Podcast 201: Herbs A-Z: Mentha, Mentha, Mentha!


Today we’re profiling a few of our favorite “minty” mints! We discuss spearmint, peppermint, & pennyroyal.

Spearmint (Mentha spicata) has a light flavor and impression, with moderate menthol content. It’s gotten a lot of attention in herbal circles for potential impacts on elevated androgen levels in certain circumstances, but is this generalizable? We’re not convinced. We see spearmint as a relaxant and soothing herb first and foremost.

Peppermint, on the other hand, is quite stimulating! In part this is due to stronger menthol content and concomitant strength as a relaxant. Cerebral circulation benefits from this combination, and peppermint can help brain fog in many cases. It’s important to be clear that products made with peppermint essential oil are not the same as drinking EO in water (which we advise against very adamantly).

With pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) it’s even more important to stick to tea rather than the EO. Cases exist of fatalities due to ingesting the EO, in an attempted herbal abortion. This is not going to work, and it is dangerous: don’t do it! But, that doesn’t mean a single cup of pennyroyal tea will cause an abortion, eitherā€¦ As a tea the herb is an effective pelvic circulatory stimulant & relaxant. If peppermint is helpful for brain fog, then pennyroyal is helpful for “uterus fog”!


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Episode Transcript

Katja (00:14):
Hi, I’m Katja.

Ryn (00:15):
And I’m Ryn.

Katja (00:15):
And we’re here at Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.

Ryn (00:20):
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. On a somewhat intermittent schedule, but we’re doing our best.

Katja (00:27):
We are. Well, you know, okay. First it was that we were moving, and now it is that we have moved. But I think also we just arrived at having moved, and I decided that was the perfect time to build an entirely new course about working with grief. And so, you know, trying to sort of get settled and also building out a whole new course. And we are planning some really exciting new updates to the Clinical Herbalist program. And so that work is ongoing. And so, I’m so sorry, dear podcast listeners. We do love you. We love you so much. But what has happened to allow us to get all those other things done is that the podcast has become slightly irregular. That is not our intention. So, we are trying to do better.

Ryn (01:18):
Yeah. Well, we’re here now. So, for today we’re going to be talking about some mints. Today it’s not just a double-mint situation. We’ve got a triple-mint for you. We’re going to do spearmint, peppermint, and pennyroyal.

Katja (01:31):
Triple your pleasure. Triple your fun. Yes?

Ryn (01:35):
That’s right. And on that note, we want to tell you that we have a sale going on for the entire month of December.

Katja (01:41):
Right. Because we’re not just podcasters. In fact, the podcast is just an outgrowth of our online herb school. And sometimes in-person. We do in-person things too. And so if you like the pod, let me tell you, the good stuff is in the online courses, which you will find at online.commonwealthherbs.com. And you will find them for the entire month of December, 20% off with code December2022.

Ryn (02:13):
Yeah. You’ve got to put that in when you’re checking out.

Katja (02:15):
Yes. But Ryn, tell them what will they find?

Ryn (02:19):
You’re going to get 20% off of everything. What do you mean everything? Everything. Everything. All right. So, we’ve got the brand-new Working with Grief. We’re calling it a cours-ommunity, because it’s a course and a community, and they’re tightly integrated. Lots of discussion. So, that’s one. But also all of our standalone courses on nettle, elder, lavender, dreaming, cold and flu, pain management, allergies.

Katja (02:48):
Those are all shorter courses that are really good ways to sort of dip your toe in and see if you like our teaching style. I recommend them.

Ryn (02:56):
Yeah. there’s also our Family Herbalist program, which includes courses on Materia Medica – that’s the plant profiles – plus Medicine Making. Then there’s the entire Community Herbalist program, which is hold on: Energetics, Phytochemistry, Formulation, Nutrition, Sleep, Digestive, Cardiovascular, Urinary, Respiratory, Immune, Neurological and Emotional, First Aid, Integumentary – that’s your skin – Musculoskeletal, Reproductive, Children’s Health, and Puberty.

Katja (03:28):
Yeah, that last one, I loved how you were like and eww… Puberty.

Ryn (03:32):
The whole thing. It’s all in there.

