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Mints (pennyroyal Peppermint And Spearmint)








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.

[334] 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 [335] 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 entrail 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 [336] 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 jurisprudist, 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 [337] 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 [338] probative quantities of Camphor found
themselves quickly affected by exhausting choleraic diarrhoea; 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 odours
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 [390] 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 diarrhoea. 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 labelled with Chinese
characters. An ethereal tincture of menthol is made officinally 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, [340]
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 diarrhoeic 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 humour 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, [341] on which important account it is now used for
inhalation by consumptive patients as a volatile vapour 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 odour, 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.

[342] 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 woolly mint.

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 odour and taste, much [343]
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 colour by night. Martial called the Spearmint
Rutctatrix mentha. Nec deest ructatrix mentha.

The Calamint, or Basil Thyme, grows frequently in [344] our
waysides and hedges, a labiate plant, with downy stems and leaves,
whilst bearing light purple flowers. The whole herb has a sweet,
aromatic odour, 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
marvellous 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 odour 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 favourite 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, [345] 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.





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