Monday, June 16, 2008

Cooling herbs for summer: Magic Mint

This month's blog party, hosted by Alchemille, is all about how to stay cool in hot weather. First things first, I have to second Kiva's motion to make friends with a river. I know that it's not realistic for everyone, as there are many places not near to water. But if there is a way .... to get to the water, even if it means a cool bathtub or a kiddie pool, it beats any herb in this department.
I'm so in love with my river that it's probably holding us back from moving on in life in ways we should. I must be by fresh water. The way the surface illustrates the weather and the seasons, or the mood of the wind. Standing in the rush of the cool water, with hot sun on my shoulders and the honk of the Great Blue Heron, restores my deepest sense of self and of adaptability.

Along the riverbanks grows the wild mint. I try always to stop and say hello, pinch a little top to cool my senses, and thank it for staying wild. She keeps good company, alongside juicy, succulent chickweed, wild roses and calamus, all of which have varying degrees of coolness.

My garden takes lessons from the river. The mint crawls wildly through the roses, strawberries, and honeysuckle. She is particularly healthy this year, making frequent use easy and very helpful. A handful of mint steeped in a jar of water makes a multi-purpose cooler: we drink it of course, but also soothe our faces and hot shoulders with it, or make a batch just too add to a cool bath. Children's splinters can be coaxed out in a foot bath of mint and yarrow. Heat rash on infants or toddlers can be relieved with a mint infusion applied with a mister or cotton balls. Rinsing the hair with mint vinegar is a great way to treat your hair during the heat. And mint and melon balls - or mint whip cream on strawberries? yum!

See, mint helps our bodies regulate temperature in a couple ways. It assists our triple warmer, and it helps to move the heat that may be stagnant, so that it can be released through sweat and circulation, without actually increasing internal heat - like a chili or ginger might. And because it's a gentle plant it can be used often without any worries.

The anodyne properties help in relieving pain both internally and externally, which, if originate from inflammation, can become exacerbated in hot weather. It has been cited to relieve a wide range of ailments, from arthritis, to cold sores, to poison ivy, diaper rash, sunburn, and oral ulcers or gingivitis. Wounds are treated well by the numbing mint offers and the antibacterial action. Internally, mint is a classic and reliable digestive herb, helping to alleviate children's tummy aches and assist adult's metabolism of heavier foods.

Being such a vigorous grower, (some might dare to accuse it to be invasive) as well as endlessly versatile, no one should have to go without a cooling mint summer remedy in some form or another. I highly recommend making close friends with mint: grow a mint garden (there are so many!), eat the flowers in your salad, make a mint preparation with each of your menstrums and compare them..... including honey! Make a honey-mint liqueur for your special nights, or dry some leaves for a cooling powder.

Stuff some fresh mint leaves inbetween your toes before a long summer hike.

The whole mint family in general (Lamiaceae, formerly Labiatae) is truly an entire panacea in itself. With so many different genus', an easily identifiable botanical pattern, and geographically wide range, it's a first learn for herbal students. Especially children, who need to be able to eat, touch, taste, smell, and essentially merge with a plant in order to internalize it.

The botanical pattern: square stem, opposite leaves, irregular flowers, and often aromatic, is a simple set of rules for kids to remember and apply. Comparing different mints is fun and strengthens our powers of observation - lemon balm, rosemary, lavender, sage, monarda, oregano, motherwort, and ground ivy lined up in concert is beautiful and educational. If you have an ice cream maker, home-made cucumber-mint ice cream will be a coveted treat.

Swaddle yourself in mints this summer; staying cool, connected, and very healthy.


Oakmoss Changeling said...

gosh, what a just fabulous post, ananda! i love it. i do love out river mint too, i don't write about her enough, but i just adore her.

what wonderful writing, you're such a poet :)

Ananda said...

:) very sweet, thanks. what type of mint grows along your river? I wonder. In my garden I think I have three or four kinds, all equally wonderful. It's neat to see their subtle differences.

Oakmoss Changeling said...

I think our main mint if M. arvensis though there is also some kind of spearmint hybrid growing wild too... and some other kind of spearmint in the garden.

and then we have agastache rupestris (sp?) that isn't really a proper mentha spp but really works will for similar kind of indications and is totally delicious... i'm going to send you a little of that one, you'll love it!

Ananda said...

oooooooh - I am such a sucker for the agastaches! More warming I find, but sooo good for the throat.

Livia Indica said...

This is such a good post, so timely and informative. For a beginning wannabe-herbalist like me mints are my main interest because, as you said, they're common, easy to grow and easy and beneficial to the system. But you say it so much prettier than I could; a lovely post.

Ananda said...

Glad you enjoyed it Livia! The mints are just amazing. I never grow out of them.

fiona said...

what a lovely herb post! really enjoyed it, and its reminded me to think of mint this summer .. always growing away in the corner of the garden but often overlooked :-)

Ananda said...

Hi Hedgewitch! I'm glad it reminded you to go spend some time with sister mint:) have fun!

Clara said...

What a wonderful description of mint! I have 5 kinds of mint in my garden: spearmint, peppermint, apple mint, pineapple mint, and chocolate mint. Are they all cooling? Because I am dying to cool off :), not just because our hot Texas summer but due to my hot flashes too...