by Rachael Link, MS, RD
Unfortunately, mint leaves are often considered little more than an ingredient used to spice up drinks or settle an upset stomach. In reality, though, the potent little mint herb offers an impressive array of important vitamins, minerals and health benefits that make it a true powerhouse of nutrition. That’s why mint earns a spot as one of the top healing herbs and spices.
In fact, the potential mint leaves benefits extend way beyond freshening up your breath. Research shows that mint leaves may even bump up brain function, aid in digestive health and help balance hormone levels to keep your body at its best.
So how can mint leaves enhance your health, and how can you incorporate them into your daily diet? Here’s what you need to know.
What Are Mint Leaves?
Mint leaves can refer to any plant in the Mentha genus, but the term is most often used to refer to peppermint and spearmint, the two most common types of mint plant. Spearmint is a plant with a sweet flavor that works well in many recipes while peppermint has a higher concentration of menthol, which accounts for many of the medicinal uses of mint leaves.
Mint leaves are incredibly versatile and can be used to make a soothing cup of tea or added to everything from salads to desserts. Plus, studies show that these different variations of the mint herb could have a number of beneficial effects on health, from enhancing brain function to keeping hormone levels under control, giving you all the more reason to consider adding this powerful herb into your weekly rotation.
Benefits of Mint Leaves
- Improve Digestive Health
- May Relieve Cold Symptoms
- Help Oral Hygiene
- Boost Brain Function
- Soothe Breastfeeding Pain
- Reduce PCOS Symptoms
- Decrease Indigestion
1. Improve Digestive Health
Many people reach for mints at the first sign of tummy troubles, and for good reason. Mint is well-known for its stomach-soothing properties thanks to the presence of a compound in peppermint oil called menthol, which helps relax the muscles in the digestive tract to provide relief. (1)
Studies show that mint may be especially beneficial for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that causes IBS symptoms like abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, bloating and cramps. In fact, one double-blind, placebo-controlled study out of Italy gave people with IBS peppermint oil capsules for four weeks and found that symptoms were slashed by 75 percent. (2)
2. May Relieve Cold Symptoms
Flip over just about any over-the-counter cold or flu medicine and you’ll likely spot “menthol” on the list of ingredients. Menthol is one of the primary compounds in peppermint oil, and although there is conflicting evidence about just how effective menthol may be at relieving congestion, several studies have found that it could help improve airflow to reduce cold symptoms. (3, 4)
3. Help Oral Hygiene
Popping a few mints or a stick of mint-flavored gum is a well-known natural remedy to freshen up bad breath, but did you know that it could also help promote oral hygiene as well?
One of the main benefits of peppermint tea is its powerful antimicrobial properties, which can help kill off bacteria to optimize oral hygiene. (5) Brew up a cup or two of peppermint tea using mint leaves, and pair it with proper oral hygiene practices to keep your mouth healthy and fresh.
4. Boost Brain Function
Interestingly enough, some research shows that even the mere smell of mint could be enough to bump up brain power and improve cognitive function. One study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, for example, showed that the aroma of peppermint was able to enhance memory and increase alertness. (6) Similarly, another study published in the North American Journal of Psychology also showed that peppermint scent was effective at reducing fatigue and anxiety while improving alertness, thanks to its ability to stimulate the central nervous system. (7)
5. Soothe Breastfeeding Pain
Cracked, sore and painful nipples are some of the most common side effects of breastfeeding, many of which can be difficult to effectively soothe and treat. Some research shows that mint leaves could help relieve pain caused by breastfeeding by causing a reduction in these serious symptoms and side effects when applied topically.
A study conducted by the Alzahra Teaching Hospital in Iran showed that applying peppermint gel was significantly more effective than lanolin at preventing nipple cracks in nursing mothers. (8) Another study published in the International Breastfeeding Journal found that daily use of peppermint water could prevent nipple cracks, noting that women who used it regularly also reported less pain. (9)
6. Reduce PCOS Symptoms
Some studies have found that mint tea benefits polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition in women that is characterized by excess levels of male hormones. This is because it has anti-androgen effects, helping to reduce testosterone levels to keep hormone levels in balance.
