Sunday, 9 October 2011


The water mint, (mentha aquatica) is the mint that one is most likely to stumble upon here in the wilds of London and the Southern counties of England in which I frequently roam.  An aromatic perennial reaching a height of up to 80cms, roughly 32 inches tall, its fragrance recognised easily by most, and to stumble upon it, although it is very familiar, can be a pleasing surprise, especially here in London. The flowers of the water mint are somewhat spherical in shape as opposed to the spikes, or spear shaped flowers of the other wild mint variety, which logically is named spearmint. Water mint, of course, loves damp places, wet meadows, pond edges and boggy areas of woodlands and forests, and joyfully for me it abounds pleasingly  along the banks of the river Quaggy here in South East London
   Water mint can be used in the same way as peppermint, (mentha pipereta), which as I understand it is a hybrid of water mint and spearmint.   It has been said that the best time to pick the mint is in the morning when the dew is still on it, that may be so, but if you want to dry it, later in the day may be better, and possibly earlier in the year, as the scent changes slightly by the autumn, it becomes slightly bitterer.  There appears to be a suggestion that harvesting for  storage should be carried out  when the moon is waning, as at this time that it is considered less likely to spoil in storage. However I would still rather be prompted by the full moon, and would collect just after the full moon, and when the dew has just lifted and not still heavily upon it. If collecting wood for the fire, a waning moon would make more sense, not perhaps so pertinent for plentiful plant material. 
 Mint is said to be governed by Gemini which should make it good for communication, and as it reduces wind, that sounds about right to me.
  Mint; according to The Language of Flowers, stands for virtue.  A Literary Herbal shares the tale of the origin of the name;   a ‘nymph of Cocytus named Minthé’   was ‘loved by the god Hades, or Pluto, whose jealous wife Persephone turned her into a plant,’ this little book goes onto suggest that perhaps as the plant stands for virtue, the nymphs transformation was a way for Minthé   to hold onto hers.
 It appears that mint was highly favoured by the Greeks and Romans, who were said to have brought it with then to the UK. They, as far as we know, used it as a general tonic, and to perfume the bath water. ‘Virgil says that wounded deer sought out mint to heal themselves when they had been hunted and, according to Ovid, it was much used in love potions.’(ibid)  A Literary Herbal has an amusing little picture of a deer with arrows in his neck, chomping merrily on some mint.
   According to An Ancient Egyptian Herbal by Lise Manniche, ‘mint was used in Ancient Egypt’ Mint has been identified as included in a bouquet found in a tomb dating  from the Late Period.  Dioscorides, according to Manniche, mentions the Egyptian name for mint which has been identified as ‘Mentha sativa’ which it appears was an ingredient of kyphi or a substance to be burnt.  In my experience mint makes a very pleasing addition to incense, good for clearing, or as seen earlier communication. Cunningham adds mint as an ingredient for a incense to   Hecate. Drugs of the Dreaming suggest that mint can be used for adding ‘clarity, colour, and vivid images to dreams.’ Peppermint can be ‘Burned before bed for prophetic dreams, it stimulates daydreaming and probably also night dreaming.’    
  Mint, according to  Catherine Yronwode, is said to ‘breaks jinxes’,  it also ‘purifies people, and protects money’ She also suggests  that mint can be used for psychic abilities and to keep off unwanted spirits, ’blend mint with frankincense and burn on charcoal,’ if its use is to get rid of unwanted spirits, ‘mix with camphor and burn for nine nights.’
    Mint is also mentioned in the bible at Mathew 23 v 23 where it says;
‘Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees. Hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not leave the other undone.’

  Michael Howard, in Traditional Folk Remedies   mentions that ‘Wealthy Roman noblewomen chewed peppermint leaves to stop bad breath.’ I have always chosen parsley for this, but I can see how mint would work. It is a well known ingredient in mouthwash and toothpaste due for its breath freshening properties.
Howard also states that ‘The leaves were also strewn in granaries in the ancient world, to keep away mice and rats.’  It does appear that mice are deterred by peppermint oil,  so a rodent deterrent of mint is worth exploring, not that I have a barn full of grain to experiment with.
  I found whilst checking the planetary rularship of mint that all mint varieties, according to Junius  are ruled by Venus, and understandably so I feel. However he places peppermint under Venus and Jupiter, King of the gods and teacher, so that gives it a slightly different perspective. This aids one, I feel, in identifying what one could use it for.
