When you think of spearmint, you may think of Wrigley’s gum that has been around since 1893. Indeed, it is flavored with spearmint oil. In fact, about half of all spearmint oil is used to flavor gum, another 45% for toothpastes. We are told that 13,000 sticks of chewing gum contain one pound of mint oil. So it goes a long way!
Officially it is Salvia sclarea, but other common names are spearmint, mint, brown mint, garden mint, Our Lady’s mint, sage of Bethlehem, menthol mint, silver mint, spiremint. There are many different kinds of mint, including catnip, peppermint, apple mint, orange mint, lavender mint. and Scotch spearmint. We are told the US produces 70% of the world’s mint supply, and Washington and Oregon are the leading producers.
Though not as popular as peppermint, spearmint is still enjoyed by many. Spearmint plant has a creeping root. It is a herbaceous plant with erect, branching, quadrangular, smooth stems, growing to 2 ft. high. Leaves are unequally serrated and smooth. Only the leaves are used for herbal remedies or flavoring.
Spearmint is native to the Mediterranean region and has a long history. Writing of spere mynte in 1568, herbalist John Gerard said it, “rejoiceth the heart… ” Even before this, the Bible mentions mint in Matt. 23:23 and Luke 11:42, both speaking of religious leaders tithing the leaves. In the Middle Ages it was one of the strewing herbs. It was scattered on the floor to give health, a beautiful scent, and to get rid of rodents. Spearmint was shipped to America during the Colonial period. Because mint was untaxed by the English government, it became a popular tea substitute during the American Revolution. Spearmint then became a significant cash crop in Connecticut. Its popularity flourished during the American Civil War when imported black tea was hard to get. It was used as a cleansing tonic and to help purify drinking water. Dog bites, wasps and bee stings were treated with a mixture of salt and mint applied directly to the wound.
Spearmint contains volatile oil, the flavonoid thymonin, caffeic acid, rosmaric acid, carvone, and limonene. It also contains aromatic compounds that increase the production of digestive fluids and enzymes, relieve smooth muscle spasms, increase blood circulation, promote sweating, relieve pain and are antiseptic. Spearmint contains astringent compounds that shrink inflamed tissues. It has been used to treat indigestion, morning sickness, nausea, menstrual cramps, flatulence, muscle aches, flu, and vomiting. Ice cubes of mint tea are useful to promote healing and to soothe the pain of canker sores.
Externally the application of a strong decoction of spearmint will heal chapped skin. Spearmint can be inhaled to relieve tension headache and to revive memory. Sugary juices can be diluted with herbal teas such as mint.
Some women suffer from hirsutism, which is excessive hair growth in locations where hair normally does not grow. Spearmint’s anti-androgenic properties reduce the level of free testosterone in the blood, while leaving total testosterone and DHEA unaffected. Drinking two cups of spearmint tea a day for five days can reduce androgen levels in women with hirsutism. The dosage is 1 c. morning and evening during each of the 5 days of the follicular period (the five days leading up to ovulation) of each menstrual cycle.
The recommended dosage is as follows: To make an infusion mix 2 tsp dried leaf in one cup water. Steep for 10 min. Do not boil. Strain. For a decoction, mix 2 tbsp. dried leaf in one cup water. Steep 10 min. Do not boil. Strain. To make a decoction for bath, mix 3 tbsp. dried leaf in one cup water. There is no known negative safety information available. Safe and useful for children, spearmint provides relief in colic and congestion. The gentle menthol content is warming and relaxing to the esophagus. Spearmint is mildly anesthetizing to the mucous membranes of the stomach. It also eases motion sickness and will help restore the appetite.