I am certain we have all tasted spearmint in one form or another. Spearmint is commonly used to flavor chewing gum and candy, as well as toothpaste, mouthwash, cosmetics, medicines, foods, and drinks. But, it provides great value to our health other than as a mere flavoring.
I should note that spearmint Mentha spicata is often confused with peppermint Mentha piperita. It is not surprising since both plants belong to the mint or Lamiaceae family, along with about 25 other species of mint. But, where spearmint is a native plant, peppermint was created from a cross between water mint Mentha aquatica and spearmint Mentha spicata.
They are also easily confused because spearmint and peppermint are the most widely used species of mint for commercial purposes. The plants look similar, which makes it hard to distinguish them. Spearmint has leaves that are fuzzier and greener, and peppermint has leaves that have purple or red stems. Peppermint has flowers that are clustered closer together rather than tapered along the tip of the stalk as with spearmint. Although it is hard to distinguish them in taste, peppermint has a more pungent taste than spearmint.
Even though both types of mint have similar uses, spearmint is more predominantly used to make essential oil. It is the mint I’m focusing on here. Spearmint can also be used fresh or as a dry herb, tea, tincture, extract, or infusion. It is generally considered safe, and has gentle yet effective action.
1. Gentle, Yet Effective Digestive
When used as indicated, the action of the herb is gentle enough that it can be used on infants and young children. It helps with gastrointestinal issues, such as a remedy for colic in babies. It can also be used to treat indigestion, nausea, and flatulence in infants and children (Petersen, 2014).
It is also an effective digestive in adults. It aids in treating colic, flatulence, indigestion, nausea, stomach upsets, and vomiting. It helps to lower inflammation in the kidneys and promote the release of urine. Although these last two are not directly within the digestive system, kidney function is essential to overall proper digestion and excretion (Petersen, 2014).
Keep in mind that if the herb is used in excess it can cause the opposite effect, and irritate the gastrointestinal tract (Petersen, 2014).
2. Treats Acne
In vitro studies have shown that spearmint has antibacterial activity against Propionibacterium acnes, an acne causing bacteria (Sinha, Srivastava, Mishra, & Yadav, 2014). In another study, spearmint was among 10 essential oils evaluated to have antibacterial activity against P. acnes (Zu et al., 2010), and is thus considered effective in treating acne.
3. Helps Fight Bacterial Infections
In addition to its effectiveness in fighting the effects of acne causing bacteria, spearmint has other antibacterial action. Essential oil extracted from spearmint has been found to fight against Helicobacter pylori, which is a common source of digestive infections that cause ulcers. It is also effective against Staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria that causes antibiotic resistant Staph infections (Petersen, 2014).
4. Supports Menstrual Pain & Morning Sickness
Spearmint helps with female related issues. It acts as an emmenagogue, helps to treat menstrual pain, and can help to heal morning sickness. A study found that the herb helped to produce follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), both of which help regulate the menstrual cycle, produce eggs, and support ovulation (Petersen, 2014).
However, spearmint can have a negative effect on men. The same increase of FSH and LH decreases the level of testosterone. Keep in mind this activity has been tested in rats and not on men (Petersen, 2014).
5. Improves Flavor
Spearmint helps to make other herbs and foods more palatable. It helps to balance flavors and make their taste more appealing or appetizing. It also helps to balance the action of other herbs. An herb with strong cathartic or purgative action can produce nausea and cramping, and spearmint helps reduce this effect (Petersen, 2014).
Mint can be easily grown at home, even if you do not have a garden. It can be grown in an indoor pot, as long as it is kept by the window and gets plenty of sun. It grows easily and is pervasive, which means it can easily take over other plants growing in the same soil. It is a great addition to salads, dessert, tea, or cocktails like mint juleps or mojitos.
Petersen, D. (2014). Herb 504 Advanced Herbal Materia Medica III. Portland, OR: American College of Healthcare Sciences.
Sinha, P., Srivastava, S., Mishra, N., & Yadav, N. P. (2014). New perspectives on antiacne plant drugs: Contribution to modern therapeutics. BioMed Research International. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2014/301304
Zu, Y., Yu, H., Liang, L., Fu, Y., Efferth, T., Liu, X., & Wu, N. (2010). Activities of ten essential oils towards Propionibacterium acnes and PC-3, A-549 and MCF-7 cancer cells. Molecules, 15(5), 3200-3210. doi:10.3390/molecules15053200