Mentha piperita, a member of the Lamiaceae family, is distributed all over the world and can be found in many environments. It is one of the world’s oldest and most popular herbs. Commonly called mint leaf, it is known as na’a naa in Hausa and ewe minti in Yoruba.
The main compounds of the mint leaf are essential oils. The monoterpenes include menthol, menthone, menthyl acetate, 1,8-cineole (eucalyptol), menthofuran, isomenthone, neomenthol and limonene, while β-caryophyllene is the main sesquiterpene. Other components are beta-pinene, pulegone, and L-carvone.
Mint leaves can be eaten fresh or added to cooked dishes. The leaf, fresh or dried, is the culinary source of mint. Fresh mint is usually preferred over dried mint. It is used in teas, beverages, jellies, syrups, candies, and ice.
Alcoholic drinks sometimes feature mint for flavour or garnish. Mint essential oil and menthol are extensively used as flavourings in breath fresheners, drinks, antiseptic mouth rinses, toothpaste, chewing gum, desserts, and candies, such as mint (candy) and mint chocolate.
Pharmacological actions and medicinal uses
Mint was originally used as a medicinal herb to treat stomach ache and chest pains. It is used as an alternative or complementary therapy, mainly for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders like flatulence, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, and ulcerative colitis.
Mint is used to treat biliary disorders, enteritis, gastritis, gastric acidities, aerophagia, spasms of the bile duct, gallbladder, and gastrointestinal tract. Mint also aids digestion, notably of fats. In recent years, it has been often recommended for treating obesity. Mint tea is also a strong diuretic.
It is well documented that the essential oil and extracts of Mentha species possess antimicrobial, fungicidal, antiviral, insecticidal, and antioxidant properties. The antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of essential oils from mint leaf make it effective in the management of upper respiratory tract diseases; thus it is more commonly used for aromatherapy in the management of cough, sore throat, nasal infections and congestion.
The essential oil from Mentha spp. is used topically to treat oral mucosal inflammation, myalgia, neuralgia, discomfort from menstrual cramps, secondary amenorrhea and oligomenorrhea, and diverticulitis. It is also used as an anti-inflammatory and expectorant. Mint leaf is useful in the management of nipple cracks in breastfeeding mothers, as well as in treating rough heels and hair breakage.
Mints are supposed to make good companion plants, repelling pesty insects and attracting beneficial ones. It is also used as an environmentally friendly insecticide for its ability to kill some common pests, such as wasps, hornets, ants, and cockroaches. Mint is used to treat mosquito and bee bites.
Although it is used in many consumer products, mint may cause allergic reactions in some people, inducing symptoms such as abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, headaches, heartburn, tingling or numbing around the mouth, anaphylaxis or contact dermatitis.
Economic uses and potentials
The economic importance of mints is very evident Mint oil and its constituents and derivatives are used as flavouring agents throughout the world in food, pharmaceutical, herbal, perfumery and flavouring industries. Mint oil is an ingredient in household products like toothpaste, bathing soap, air freshener, chewing gum, sweets and inhalers.
In the local market, mint leaves cost as much as ₦650 per portion or ₦500 per kg. Mint leaf is economically viable both at cultivation, distribution and manufacturing sectors.
By Pharm. Ngozika Okoye, MSc, MPH, FPCPharm
(Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency)