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 c
taria) 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


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


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.