Most of us have encountered Spearmint almost daily for much of our lives…in our toothpaste, mouthwash, chewing gum, and any number of candies and minty treats. There’s a really good reason for that; Spearmint is a solid, predictable, gentle medicine that’s been cooling and stimulating humanity for centuries.
Spearmint for Colds, Flus, and Respiratory Ills
Today, as it was used centuries ago, Spearmint is often one of the first go-to herbs Moms reach for at the first signs of a sniffle. Science tells us that Spearmint is anti-bacterial and anti-microbial, so it can help us fight off cold and flu germs. Energetically, Spearmint helps to cool and open the respiratory system – so it helps release and drain the stuffiness from our sinuses and open up our bronchial passages. As a steam or tea, Spearmint’s essential oils gently stimulate our body’s ability to fight off illness while they help clear the way for our systems to drain away the wreckage from the battle. Traditional Chinese Practitioners would connect this action with the Lung Meridian, suggesting that Spearmint cools and drains External Wind while supporting the proper circulation of Lung Qi and Yang in the respiratory system. Spearmint does all of this without overstimulating or exhausting our systems, which is why so many parents and practitioners favor it over Peppermint, who’s energy is more sharp and heavy-handed.
Traditional Western Herbalism and Spearmint
Regardless of the healing tradition you query, Spearmint comes up as a cool to cold herb that encourages circulation. In the Traditional Western Herbal tradition of Europe, Spearmint is particularly loved for that gentle quality. Gerard and his contemporaries made ample use of Spearmint to help those with weak constitutions, including children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those recovering from chronic or debilitating illnesses or traumas. Spearmint is described in Traditional Western Herbalism’s vernacular as carminitive, mildly diuretic, and mildly vasodialating as well as anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. It’s been used in Traditional Western Herbalism for conditions ranging from flu and colds to urinary tract infections (UTI) and chronic digestive disorders.
From a Western Herbal practitioner’s perspective, Spearmint’s affinity is for the stomach, where it cools overheated conditions like indigestion, nausea, and bloating or gas. Spearmint’s cousin, Peppermint, has often been used for similar conditions, but Peppermint’s affinity is more for the lower digestive tract, particularly the large intestine and later half of the small intestine, where it can relax overheated or overactive digestion to the point of creating excess relaxation or a depressed tissue state if overused, according to Matthew Wood. Not so with Spearmint; using Spearmint daily is safe for most folks.
Ayurveda and Spearmint
From an Ayurvedic perspective, Spearmint is most certainly a well-loved part of the daily diet. Considered a Pungent herb with a Cold temperature, it’s included in numerous lassi and chutney recipes specifically for it’s dependable cooling properties. Spearmint, also called Phudina, helps Kapha move while calming Pitta and balancing Vata, which means it aids circulation while cooling overheated conditions and avoiding over-cooling and thus aggravating Vata. As a digestive aid, Spearmint helps the digestive system release excessive energy without sedating the digestive process. Ayurveda practitioners particularly recommend Spearmint in tea form when a good yet gentle diuretic is needed to cool inflammation in the bladder or urinary tract. To cool the thoughts and mind, Spearmint is used in food or tea form in Ayurvedic practice, including for headaches and excessive emotionally-driven thought processes. Here, Spearmint is helping balance Vata.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Spearmint
Traditional Chinese Medicine has long relied on Field Mint or Bo He (aka Mentha haplocalyx brit. or Asian Field Mint) for properties similar to those of Spearmint. Like Bo He, Spearmint’s ability to cool and stimulate at the same time while gently draining connects it to the Lung, Liver, Bladder, and Heart meridians. We can see these connections for Spearmint in it’s long-standing use as a digestive (helping cool and move the Liver meridian’s energies), urinary tract remedy (helping drain and tone the Bladder meridian’s energies), and helping open bronchial passages while simultaneously fighting off invading Wind or germs in cold and flu applications (helping tone and stimulate the Lung meridian’s energies). The Heart meridian…that’s not as obvious an application until you look a little deeper into Spearmint’s history.
Spearmint Cools the Heart
Traditional Western Herbal practitioners have long connected Spearmint with the ability to cool overheated emotional states. Those overheated states may look like irritability, quick to anger, or excessive passion or Choleric disposition. They can and often do accompany digestive disorders, like ulcers, indigestion, and post-meal lethargy or digestive strife. What, you might ask, has that to do with the heart?
