Mint leaves have a long history in culinary, health, dental and cosmetic uses in societies all over the world. There are a number of different types of mint plants with their own unique flavors and smells. Their leaves may be purchased in stores, or the plants may easily be grown at home. Mint leaves contain extremely strong and concentrated oils and should always be used with caution, particularly by people who are pregnant, nursing or who have underlying medical conditions.
Mint leaves are the leaves that grow on any type of plant in the Mentha genus group. There are approximately 25 species of the Mentha group, including peppermint, spearmint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, pennyroyal, forest mint and apple mint. All of the mint species are strongly scented herbaceous plants that, when crushed, release concentrated oils.
Mint teas have been used for many centuries as flavorful drink accompaniments to meals and warming teas for cold winters. They also have digestive health benefits. Peppermint, spearmint and rosemary mints are the most common mints used in teas. Peppermint, in particular, has been used to soothe gastrointestinal upset and stimulate digestion.
Many types of mints are used in the kitchen to add flavor and spice to dishes, desserts and beverages. Peppermint and spearmint are used most often with desserts and beverages (teas, fruit drinks and mixed alcohol drinks), while rosemary, thyme and oregano are frequently used in baked dishes or soups containing vegetables, fish and meats.
Rosemary, thyme, oregano, spearmint and peppermint may be chewed after meals to freshen breath. The leaves of these mint plants may also be crushed and added to homemade toothpastes for their strong antibacterial and antiviral properties. Chewing on the leaves of mint plants after meals may also cut down on bacterial growth in the mouth after eating starchy or surgery foods.
Mint leaves have been used in homemade cosmetic preparations for their stimulating and cleansing effects. A brew of rosemary leaves can be used to cleanse and stimulate blood flow to the scalp and bring out natural highlight colors in hair. A brew of mint leaves (particularly peppermint, spearmint, oregano, rosemary or thyme) may be used in facial washes, herbal baths and herbal foot soaks to clean and invigorate the skin.
Mint leaves contain strong and concentrated oils to which some people may have allergic reactions. Perform a patch test on your skin (gently rub a mint leaf on a small area of your skin and watch for any signs of reactions for 24 hours) before you use mint leaves. If you have any type of medical condition, consult your doctor before you ingest or regularly use any type of herb. Never use mint leaves outside of their recommended dosages; pregnant and nursing mothers should talk with their physician before they use any type of mint in cosmetic preparations, foods and teas.