Katja (03:34):
Ways to make puberty not so eww.

Ryn (03:38):
We’ve got a couple other standing-alone courses on Detoxification, Dealing with Lyme, Fertility support.

Katja (03:46):
And also Birth Worker support. So, whether you are pregnant or whether you support pregnant people, there is a course there. You’re all birth workers. The person actually doing the birthing, and that’s work, and the people supporting them.

Ryn (04:01):
Everybody’s working.

Katja (04:02):
Yeah. So, there’s herbs for that.

Ryn (04:04):
We have the Emergent Responder Courses. That’s one about first aid and second and third and fourth and fifth aid. We call that long-term care in emergency situations.

Katja (04:14):
Yeah. That’s like a post-disaster response course. So, you know, listen, FEMA and the Red Cross and all the other non-governmental organizations who support areas where there has been a natural disaster or a not so natural disaster. They don’t get there the first day, and they don’t get there the second day. And sometimes it takes weeks or months for them to get there. And your community needs help. You’ve got to survive through that whole time. And as these disasters are happening more and more, our first responders and then our like larger support systems through the government and non-governmental organizations, they’re being stretched thin. And they may never come. And so we have to be ready to support ourselves, to support each other. If they do get there, that’s fantastic. We will have gotten the work started, and that’s great. Now we can partner with them. But if they never come, we weren’t just sitting, you know, with no support. We can support ourselves.

Ryn (05:15):
You know what to do. Yeah. And that’s feedback we’ve gotten some folks who’ve taken this course and then had a disaster arrive. That it was helpful and made them feel more grounded and capable.

Katja (05:25):
Or the inverse. That folks who went through like the dollar fire and the camp fire and all the different things. And then took emergent responder because they were like wow, I didn’t know what I needed to know. And went through the course. And they were like oh my goodness, all of this stuff is exactly what I needed to know and what I should have been doing. Yeah.

Ryn (05:44):
And really not in like a Rambo do it yourself on your own in the wilderness kind of way. But about community, and about getting people together, and organized, and working towards a common goal. And one of the elements in First Responder is about emergency clinic management. So, not just taking care of your own self or your own little group, but how can you set something up to support your community in a time of crisis. Yeah. So, that’s on sale too. And the Herbal Business program, which wow.

Katja (06:15):
I love that course. Actually I have some new things to add to it. So, as we are currently planning out our projects for 2023, you know, every year planning evolves. And there’s a lot of stuff in the Business program about planning your projects, and how to lay out your business so that you actually get it done. Not just like I have this cool idea, but how to translate this cool idea into something that actually materializes in the world and can support you. And that planning process never stops. It’s not like you just do it once, and then you have a business, and then presto. You never have to plan again. You have to do it every year or sometimes every quarter. And so I am filming this year’s planning process into some new things, because we’ve refined some stuff. And I just want to give people as many options as possible to find ways that will work for you specifically and your particular style. So, that planning actually works for you and not just like falls off into the abyss. But it’s not just planning. I’m just excited about that right now. It’s also GMP and clinic management, and so, you know, product making, clinical herbalism. We’ve had people who, one person who started an herbal preschool – like the nature schools, but this was herbal school – and all kinds of tea bars and all kinds of different businesses. And the thing that’s the same in all of them is you have to know what the laws are. You have to know not just the laws around herbalism but paying your taxes and stuff like that. Getting registered. There are some states in the United States where you’re not allowed to use the word apothecary, and it’s sort of arbitrary about that. So, all those kinds of nitty gritty details. But also how do you market without losing your soul? How do you be a person of integrity and ethics and also do marketing? It is entirely possible. And that is all in there. How do you build a website even if you’re not a techy person? All that stuff.

Ryn (08:23):
We could go on, but yeah. So, that’s on sale too. It’s everything.

Katja (08:29):
Everything is what we’re saying. Yes.

Ryn (08:31):
Yeah. All those courses, the long programs. If you want to do it in one payment. If you want to do it on a payment plan, now is the time. Lock in your price.

