuralgic pain. With respect to the Pennyroyal, folk speak in Devonshire of "Organs," "Organ Tea," and "Organ Broth." An essence is made of the oil, mixed and diluted with spirit of wine. The Pennyroyal has proved useful in whooping cough; but the chief purpose to which it
has long been devoted, is that of promoting, the monthly flow with women. Haller says he never knew an infusion of the herb in white wine, with steel, to fail of success; "Quod me nunquam fefellit". It is certain that in some parts of England preparations of Pennyroyal are in considerable demand, and a great number of women ascribe emmenagogue properties to it, that is, the power of inducing the periodical monthly flux. Many married women of intelligence and close
observation, assert as a positive fact, that Pennyroyal will bring on the periodical flow when suppressed; and yet the eminent jurisprudent, Dr. Taylor, was explicit in declaring that Pennyroyal has no such properties. He stated that it has no more effect on the womb than peppermint or camphor water. So there is difficulty in collecting evidence as regards the real action of Pennyroyal in such respect. Chemists supply the medicine in the full belief of this eminent opinion
just quoted: at the same time they know it is not wanted for "catarrh of the chest," as alleged. The purchaser keeps her secret to herself, and does not communicate her experience to anyone. Dr. Taylor evidently supposed Peppermint water and Camphor water to be almost inert, especially as exercising any toxical effect on the womb. The medicinal basis of the latter is certainly a powerful agent, and its stimulating volatile principles are found to exist in most of the aromatic
herbs; in fact, Camphor is a concrete volatile vegetable oil, and camphoraceous properties signalise all the essences derived from carminative Herbal Simples.
The Camphor of commerce is secreted by trees of the laurel sort native to China and Japan, whilst coming also from the West Indies. Everyone knows by sight and smell the white crystalline granular semi-translucent gum, strongly odorous, and having a warm pungent characteristic taste. Branches, leaves, and chips of the trees are soaked in water until it is saturated with the extract, which is then turned out into an earthen basin to coagulate. This is
completely soluble in spirit of wine, but scarcely at all in water; nevertheless, if a lump of the Camphor be kept in a bottle of fresh water, to be drawn off from time to time as required, it will constitute Camphor julep. A wineglassful of it serves to relieve nervous headache and hysterical depression.
The domestic uses of Camphor are multiple, and within moderate limits perfectly safe; but a measure of caution should be exercised, as was shown a while ago by the school-boy, whom his mother furnished affectionately after the holidays with a bottle of supersaturated pilules to be taken one or two at a time against any incipient catarrh or cold. The whole bottleful was devoured at once as a sweetmeat, and the lad's life was rescued with difficulty because of intense nervous
shock occasioned thereby.
An old Latin adage declares that :Camphora per nares emasculat mares", "Camphor in excess makes men eunuchs," even when imbibed only through the air as a continuous practice. And, therefore, as a "similar" the odorous gum, in small repeated doses, is an excellent sexual restorative. Likewise, persons who have taken poisonous, or large probative quantities of Camphor found themselves quickly affected by exhausting choleraic diarrhea; and Hahnemann therefore advised, with much
success, to give (in doses of from one to three or four drops on sugar), repeatedly for cholera, a tincture of Camphor (Rubini's) made with spirit of wine above proof. This absorbs as much as is possibly soluble of the drug.
Physiologically Camphor acts by reducing reflex nervous irritability. Externally its spirit makes an admirable warming liniment, either by itself, or when conjoined with other rubefacients. In persons poisoned by the drug, all the superficial blood vessels of the bodily skin have been found immensely dilated; acting on a knowledge of which fact anyone wishing to produce copious general sweating, may do so by sitting over a plate on which Camphor is heated, whilst a blanket
envelops the body loosely, and is pinned round the neck so that the fumes do not get down the throat.
In medical books of the last century this substance was called "Camphire." To a certain extent its effluvium is noxious to insects, and it may therefore be employed for preserving specimens, as well as for protecting fabrics against moths. But its volatile odors swiftly evaporate, and become even offensively diffused about the room. In a moderate measure Camphor is antiseptic, and lessens urinary irritation. Recently a dose of ninety-six grains, taken toxically, produced
giddiness, then epileptic convulsions, with dilated pupils, and stertor of breathing.
The Peppermint (Mentha piperita), or "Brandy Mint," so called because having a pungent smell, and taste of a peppery (piper) nature, is a labiate plant, found not uncommonly in moist places throughout Britain, and occurring of several varieties. Both it and the Spearmint probably escaped from cultivation at first, and then became our wild plants. Its leaves and stems exhale a powerful,
refreshing, characteristic aroma, and give a taste which, whilst delicate at first, is quickly followed by a sense of numbness and coldness, increased by inspiring strongly. Preparations of Peppermint, when swallowed, diffuse warmth in the stomach and mouth, acting as a stimulating carminative, with some amount of anodyne power to allay the pain of colic, flatulence, spasm, or indigestion. This is through the powerful
volatile oil, of which the herb yields one per cent.