Culpeper indicates rulership by Venus, so does Donald Law, however Cunningham appears to disagree; he states Mercury; which also could seem logical, thinking along the lines of communication. He also places it as mint as a masculine plant, not sure I agree with that at all.    Agrippa places plants of great fragrance, under Venus, but mint he places under Jupiter, along with things which have ‘a sweet and pleasant taste’; so now we can see how we get both Jupiter and Venus. Not Mercury it seems, as Mercury, according to Agrippa, governs short plants, which mint is definitely not. .
  Culpeper calls the ‘mint that ‘grows in  ditches’ the ‘Wild or Horse mint’ ‘serviceable to dissolve wind in the stomach’ And this, is one remedy that has found its way into the 21st century, and I am sure it will journey on for as long as the plant survives.
  Mrs   Grieve quotes Dononæus whom a lot of people appear to quote, without any information as to who he was, so I will have to do likewise. All I seem to be able to find was that he was pre John Gerard 1545-1611 as he appears to be one of the sources used by Gerard. If anyone does know, please share this information with me.  So here is the well repeated quote;
“The savour of scent of Mynte rejoiceth man, wherefore they sow and strow the wild Mynthe in this countrie in places where feasts are kept, as in Churches. The juice of Mynte mingled with honied water cureth the payne of the ears when dropped theirin, and taketh away asperite and roughness of the tongue when it is rubbed or washed therewith.’
What a lovely way to spell mint, however I wonder what the difference is between Mynte and the wild Mynthe. Gerard agrees with the above quote as he sayeth ‘The savor or smell of the water Mint rejoyceth the heart of man, for which cause they use to strew in chambers and places or recreation, pleasure and repose, and where feasts and banquets are made.’ Isn’t it wonderful to think how man, or woman, in times past, derived such joy from the aroma of plants, I find this easy to forget in this age of ready to smell, in the bottle aromas. But what a joy it must have been to stumble across a patch of water mint, which in my experience can be detected by the nose from some yards away. And how the heart would ‘rejoyceth’ in what could be a rather stinky world.
  Now Michael Howard in his book Traditional Folk Remedies  has only one mint entry, this being the peppermint, of which he states. ‘Despite its long history, the use of peppermint in England is not recorded until the end of the seventeenth century, when a botanist saw it growing in a field in Hertfordshire and gave it the name by which is internationally known.’ Although he is directly referring to peppermint, and not the many other mints varieties, it does appear a rather misleading statement, especially in the light of Gerard’s previous declaration. So on closer examination we find regarding peppermint that ‘It was only recognised here as a distinct species late in the seventeenth century, when the great botanist Ray, published it in the second edition of his Synopsis stirpium britannicorum, 1696.’ (Mrs Grieve) So that makes it a bit clearer. So far we have discovered that the Romans would have brought mint to these shores, as they did with many of our now rather common plants and trees. However peppermint as a species  does not appear to have been identified until the late seventeenth century, water mint and spearmint were enjoyed on these shores previously.
  From a rather more culinary perspective I pulled down the River Cottage Handbook No 7, from the shelf, for those like myself who love foraging in the wild, Water mint Sorbet sounds rather yummy. The author, John Wight adds an interesting footnote to his Water mint entry, where he says;
‘Culpeper has to be quarantined as a p.s for his comments on mint. Among the many recommendations he for it is a “remedy for those that have venereal dreams pollutions in the night, being outwardly applied”, How you ‘outwardly apply’ it he doesn’t say. I have given the matter considerable thought and suggest stuffing the leaves in your Y-fronts.’
I am so glad I am not the only one who finds Culpeper rather amusing.
  Culpeper again finds the water mint as a remedy against ‘the kings evil’ which we have stumbled across before. This, it appears is scrofula, which was a swelling of the lymph node in the neck caused by tuberculosis, said to be cured by the touch from  royalty.
So we have gleaned many uses for the humble mint, apart from just mint sauce. However I would like to give Culpeper the final words as amongst all his recommendations he adds a warning; of the water mint he states;
'They  are extremely bad for wounded people, and they say that if a wounded man eats mint his wounds will never be healed, and never is a long day.' Yep; I wholeheartedly agree, never is a very very very long day!