Katja (08:40):
Yes, it’s all… Lock in your price, oh my goodness. All of our courses come with lifetime access. You will never lose access to the things that you enroll in. A lot of other schools, you only get the material for 9 months or 18 months or whatever, and then it disappears. We don’t do that. We give it to you forever. We will never take it away. It will not disappear. And not only that, it will actually magically reproduce itself. Because every time that we create updates, new material, and we upload new things into the courses, we actually make sure that all of that goes to the students who are already enrolled in the courses too. So, you never have to pay for new material that is added to a course you’re enrolled in. It just comes to you automagically.

Ryn (09:25):
Plus, you get to join us twice a week for a live Q&A session. There are discussion threads that are integrated into every lesson in the courses. We’ve got a really active student community going on for more free-form and wide-ranging kind of talk. And there are study guides, there are quizzes, there are capstone assignments, so that you can really prove that you learned it. And there’s, honestly, even other stuff going on in there, but that’s probably enough. You’re either motivated or not. So, remember you want to use that code December2022 when you’re checking out.

Katja (09:57):
And you can find all those courses at online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Ryn (10:03):
Yeah. All right.

Katja (10:06):
One last thing before we jump into the mints.

Ryn (10:08):
That’s where we do our reclaimer. And we remind you real quick that we’re not doctors. We’re herbalists. We’re holistic health educators.

Katja (10:14):
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So, these discussions are for educational purposes only.

Ryn (10:26):
We want to remind you that good health doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone. Good health doesn’t exist as an objective standard. It’s influenced by your individual needs, experiences, and goals. So, keep in mind that we’re not attempting to present a single dogmatic right way that you should adhere to.

Katja (10:41):
Everyone’s body is different. So, the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you. But we hope that they’ll give you some new information to think about and some ideas to research further.

The Variety of Mints & Spearmint: Mentha spicata

Ryn (10:51):
Finding your way to better health is both your right and your own personal responsibility. This doesn’t mean you’re alone on the journey, and it doesn’t mean you’re to blame for your current state of health. But it does mean that the final decision when you’re considering any course of action, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always your choice to make. All right. Let’s talk about spearmint first. Spearmint. Mentha spicata.

Katja (11:15):
Spearmint: A mint that I like.

Ryn (11:17):
A mint that she likes.

Katja (11:19):
That’s not even fair to say, because there are so many mints.

Ryn (11:22):
Okay. So, mints, right? Mint, mint, mint. In the plant world you have a family that we call the mint family. The Lamiaceae. In your older books it might be the Labiatae. But that’s a big family. And that includes not just the minty mints like spearmint and peppermint and pennyroyal, honestly.

Katja (11:41):
It’s quite minty.

Ryn (11:42):
And we say that because those are the ones with the menthol, right?

Katja (11:46):
Well, probably chocolate mint and water mint. I mean, they’re all variants on like that combination.

Ryn (11:52):
Spearmint, peppermint, water mint are Menthas. Yeah. These are all, these are all the mints that make menthol, so we call them the minty mints.

Katja (11:58):
We could call them the menthol mints. But minty mint sounds more fun.

Ryn (12:02):
You know, I picked it up from Henrietta, I think. But then you have your pungent mints, right. Your warming mints like thyme, and sage, and lavender, and oregano, and monarda. And those have heat, and they have that sharpness to them.

Katja (12:18):
I wonder if it is surprising to hear that sage is a mint, or that like oregano is a mint. But they are. They’re mint family plants.

Ryn (12:27):
Yeah, botanically speaking. And then also there are some bitter mints. You have plants that are mildly bitter like betony and skullcap. And then you have some more powerfully bitter mints as well like motherwort.

Katja (12:45):
Yeah. That is kind of on the bitter side.

Ryn (12:48):
Yeah, they’re there. So, today we’re going to kind of focus on those menthol mints And, you know, when we talk about them as a family, there’s some characteristics that are, that are consistent to the mint family, like square stems opposite leaves. There’s a particular shape to the flowers that’s sometimes used a fancy word like zygomaxillary or something. But basically means it looks like a face. It has one line of symmetry from top to bottom, but not like a daisy flower where you have radial symmetry.

