There’s nothing quite like fresh mint. I try to keep at least one peppermint plant going in my kitchen herb garden, and have incorporated it on a larger scale in my (work-in-progress) outdoor herb/medicine garden. It’s chock full of benefits all by itself, but paired with raw honey it becomes a therapeutic (and delicious) powerhouse! ♥
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a member of the Lamiaceae family that also includes basil, lavender, lemon balm, oregano, rosemary, sage and thyme. It’s probably best known as a breath freshener and a remedy for upset stomach or nausea associated with morning sickness. But that’s really just scraping the surface – peppermint is good for so much more.
Peppermint is a tantalizing paradox of cooling yet warming, sweet yet pungent, relaxing yet stimulating energetics. Its latin name, mente, actually means “thought,” indicating that the Romans considered it to be more than just a tasty addition to a salad – peppermint is brain food.
In aromatherapy, the smell of peppermint is considered simultaneously calming and stimulating. The volatile oils in peppermint (including menthol), which are responsible for its minty scent and taste, are useful in relieving anxiety and tension, and also for refreshing and energizing the senses. I’m a long-time fan of Dr. Bronner’s peppermint Castile soap for this very reason… the invigorating smell and cooling sensation of peppermint soap is a beloved part of my wakeup ritual! ♥
Peppermint’s primary chemical constituents consist of volatile oils (aka essential oils), flavonoids, tannins, phenolic acids, and a slew of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, niacin, potassium, sodium, selenium, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin and vitamins A and C. The vitamins are mostly the water soluble variety, so if you’re not eating the whole herb, your best best is to make an infusion in water (aka tea) instead of, say, an oil extraction.
As a digestive aid, the bitters in peppermint tone and cleanse the liver, and also stimulate the bile and digestive juices necessary to jumpstart the digestive process. Peppermint’s antispasmodic and carminative actions can ease cramping of the stomach associated with gas and digestive upset. It’s even been called the “drug of first choice” for IBS sufferers.
Peppermint can provide relief from nasal congestion and its anti-inflammatory and histamine inhibiting flavonoids have been shown to be an effective treatment for allergic rhinitis (hay fever). It’s antitussive (cough suppressing) actions are a match made in heaven paired with honey, which has been shown to be just as effective as common, over-the-counter cough suppressants containing dextromethorphan (DM).
Applied topically, peppermint can have powerful pain-relieving (analgesic) actions, and is useful in easing headaches, earaches, tooth and muscle aches. It’s also a vasodilator and stimulates circulation.
Peppermint’s volatile oils are also antimicrobial and are effective against a range of bacterial, viral and fungal infections.
Sweet sweet (raw) honey
Raw, unpasteurized, unfiltered honey has a long history in folk medicine as a cough suppressant and a soothing remedy for sore throats. It’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties make it beneficial for everything from asthma to UTIs to ulcers. Honey is also a source of prebiotic fructooligosaccharides, which nourish intestinal gut bacteria critical for digestion and health in general. If you opt for a local variety and consume it regularly, it may also protect against seasonal allergies by desensitizing the immune system to the allergens that would normally trigger a reaction.
Please note that we’re talking about raw, unpasteurized, unfiltered honey here… commercial pasteurized honey is not the same thing. The heat of pasteurization kills off the beneficial enzymes and damaging many of the vitamins and antioxidants that make honey so nourishing. The ultrafiltration process that makes commercial honey look pretty on the shelf also strips away nutritious pollen that contains a slew of vitamins, amino acids, essential fatty acids, micronutrients and antioxidants.
It’s well worth the effort to locate a local source of raw honey in your area. If you have a farmer’s market nearby, that’s a great place to start. Or try searching online for your town/city/zip code + “raw honey,” and see what the search engine delivers. I’ve also used localharvest.org and organicnearby.com as online resources for finding farms, CSAs and farmer’s markets in my area. As a fun bonus, Local Harvest also keeps tabs on local food-related events going on in my area, such as festivals, volunteer opportunities and gardening classes! Woot!
Peppermint honey in my coffee, peppermint honey in my tea, peppermint honey everywhere!
Mr. Redheaded Herbalist disagrees, but I think mint and coffee are a match made in heaven. I peppermint my coffee often, (not just at the holidays!) and this infused honey is a perfect way to do that. It’s also a lovely addition to iced and herbal teas. Or anything, really… You do you!
Virgin mojito with mint and ginger
We also enjoy making virgin mojitos (faux-jitos?) using a simple syrup made from this mint-infused honey. Now I’ve never been one to shy away from a (alcoholic) mixed drink, but in this case, we actually enjoy the mocktail more than the cocktail with the added rum! Go figure.
To make the simple syrup, make a ginger tea by steeping a thumb-sized piece of chopped, peeled ginger in 1 cup of heated water. Allow time to cool. Strain out the ginger (or don’t if you want a stronger ginger flavor!) and add 1 cup of your mint infused honey, stirring to blend. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use, up to a month.
For convenience, I sometimes use The Ginger People ginger juice instead of the root, but you really can’t beat the flavor of a piece of fresh ginger. If using the juice, leave the ginger root out of the simple syrup recipe, and just add 1/2 tsp ginger juice per mojito.
- 1 T fresh lime juice
- 1 T mint-honey simple syrup with ginger
- 6 oz sparkling mineral water
In a glass over ice, add mint-honey simple syrup, lime juice, ginger and top with the sparkling mineral water. Garnish with a wedge of lime and additional fresh mint leaves.
Excuse me a moment… *runs off to whip up a mojito*
You can use this basic infused honey method for any number of herbs.
What kind of infused honey will you make? Hopefully you’re inspired to experiment with a favorite herb or two, or maybe try something new! I make a wonderful jalapeño infused honey for a copycat cocktail recipe I make (will post about this soon!) Lemon infused honey is soothing on a sore throat and makes a killer cough suppressant. Elderberry and elderflower infused honeys also have incredible immune boosting benefits. Cinnamon honey? Yum! Lavender honey? Hibiscus? Rose hip? Oh, the possibilities! ♥
P.S. For more information about making infusions like this one, I highly recommend Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs, A Beginner’s Guide. She covers the basics of growing your own herbs, making medicinal infusions, syrups, decoctions, tinctures, etc. and the last half of the book is organized like an encyclopedia of useful herbs – what they are and what to do with them, complete with beautiful, full-color photos and recipes. Good stuff!