One 2010 study published in Phytotherapy Research showed that drinking spearmint herbal tea was able to significantly decrease testosterone levels and improve subjective assessments of hirsutism, or irregular hair growth, in women. (10) An animal study also showed that drinking peppermint tea led to a reduction in testosterone in rats compared to a control group, suggesting that it could be beneficial for those with PCOS. (11)
7. Decrease Indigestion
Also known as dyspepsia, indigestion is defined as impaired digestion, resulting in recurrent symptoms like heartburn, nausea, belching and abdominal pain. Studies have found that peppermint oil speeds up the emptying of the stomach, which could protect against indigestion to prevent symptoms. (12) Using peppermint oil as a treatment for indigestion has also been shown to be effective, especially when coupled with other ingredients like caraway oil. (13)
Mint Nutrition Facts
While mint is usually consumed in small quantities, adding it to your diet can be a good way to bump up your intake of several specific nutrients. Although the nutritional content of mint can vary between different species, mint generally contains a good amount of vitamin A and other important nutrients like iron and manganese.
Two tablespoons (about 11 grams) of fresh spearmint contain approximately: (14)
- 4.9 calories
- 0.9 gram carbohydrate
- 0.4 gram protein
- 0.1 gram fat
- 0.8 gram dietary fiber
- 456 international units Vitamin A (9 percent DV)
- 1.3 milligrams iron (7 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram manganese (6 percent DV)
- 11.8 micrograms folate (3 percent DV)
- 22.4 milligrams calcium (2 percent DV)
- 7.1 milligrams magnesium (2 percent DV)
- 1.5 milligrams vitamin C (2 percent DV)
In addition to the nutrients listed above, spearmint also contains a small amount of B vitamins, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and copper.
Mint Leaves in Ayurveda and TCM
With their wealth of health benefits, it should come as no surprise that mint leaves are considered a staple in many branches of holistic medicine and are often used to treat a variety of ailments.
In Ayurveda, mint leaves are thought to promote digestion and improve respiratory health. Additionally, mint is considered pacifying for all three doshas, meaning it can be a beneficial dietary addition for just about everyone.
Meanwhile, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, mint leaves are said to have cooling and aromatic properties. Mint is also considered to be especially useful in promoting the health of the liver, lungs and large intestine and is also sometimes used to treat conditions like diarrhea and menstrual pain.
Mint Leaves vs. Peppermint Leaves vs. Spearmint Leaves
Mint refers to any plant in the Mentha genus, which includes plants like peppermint and spearmint along with up to 16 other species grown all around the globe.
Compared to peppermint leaves, spearmint leaves generally have a sweeter flavor. Meanwhile, the menthol in peppermint leaves is much more concentrated, resulting in a characteristic cooling sensation when consumed or applied to the skin. Because of its distinct taste, spearmint is often added to recipes and drinks while peppermint is typically used medicinally.
However, both bring a separate set of benefits to the table and can also be combined to help you take advantage of the many health-promoting properties that mint leaves have to offer.
Mint Leaves vs. Basil
Just as there are several different varieties of mint available, there are also many different kinds of basil. Sweet basil, the type that is most often used in cooking, has a mild yet peppery taste and a sweet aroma that sets it apart as a spice cabinet staple. Like mint leaves, there are also numerous benefits of basil, ranging from reducing blood sugar levels to protecting against inflammation.
In certain recipes like savory dishes, basil can be swapped in for mint to add an extra burst of flavor. Because spearmint is considerably sweeter than basil, though, mint leaves may not make a suitable substitute for basil in recipes like marinara sauce or pasta dishes.