Katja (13:21):
Right, yeah. I find that, you know, ground ivy is another mint family plant. And when you look at the flowers on ground ivy, they look like little Victorian ear trumpets kind of. Except that they have hair inside like old man ears. I mean, actually everybody’s ears have hair inside actually. And actually all the mint family plants have the shape of the flower like that sort of trumpet kind of shape. But it’s funny how…

Ryn (14:00):
Right. If you look at it kind of from the side and then from the front, there’s usually two lobes up top and three at the bottom, where it’s kind of split or divided.

Katja (14:08):
But it’s funny how they do shape it a little differently each one of them. Some of them look more like a mouth. Some of them look more like an ear. Some of them look more like, you know, different things.

Ryn (14:20):
Yeah. Some of them get pink and white fuzz to grow on the sides and look like a little explosion

Katja (14:26):
Yeah. It’s really, really a very cool family. Okay, but spearmint.

Ryn (14:32):
You know, it has flowers. They’re tiny. They’re small.

Katja (14:37):
All of the mint family flowers are small.

Ryn (14:39):
They look a little like a tuft of white fuzz when you’re standing back from it a bit.

Katja (14:43):
I famously do not like peppermint – and we’ll get to that – but I really like spearmint. And spearmint has this sort of… I like it most in terms of emotional health. And when we talk about herbs for emotional health, it gets a little fuzzy. Because you try to describe something that is a little intangible. And that isn’t really true. Of course there’s a lot of tangible stuff going on. But it’s not stuff that is at a level that we can see. We can’t really see nerve cells, you know. We can’t really see hormones moving around. We can’t really see all the different things that impact our emotional state in any given moment. And when I say hormones, I do not mean testosterone or estrogen or progesterone. That’s not what I mean there.

Ryn (15:48):
Occasionally those are having an effect on your emotional state though. Sometimes that happens.

Katja (15:52):
But there’s so many hormones in the body. And it’s literally just a different way to communicate. We think about the nervous system as the system of communication in the body, but that’s the fast system. Hormones are the other part of the communication system in the body, and they move a little bit slower.

Ryn (16:11):
Right, and then there’s your immune system and your endocannabinoid system and…

Spearmint’s Influence on Hormones

Katja (16:15):
I mean, well yeah, okay. There are a lot. But so when I say hormones here, I am not saying that spearmint will regulate your menstrual cycle. And I have literally heard people say that. It will not do that.

Ryn (16:29):
Yeah. I think… And we can just briefly touch on this one, because it might have been on the front of many minds. There’s been a lot of interest in spearmint for regulating excessive amounts of androgens and testosterone. Especially in situations like PCOS and cases where they have what you call hirsutism, where there’s more hair growing on a body than is expected, for whatever that means for that particular person and their history and all that. And look, you know what? It does seem to have some effect. But I think people carry this really far from here’s a state where a whole pile of hormonal activity has gone wonky. And some of these parameters are way, way out of expected normal bounds. And there we can see a change that spearmint brings about. That doesn’t translate directly to saying oh, if you are a cis male, you shouldn’t drink too much spearmint, because it’s going to tank your testosterone levels. And I have seen people say that kind of thing.

Katja (17:29):
It also does not mean if you have PCOS that you should drink spearmint, because it’ll make it better.

Ryn (17:34):
Well, in the sense of like just do that, and it’s going to solve all your problems. Which is, you know, the way that this thing gets reported on a Facebook meme or some other thing. And drink the spearmint tea, sure. If it tastes good to you, it can be a contributor. Yeah, why not? But don’t be like oh, this is going to solve my problem, because spearmint can corral androgens or whatever.

Katja (17:55):
Right. I honestly think that we should just forget about the androgen aspect. Because I think that it’s something kind of glittery that we want to glom onto, and it’s going to take us down a wrong path.

Ryn (18:09):
Right. And these do get… Like research is not evenly distributed, let’s say. So, one question I have sometimes when I look at these results about spearmint is how much has this been compared to other mints or to other mild stimulators of liver activity. Because hey, when we have excess hormones around, if we can wake up the liver and get that moving with perhaps some aromatic terpenoids or something, which are widely distributed in this family, then yeah. I would expect some improvements there.