Its bruised fresh leaves, if applied, will relieve local pains and headache. A hot infusion, taken as tea, soothes stomach ache, allays sickness, and stays colicky diarrhea. This will also subdue menstrual colic in the female. The essential oil owes its virtues to the menthol, or mint camphor, which it contains.
The Peppermint is largely grown at Mitcham, and is distilled on the ground at a low temperature, the water which comes away with the oil not being re-distilled, but allowed for the most part to run off.
Chinese oil of Peppermint (Po Ho Yo) yields menthol in a solid crystalline form, which, when rubbed over the surface of a painful neuralgic part, will afford speedy and marked relief, as also for neuralgic tooth-ache, tic douloureux, and the like grievous troubles. It is sold in diminutive bottles and cases labeled with Chinese characters. An ethereal tincture of menthol is made officially with one part of menthol to eight parts of pure ether. If some of this is inhaled by
vaporisation from a mouthpiece inhaler, or is sprayed into the nostrils and hindermost throat, it will relieve acute affections thereof, and of the nose, by making the blood vessels contract, and by arresting the flow of mucous discharge, thus diminishing the congestion, and quieting the pain. This camphoraceous oil was formerly applied by the Romans to the temples for the cure of headache. In local rheumatic affections the skin may be painted beneficially with oil of
Peppermint. For internal use, from one to three drops of the oil may be given as a dose on sugar, or in a spoonful of milk; but the diluted essence, made from some of the oil admixed with spirit of wine, is to be preferred. Put on cotton wool into the hollow of a carious tooth, a drop or two of the essential oil will often ease the pain speedily. The fresh plant, bruised, and applied against the pit of the stomach over the navel, will allay sickness, and is useful to stay the
diarrheic purging of young children. From half to one teaspoonful of the spirituous essence of Peppermint may be given for a dose with two tablespoonfuls of hot water; or, if Peppermint water be chosen, the dose of this should be from half to one wineglassful. Distilled Peppermint water should be preferred to that prepared by adding the essence to common water. Lozenges made of the oil, or the essence, are admirable for affording ease in colic, flatulence, and nausea. They
will also prevent or relieve sea-sickness.
When Tom Hood lay a dying he turned his eyes feebly towards the window on hearing it rattle in the night, whereupon his wife, who was watching him, said softly. "It's only the wind, dear"; to which he replied, with a sense of humor indomitable to the last, "Then put a Peppermint lozenge on the sill."
Two sorts of this herb are cultivated for the market--black and white Peppermint, the first of which furnishes the most, but not the best oil. The former has purple stems, and the latter green. As an antiseptic, and destroyer of disease germs, this oil is signally efficacious, on which important account it is now used for inhalation by consumptive patients as a volatile vapor to reach remote diseased parts of the lung passages, and to heal by destroying the morbid germs which
are keeping up mischief therein. Towards proving this preservative power exercised by the oil of Peppermint, pieces of meat, and of fat, wrapped in several layers of gauze medicated with the oil have been kept for seven months sweet, and free from putrescent changes. A simple respirator for inhaling the oil is made from a piece of thin perforated zinc plate adapted to the shape of the mouth and nostrils like a small open funnel, within the narrow end of which is fitted a
pledget of cotton wool saturated with twenty drops of the oil, or from twenty to thirty drops of the spirituous essence. This should be renewed each night and morning, whilst the apparatus is to be worn nearly all day. At the same time the oil is agreeable of odor, and is altogether harmless. It may be serviceably admixed with liniments for use to rheumatic parts.
"Peppermint," says Dr. Hughes (Brighton), "should be more largely employed than it is in coughs, especially in a dry cough, however caused, when it seems to act specifically as a cure, just as arnica does for injuries, or aconite for febrile inflammation. It will relieve even the irritative hectic cough of consumptive patients. Eight or ten drops of the essence should be given for this purpose as a dose with a tablespoonful of water. In France continuous inhalations of
Peppermint oil combined with creasote and glycerine, have become used most successfully, even when cavities exist in the lungs, with copious bacillary expectoration. The cough, the night sweats, and the heavy phlegm have been arrested, whilst the nutrition and the weight have steadily increased."