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Heart is partnered with the Small Intestine and is tasked with sorting out emotions, experiences, and thoughts then making proper use of what has been taken in. Emotionally speaking, those with a sluggish or blocked Heart Meridian may well be frustrated, angry, or easily irritated because they’re having a hard time properly processing their experiences. When that blockage is connected with inflammation or over-stimulation, as it is when too much heat builds up, Spearmint can help to cool the pathways enough to allow for enough motion for the body to right itself. Thus, Spearmint’s contribution to the Heart is through it’s ability to gently but firmly cool the mind-emotional complex, allowing for the proper digestion of one’s experiences so they can be integrated or discarded (drained).
Spearmint Essential Oil and Aromatherapy
Spearmint has been used in Aromatherapy as an aid to focus. I include Spearmint essential oil with Rosemary and Ginger essential oils in my Sharp Mind Study Blend for students of all ages and types who want to stay focused while taking in a lot of information. It synergizes with the brain-stimulating properties of Rosemary essential oil and the grounding or solidifying properties of Ginger Essential oil to create the right mental state for taking in information, sorting it in a way that makes sense to the self, and storing it for future use. From a TCM perspective, I’m drawing on Spearmint’s ability to harmonize the Shen, and its connection to the Wood and Metal elements. Metal is the element that governs pure thought while Wood governs growth, like that we see in the spring. Spearmint’s connection to both these elements makes it a perfect partner for those who want to create new mental pathways.
Peter Holmes suggests using Spearmint Essential oil to help balance emotional states, particularly those that tend to swing often and rapidly, such as we see in mood disorders like Bi-polar or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Here, Spearmint’s ability to harmonize the Shen and balance Qi is key to bringing balance to these conditions. He suggests that Spearmint essential oil may have the capacity to reduce deep limbic hyper-functioning, thus cooling the system and helping to bring harmony to the pathways. This makes Spearmint essential oil a helpful partner for folks who struggle with mood swings that aren’t necessarily rooted in a diagnosed disorder, as well. PMS tension, daily tensions, general mental confusion, and other imbalances that contribute to a moody and irritable disposition could benefit from a little Spearmint essential oil in formula. Stuck emotions or disconnection from one’s emotions after a trauma may well be eased by inclusion of Spearmint essential oil in formula, as well.
Topical Use of Spearmint
Spearmint can and often is included in topical formulas for fungal, parasitic, and bacterial conditions, such as Staph infections, candida and athletes foot, ringworm, E. coli, and similar microbial infections. Two keys to consider when you’re formulating for these types of conditions are the temperature and dampness of the condition. Spearmint, as an essential oil particularly but also in whole-plant form, can be mildly drying. Folks with oily skin conditions or stagnant damp conditions will benefit from a little Spearmint used topically, but those who are already too dry will be weakened rather than helped by Spearmint in any form. Spearmint is a cooling herb, so if the condition you’re treating topically includes heat signs, such as a prickly, itchy rash or ample yellowish to greenish discharge, or literal heat when you touch the area, Spearmint may be the perfect ally. If, however, the condition it more cold in nature, Spearmint may exacerbate the condition.
Adulteration and Spearmint Essential Oil
Be aware that while many of the other mint-family essential oils are more often adulterated, Spearmint is generally unlikely to be adulterated. Distillers get a lot of essential oil from Spearmint’s generous leaves, so it takes relatively less plant material to create an ounce of essential oil. When you do find alteration in Spearmint essential oil, it’s most often the addition of Carvone, the molecule scientists believe is connected to Spearmint’s carminative action. The lower incidences of adulteration in Spearmint essential oil make it a good one for beginning aromatherapists and herbal practitioners as well as for home use.
Cautions for Spearmint
Although Spearmint has been and is used widely as a food, it may not be the perfect herb for everyone. Those who have excessive cold conditions are advised to avoid Spearmint as well as her more potent cousins, including Bo He or Field Mint or Peppermint.
In TCM, this includes yin deficiency with blood dryness, or exterior deficiency with sweating, deficient cold of spleen and stomach, and diarrhea or the loose stools.
In Ayurvedic practice, this includes deficient Pitta or Excess Kapha conditions.
From a Traditional Western Herbalist’s perspective, this would include conditions that include hypo-functioning, particularly those associated with excessively depressed or relaxed tissue states where the body is unable to handle any stimulation.
As always, it is unwise to ingest undiluted essential oils or apply undiluted essential oils topically. Spearmint essential oil should be diluted before use in all types of applications.
- The Earthwise Herbal, Volume I: A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants
- The Way of Ayurvedic Herbs: A Contemporary Introduction and Useful Manual for the World’s Oldest Healing System
- Aromatica: A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics. Volume 1: Principles and Profiles
- “Mint Herb (Bo He)” by Chinese Herbs Healing