Katja (18:39):
And that actually leads right into what I wanted to say, what I actually wanted to say about hormones.

Ryn (18:45):
Yeah. This was a total detour over here.

Katja (18:46):
I mean no, it was the appropriate detour. But what I actually wanted to get at is that spearmint in relation to hormones, I think that it is so much more valuable to focus on the relaxing aspects, the anti-inflammatory aspects, and the very probable blood glucose/insulin modulating aspects. And all of those get you to something that would be helpful for someone with PCOS, because we are talking about an insulin resistant sort of a situation when we’re talking about PCOS.

Ryn (19:22):
Yeah. It’s been interesting. I feel like more and more we’re moving in the same direction for improvement in blood sugar control as like anti-cancer activity with plants. By which I mean to say, the more we look for it, the more we find it. And the more plants we look for that in, the more plants we find it in. So, there’s obvious standouts, right? Like you have your cinnamon. Then you have your schisandra, and you have your tulsi and all that. But you know, I have students on rotation from the pharmacy school, and they come by every six weeks. And so I read lots and lots of brand-new student monographs.

Katja (19:58):
Right. Every six weeks there’s a new group of them who come to get in depth, you know.

Ryn (20:04):
And so every week I have like, you know, 15 student papers come in. They’re brand new, right? But they’re researching, and they’re trying to learn stuff about plants. And so I do occasionally get new information that way, because they’ll go to PubMed and put in their herb of the week or whatever.

Katja (20:19):
Maybe they’ll come up with something that you didn’t find that week.

Ryn (20:22):
I just didn’t come across yet, whatever. But yeah, it’s like I should just keep a running tally of like yep, this one also has improvements in blood glucose. That one also improves insulin sensitivity. It’s a big list now, you know?

Katja (20:33):
So okay, so what I’m getting at when I’m talking about the mechanism for emotional health improvements.

Ryn (20:44):
She was really trying to avoid regulation. Control even more so, right?

Katja (20:50):

Ryn (20:51):
These are not your words.

Katja (20:52):
Yeah. What I’m getting at there is that when we relax the body, we are lowering the requirements for cortisol. And I want to say it that way specifically. I don’t want to say lowering cortisol levels. Because even though that is happening, the mechanism by which it is happening is that we have lowered the requirements for cortisol, because we have lowered the feelings of stress. So, if we just say oh, you lowered cortisol. Okay, now we’re in trouble, because we can go down a rabbit hole saying oh, cortisol is bad. We should always lower it. And that’s not the case. Cortisol is responding to something that is wrong. And it is the thing that’s wrong that is bad that we should reduce. In this case right now, what I’m talking about is stress.

Ryn (21:45):
Yeah. And it’s also worth asking well, how did we accomplish lowering this cortisol? And is that a good way to do that, right? So, what you’re talking about is taking away the need for it as opposed to just disabling the capacity to produce it or something like that.

Katja (21:59):
And that’s being tried. That is a pharmaceutical avenue of interest. But so that’s what I’m actually trying to avoid is falling into that trap. Because it’s always better to fix. Like cortisol exists in the body for reasons. It is critical to our ability to survive. It is not a bad thing. It is a good thing. The amount of stress that we have is the bad thing, and it’s calling for so much cortisol. So, then also the amount of sugar in our diets is the bad thing. And it’s calling for much more cortisol, because there’s much more insulin. And insulin and cortisol have an intricate dance that they do. And so it’s through these mechanisms that we see the emotional health improvement. And if you are not familiar with sort of high blood glucose levels or a high sugar diet and the implications on emotional health, then that is a pretty googleable thing. So, I won’t do that entire rabbit hole here. Or you could just grab the Neurological and Emotional Health course at online.commonwealthherbs.com.

Ryn (23:13):
20% off for the month of December.