A solution of menthol one grain, spirit of wine fifty drops, and oil of cloves ten drops, if painted over the seat of pain, will relieve neuralgia of the face, or sciatica promptly. Unhealthy sores may be cleansed, and their healing promoted, by being dressed with strips of soft rag dipped in sweet oil, to each ounce of which one or two drops of the oil of Peppermint has been added. For diphtheria, Peppermint oil has been of marked use when applied freely twice or three times
in the day to the ulcerated parts of the throat. This oil, or the essence, can be used of any strength, in any quantity, without the least harm to the patient. It checks suppuration when applied to a sore or wound, whilst exercising an independent antiseptic influence. "Altogether," says Dr. Braddon, "the oil of Peppermint forms the best, safest, and most agreeable of known antiseptics." Pliny tells that the Greeks and Romans crowned themselves with the Peppermint at their
feasts, and adorned their al fresco tables with its sprays. The "chefs" introduced this herb into all their sauces, and scented their wines with its essence. The Roman housewives made a paste of the Peppermint with honey, which they esteemed highly, partaking of it to sweeten their breath, and to conceal their passion for wine at a time when the law punished with death every woman convicted of quaffing the ruby seductive liquor. Seneca perished in a bath scented with
The Spearmint (Mentha viridis) is found growing apparently wild in England, but is probably not an indigenous herb. It occurs in watery places, and on the banks of rivers, such as the Thames, and the Exe. If used externally, its strong decoction will heal chaps and indolent eruptions.
It possesses a warm, aromatic odor and taste, much resembling those of Peppermint, but not so pungent. Its volatile oil, and its essence, made with spirit of wine, contain a similar stimulating principle, but are less intense, and therefore better adapted for children's maladies.
The Spearmint is called "Mackerel Mint," and in Germany "Lady's Mint," with a pun on the word munze. Its name, Spear, or Spire, indicates the spiry form of its floral blossoming. When the leaves of the herb are macerated in milk, this curdles much less quickly than it otherwise would; and therefore the essence is to be commended for use with milk diets by delicate persons, or for young children of feeble digestive powers, though not when feverishness is present. "Spearmint,"
says John Evelyn, "is friendly to the weak stomach, and powerful against all nervous crudities." "This is the Spearmint that steadies giddiness," writes Alfred Austin, Poet Laureate.
Our cooks employ it with vinegar for making the mint sauce which we eat with roast lamb, because of its condimentary virtues as a spice to the immature meat, whilst the acetic acid of the vinegar serves to help dissolve the crude albuminous fibre.
The oil is less used than that of Peppermint. From two to five drops may be given on sugar; or from half to one teaspoonful of the spirit of Spearmint with two tablespoonfuls of water. Also a distilled water of Spearmint is made, which will relieve hiccough, and flatulence, as well as the giddiness of indigestion. The tincture prepared from the dried herb looks of a bright dark green by day, but of a deep red color by night. Martial called the Spearmint Rutctatrix mentha.
"Nec deest ructatrix mentha."
The Calamint, or Basil Thyme, grows frequently in our waysides and hedges, a labiate plant, with downy stems and leaves, whilst bearing light purple flowers. The whole herb has a sweet, aromatic odor, and makes a pleasant cordial tea. It is named from the Greek kalos, "excellent," because thought useful against serpents; "There is made hereof," said Galen, "An antidote marvelous good for young women that want their courses."
The stem of this pretty slender herb is seldom more than five or six inches high, and its blossoms are so inconspicuous as to be often overlooked. The flowers droop gracefully before expansion. In country places it is often called Mill Mountain, and its infusion is an old remedy for rheumatism. If bruised, and applied externally, it reddens the skin, and will sometimes even blister it. In this way it acts well when judiciously used for lumbago, and rheumatic pains. The
Calamint contains a camphoraceous, volatile, stimulating oil, in common with the other mints; this is distilled by water, but its virtues are better extracted by rectified spirit. The lesser Calamint is a variety of the herb possessing almost superior virtues, with a stronger odor resembling that of Pennyroyal. "Apple Mint" is the "Mentha rotundifolia."
"Many robust men and women among our peasantry," says Dr. George Moore, "from notions of their own, use infusions of Balm, Sage, or even a little Rue, or wild Thyme, as a common drink, with satisfaction to their stomachs, and advantage to their health, instead of infusing the Chinese herb." The Calamint is a favorite herb with such persons. About the Cat mint there is an old saying, "If you set it the cats will eat it: if you sow it the cats won't know it." This, the Nepeta
cataria, or herbe aux chats, is as much beloved by cats as "Valerian", and the common "Marum", for which herbs they have a frenzied passion. They roll themselves over the plants, which they lick, tear with their teeth, and bathe with their urine. But the Cat mint is the detestation of rats, insomuch that with its leaves a small barricade may be constructed which the vermin will never pass however hungry they may be. It is sometimes called "Nep," as contracted from "Nepeta".
Hoffman said, "The root of the Cat mint, if chewed, will make the most gentle person fierce and quarrelsome"; and there is a legend of a certain hangman who could never find courage to exercise his gruesome task until he had masticated some of this aromatic root.
The Primitive Simplers presented here show the way of life in other generations, it is not suggested or recommended trying them yourself.
History of Herbs
Herbs for Beginners
Drying & Preserving Herbs
Indoor Herb Gardening
Hints & Tips
Oil and Vinegar
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