As an herbalist and gardener, I have always had a fondness for members of the mint family. The mint family, Lamiaceae, is a taxonomic classification that includes dozens of popular culinary and medicinal herbs.
Many members of the mint family lack the flavor and fragrance commonly associated with true mints, such as peppermint and spearmint. Because of this, herbalists and natural-health enthusiasts are often surprised to find that so many of their favorite medicinal herbs are actually members of the mint family.
Here are a few medicinal herbs in the mint family and a simple overview of their most popular health-related uses.
This mint hybrid is renowned for its potent medicinal properties. Peppermint’s characteristic “minty’ flavor is caused by the fragrant compound menthol, which offers several benefits as a medicine. Peppermint is commonly used as a home remedy for digestive upsets, including dyspepsia, irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn and ulcers. In aromatherapy, extracts of peppermint are used for their invigorating, pain-relieving and mind-stimulating properties.
Oregano is one of the most popular medicinal herbs in the mint family. Oregano is the only concentrated source of carvracol, which is a powerful medicinal compound associated with antioxidant, antiviral and antibacterial effects. Oil of oregano is a trendy and increasingly popular all-purpose supplement, purportedly capable of preventing and treating some of the most common ailments associated with the modern era.
Another fragrant herb in the mint family, lavender is subtly medicinal. Most commonly used in aromatherapy, lavender possesses compounds that, when inhaled, trigger a relaxation-response in the human body. In aromatherapy and herbalism, lavender is valued for its abiltiy to ease anxiety, promote restful sleep and facilitate relaxation.
Also known as tulsi, holy basil is prized by practitioners of Ayurveda– a traditional system of medicine originating in India. Ayurvedic experts prize holy basil as an adaptogen, or an herb that enables the body to cope with stress. Traditionally, healers have believed that it can reduce fluctuations in sleep, immunity, sex drive, appetite and mood associated with stress. Like other medicinal herbs in the mint family, holy basil may also boost the body’s defenses against viral and bacterial infections.
Also known as melissa, lemon balm has richly fragrant leaves with a subtle flavor reminiscent of lemon-rind. Traditional herbalists value lemon balm primarily as a treatment for viral infections, particularly herpes-family viruses such as chicken pox, shingles, cold sores, genital herpes and Epstein-Barr virus. Lemon balm makes a delicious medicinal tea and is an effective antioxidant. Try using it as a lemonade substitute during the warm winter months.