Plants at a Glance

September 2, 2005

Mint (Hierbabuena) Mentha citrata, M. crispa, M. piperitaLABIATAEGeo-distribution: The mints are from the Old World and were brought here by the colonists. These plants are found in moist areas in the cooler regions of the tropics. The only exception is menta (M. rotundifolia), which is a native species of the tropics.Botanical Description: The most commonly used mint is peppermint, a perennial, low-growing herb reaching 30 centimeters, with running tendrils. The leaves are dark green, lance-shaped, sharply toothed and smooth, often with hairs. The stems are square. The small, purplish flowers have a tubular fivetoothed calyx and four-lobed corolla. The plant has a strong minty aroma.Medicinal Uses: Hierbabuena means “good herb” – and that it is. The mint plants make up perhaps one of the most important group of herbs for your health. The essential oil, menthol, has beneficial effects on digestion and acts as a calming agent for the nerves. The oil is antibacterial and prevents unwanted microbes from living in our digestive tract. Regular use of mint oil as a mouthwash helps prevent cavities. Mints are gentle in action and have no toxicity, so they can be used frequently in hot and cold drinks for the family. Traditionally, the mints have been used for nervousness, insomnia, cramps, gas, coughs, headache, poor digestion, heartburn, nausea, abdominal pains and other problems related to nerves.Preparation: All of the mints are best prepared by infusion or steeping, preferably in a closed teapot, so that the essential oils do not leave the infusion. A handful of fresh leaves or a tablespoon or two of dried leaves per liter of water makes a good tea. Honey or dried stevia leaves are perfect sweeteners for mint tea.Notes: The mints are easy to grow in the home garden and can provide a wealth of delicious drinks and good medicine for the family. Propagation is by vegetative offshoots or runners, planted directly in a permanent site.For more information on tropical medicinal plants and gardening, visit www.thenewdawncenter.org or e-mail thenewdawncenter@yahoo.com.

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