Where to Find and How to Use Mint Leaves
Wondering where to buy mint leaves? You can typically find mint leaves in the produce section of your local grocery store, right alongside other herbs like thyme, basil and rosemary. You can also opt for dried mint leaves, which are usually found in the spice section.
Once you get your hands on this tasty herb, there are plenty of potential mint leaves uses for you explore. Spearmint can help freshen up drinks, add a kick to salads and bring a unique flavor to dessert recipes as well. Another popular option is to try steeping mint leaves in water to make a soothing cup of hot mint tea using either spearmint or peppermint.
You can also use mint leaves for skin by simply crushing the leaves into a paste, mixing with other ingredients, such as rose water or honey, and applying it directly to the skin. Not only does this help cool the skin and provide relief, but it is also said to aid in the prevention of acne.
How to Grow Mint + Mint Leaves Recipes
Growing mint is popular among novice gardeners and experts alike, as these plants are easy to grow and can thrive even with minimal care. You can opt to grow either the peppermint plant or spearmint plant based on your personal preference and what you plan to use it for.
Mint plants require a moist yet well-drained site and often need protection from direct sunlight. Be sure to water them regularly, and place barriers to keep them from spreading throughout your garden.
When harvesting the leaves, keep in mind that young leaves have a stronger flavor and can stay fresh for several days at a time if placed in water. Mint leaves can also be dried or frozen, giving you a steady stream of mint leaves to use throughout the season.
Need some inspiration for how to use your mint leaves once you harvest them? Here are a few tasty and creative ways to add mint leaves to your diet:
- Sautéed Zucchini with Mint, Basil and Pine Nuts
- Blueberry Watermelon Feta Mint Salad
- Dark Chocolate Mint Chia Pudding
- Strawberry, Lime, Cucumber and Mint Infused Water
- Lebanese Lentil Salad
The word “mint” stems from the Latin word mentha. In Greek, the word “minthe” is rooted in Greek mythology. According to Greek legend, Minthe was a nymph whom Hades fell in love with. When his wife, Persephone, found out, she turned Minthe into a plant to be constantly crushed and stepped on. When Hades was unable to reverse the spell, he instead gave her a delicious mint-like aroma so that he could still smell her.
Mint is thought to have originated in Asia and the Mediterranean. Ancient Greeks used mint as a cleaning product and added it to their baths to provide a cooling and stimulating sensation. Meanwhile, Romans used the herb for culinary purposes and took advantage of its breath-freshening properties as well. Throughout history, many cultures have viewed mint as a symbol for hospitality and a way to welcome guests.
Today, the mint leaf is appreciated for much more than its distinct flavor and aroma. It’s recognized for its medicinal properties, extensive nutrient profile and powerful effects on health.
So is mint safe? Although side effects of mint leaves are uncommon when consumed in moderation, adverse symptoms have been reported. In particular, peppermint may cause side effects like headaches, mouth sores and heart burn. Both variations of the mint plant, peppermint and spearmint, can cause food allergy symptoms as well. If you experience any negative side effects after eating mint leaves, consider decreasing or stopping consumption and consulting with your doctor.
Additionally, while mint is often considered a go-to for digestive distress, it’s not recommended for those who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. This is because mint is said to relax the muscles of the lower esophageal sphincter, which can make acid reflux and GERD symptoms even worse.
- Mint can refer to any plant in the Mentha genus, but peppermint and spearmint are two of the most common varieties.
- Eating mint leaf or drinking spearmint and peppermint tea benefits many aspects of health and can provide a burst of extra vitamins and minerals in each serving.
- Research shows that mint leaves could help promote digestive health, improve cold symptoms, improve oral hygiene, decrease indigestion, boost brain health, soothe breastfeeding pain and decrease PCOS symptoms.
- Add mint leaves to your favorite recipes, brew it into a tasty tea or crush peppermint into a paste and apply it topically to reap the rewards of this powerful herb.
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The post The Gut-Soothing, Brain-Boosting Power of Mint Leaves appeared first on Dr. Axe.
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