Probably one of the most easily recognisable herbs, everyone from connoisseurs to amateurs can usually identify it based on smell alone. The main ingredient in many of our favourite things (chewing gum, mint chocolate chip ice-cream, mojitos), what many people may not know is that it also has a surprising number of health benefits too.
Derived from Greek through the Latin word “mentha”, mint is a small aromatic plant most commonly used in breath fresheners, drinks, antiseptic mouth rinses, toothpaste, chewing gum, desserts, and different hard sweets. Known to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, mint’s health benefits range from helping to improve brain function and digestive symptoms to reliving breastfeeding pain, cold symptoms and even bad breath. So, it’s an all-encompassing herb and a very easy (and tasty) one to work into your daily diet.
While shop-bought mint will definitely do the trick, home grown is usually better as it’s packed full of nutrients that will help keep you healthy.
The Benefits of Mint
Besides being a great addition to homemade food/drinks recipes, mint has many health benefits which make it a fantastic herb to have growing in your garden.
Good source of vitamins and antioxidants
While mint isn’t typically consumed in large quantities, it still has its fair share of nutrients. In fact, a 14-gram serving of mint contains 12% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin A, along with fibre, iron, manganese and folate so it’s a particularly potent source of antioxidants in comparison to other herbs and spices.
Mint plants also contain an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent called rosmarinic acid – a helpful ingredient in minimising the effects of asthma. According to a 2019 study on rats, those that received a supplement of rosmarinic acid had reduced asthmatic symptoms when compared to the control group that didn’t receive a supplement.
Helpful in managing Irritable Bowel Syndrome
A common condition that affects the digestive system, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is often associated with symptoms such as stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. Generally known to come and go depending on diet, stress and a number of other factors, symptoms can last for days, weeks or months at a time. Several studies have shown that taking peppermint oil capsules can help improve the symptoms of IBS patients with one study finding that 75% of patients who took peppermint oil over a four week period reported showing improvements.
May reduce breastfeeding pain
Sore and cracked nipples can be a common complaint for breastfeeding mothers but the good news is that there is a solution and applying mint to the irritated area can help relieve some of the pain. Both peppermint water and peppermint gel have proved sucessful in lessening breastfeeding pain/discomfort with an additional study also showing that the severity of nipple cracks was greatly reduced in mothers who applied menthol essential oil after each feeding.
Quick BBQ side recipe with mint – cucumber and mint raita
The good weather means that most of us have been putting the BBQ to good use but having already tried all of the old reliables, now’s the time to break out a few new recipes. This cucumber and mint raita is sure to be a winner!
1 cucumber, grated
Greek-style yoghurt – 250ml
Fresh mint leaves, finely chopped – 20 g
Pinch of hot chilli powder to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
- Wrap the grated cucumber in a tea towel and squeeze out any excess water
- Mix the Greek yoghurt, mint and grated cucumber together in a bowl
- Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle a pinch of hot chilli powder on top
- Serve chilled or as an accompaniment to curries/as a dip for poppadoms
Other ways to use fresh mint when cooking/preparing food:
- Add a sprig or two to a mug of hot water to make your own mint tea
- Make refreshing mint ice-cubes by brewing mint tea and then freezing it
- Use as a garnish when making homemade cocktails
- Combine with apple and spinach in your next morning smoothie
- Stir into a bowl of peas with garlic butter for added flavour
- Infuse some ice-cold water with cucumber, mint and basil to quench your thirst
- Sprinkle it on top of a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice-cream
- Stir it into yogurt-based dips like tzatziki
How to grow mint
Here’s what you need to know before adding mint to your home herb garden
Mint seeds grow best when planted between March and May, with a view to harvesting anytime from late-May to October (it dies back over winter). Mint plants tend to spread if planted straight into the ground so it’s a good idea to plant them in a large pot filled with multi-purpose compost.
Avoid growing different varieties of mint close together if possible as this can often make them lose their individual scent and flavour. Be sure to give your plants plenty of water, especially now when the weather is particularly hot and dry.
When your plant has finished flowering, cut shoots back to 5cm above the surface of the compost for best results.
How to store mint
Harvesting your fresh mint is very easy, simply pick leaves regularly to keep plants compact and ensure that they continue producing new shoots. Leaves are best used fresh though you can also freeze them for future use (finely chop the leaves and pack them into an ice tray with some water before freezing).
The handiest method for storing fresh mint is to trim the cut ends, place the bunch in a glass of water, cover it with some clingfilm and then place it in the fridge. You could also pick the leaves off the stem and wrap them in a wet paper towel too if you’re short on fridge space.