The mint family of plants includes a variety of common garden herbs, including but not limited to peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, purple dead nettle, and stinging nettle. Plants in the mint family are easy to recognize because they have a square stem and their leaves are arranged in an opposite pattern along their stem (any leaf on the stem will have a partner on the far side that joins the stem at the same place).
Mints frequently contain fragrant oils that have beneficial medicinal effects on the human body. Additionally, many of the plants in the mint family (particularly stinging nettle and purple dead nettle) are extremely nutritious because they pull minerals out of the soil more effectively than many other plants.
Peppermint contains the organic compound “menthol,” which is responsible for that cooling, minty fresh sensation but peppermint oil is also reputed to aid digestion, help with relaxation, relieve headaches, and has mild antimicrobial and antibacterial effects. Making a peppermint tea to get those benefits is as simple as pouring boiling water over fresh or dried peppermint leaves and letting it steep for about ten minutes. It’s a good idea to cover your tea so that the vapors stay more or less trapped in your mug and you can get the full benefit from the tea. Be sure to strain the leaves out; they are edible, but maybe not something you want to be chewing on while trying to enjoy a mug of tea.
Lemon balm contains the organic compound “citronella,” which in addition to having that citrusy smell that gives lemon balm its name is also a natural insect repellent. Lemon balm, similarly to peppermint, can help with indigestion, relaxation, and has antimicrobial properties. Additionally, leaves can be crushed and placed on insect bites to soothe the itch. You can make a tea with lemon balm similar to peppermint, although I would recommend sweetening the tea with some honey or sugar and maybe adding some lemon to enhance its mild citrus flavor. Lemon balm also makes a good garnish in salads, or added into baking recipes or mixed with butter to add a mild floral flavor to the dish.
For more information or ideas on how to use these amazing plants, check out Mountain Rose Herbs’ website.
Dan, your friendly local Garden Coordinator