There are many, many members of the Mentha family, all of which have been used at some stage in both healing and cookery
but the best for medicinal use is Mentha Piperita. It is one of the best digestive herbs, combining its wind - and - colic - calming actions with a fairly strong painkilling effect.
An underlying bitterness that helps to stimulate the flow of digestive juices. Peppermint is both cooling and warming, when taken internally is induces heat and improves the circulation and by dispersing blood to the surface of the body it causes sweating. Peppermint can be chewed to relieve toothache, or taken to help anything from nausea and vomiting (including pregnancy sickness) to bowel problems like ulcerative colitis and Chrohn's disease.
Peppermint makes a good general tonic, to recharge vital energy and dispel lethargy. The refreshing taste of mint is followed by a cooling and numbing effect which extends to the respiratory tract, also apparent on the skin. It has an analgesic effect and makes and excellent local application when the fresh leaf or lotions are applied to relieve the pain of inflammed joints in arthritis and gout, for headaches, neuralgia, sciatica and general aches and pains.
Internally, it has a relaxing effect, calming anxiety and tension and relieving pain and spasm. It can be used for menstrual pain, asthma and insomnia. In the digestive tract it relaxes smooth muscle and reduces inflammation, relieving pain and spasm in stomach aches, colic, flatulence, heartburn, indigestion, hiccoughs, nausea, vomiting and travel sickness. The tannins help protect the gut lining from irritation and infection and make it useful for griping in diarrhoea, spastic constipation, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The bitters stimulate and cleanse the liver and gallbladder, helping to prevent gallstones.
The volatile oils have an antiseptic action, and are now confirmed as antibacterial, antiparasitic, antifungal and antiviral, useful for treating skin problems such as cold soreds and ringworm. Its other main claim to fame is in the treatment of colds, influenza and catarrh. The oil in M. piperita has a penetrating quality, helping to get mucus moving even in chronic sinusitis. Besides being taken internally, it can be inhaled - try it with other oils such as Eucalyptus (although only put 2 drops as it is very strong and will burn), Thyme and Pinus or put into a poultice for chest complaints. It is a cooling herb, and will help to bring down a fever if necessary. My friend suffers from a broken pelvis due to a motorcycle accident and he uses mint frequently to help control his nerve pain, the cooling effect helps soothe the chronic pain he suffers.
Mentha piperita can be used in cookery, and often is, although Mentha spicata (spearmint and is used for Mojitos!), is the more usual choice.
It is a lover of damp places, riverbanks, water meadows and waste ground; M Piperita will, however, tolerate most conditions, as long as the soil is rich enough. It spreads by runners, probably faster than you want it to. Pick the leaves, or cut stems, between July and just before the flowers open.