The Mint Family, Actions, & Flavors

Katja (23:15):
That’s also an option. And I don’t mean to, like I’m sort of getting into a lot of more advanced topics here. Or if not advanced, then at least topics that require much more context. And so sort of listen to all this as a whetting your appetite kind of thing, and not as a every single word has been said on the topic kind of thing, because that hasn’t happened. Okay. But while we’re still in this place, I want to mention one other thing. When we talk about plant families – in this case, the mint family – we can identify plant families by a couple different mechanisms. Earlier we were talking about how the flowers look the same on all the plants. They all have square stems, some of them much more square than others. Like motherwort is like somebody built it with architecture it’s so square. And other ones are sort of like oh look, that is actually square. You know, it’s like a little bit more subtly square but still. People are always saying that everything in nature is round, but the mint family is not round. It’s square, y’all. So, if you’re out there feeling like a square peg in a whatever, anyway, don’t worry. Nature is also square. You’re allowed to be square. Okay. So, but what I want to get at here is that when we talk about plant families, we are not only talking about appearance. We often are also talking about actions and also flavors. But remember from phytochemistry, flavor is an indicator of action. Because the components that create the thing that you can taste are themselves the actual components who are doing the work creating the action. They’re not an indication that this action could be present. They are the action. So, if you taste a cayenne pepper, and you taste the hot there, that’s it. That’s the action. It’s not like oh, hot means there’s these other actions. No, hot is the action. Now, there are other actions that maybe you don’t taste. Or there are actions that you haven’t learned to taste yet, or they’re more subtle and you are still learning to taste them.

Katja (25:41):
That’s okay. What I’m getting at here is that spearmint and tulsi have a lot of similarity in their flavor. If you’re making a sort of spectrum chart here, you can put garden basil in the middle, and you can put all the different variations of tulsi on one side. And if you wanted to get really nerdy about it, you could order them in terms of flavor and action in terms of which one is a little bit hotter, and which one is a little bit movier. The flavor is moving around a lot and all that stuff. But okay, you can put all those basils, regular basil and the holy basils, starting at the middle and moving to one side of the spectrum. But then what comes after the basil? Basil is at the end of the spectrum. What comes on the other side? And I really feel that the very next thing is spearmint. The flavor profiles are very, very similar. There’s a whole lot of overlap. There are some flavors in tulsi and also in garden basil that are not present in spearmint. And you can tell that when you taste it. You’re like mmm, this is basilly basil. And then oh, this is spearminty spearmint. You can tell that those flavors are different. And I really recommend if you’ve never done this kind of thing, and you’re listening to this right now. Both spearmint and garden basil are things you can find at a grocery store. So, find them and taste them, even if one is spearmint tea and the other is fresh basil from the produce section, whatever. Taste them and really see this for yourself. Even if you don’t have tulsi at home, but you probably can find some tulsi tea also.

Katja (27:26):
Taste them for yourself individually. Notice how some of the flavors are the same, and some of the flavors are different. You can make a list and say they’re the same in these ways. They’re different in those ways. Those similarities in flavor yield similarities in action. And so now we’re getting to the way that Katja always drinks spearmint, which is with tulsi. We put them together, right? It’s always the same. It’s tulsi and spearmint and wood betony and rose, and they all go together. Like if I’m having spearmint, that’s what I’m drinking actually. I’m not drinking spearmint by itself. It’s those things all together. And it makes a rounder flavor to me. I feel a round flavor out of square plants. I really feel that if you fit together spearmint and tulsi, you get the complete flavor profile. Where there were like a few things missing from one and a few things missing from the other. You put them together, you have the full picture. This is relevant, because we also have all this data about tulsi and all of its actions on blood sugar regulation, on cortisol. I just said regulation. I’m going to do it again. Regulation, right? And here by regulation, what I really mean is impacts in the body that reduce the need for overproduction of insulin and that reduce the need for the response of the body with cortisol. Okay. So, because of those similarities, I really think that yields a sufficient base of data that warrants more study into spearmint around blood glucose regulation, insulin and cortisol regulation, et cetera. So, if any of y’all are laboratory scientists out there, let’s talk. I’ll help you write your proposal, right? Because I would love these studies too.

Ryn (29:42):
Yeah. It’s funny to me because for a lot of people it’s like let’s put some spearmint in there to make this taste better. And for you it’s like yeah, spearmint’s fine. But I need something in there to make it taste good. So, let me put in some blue vervain. Let me get a whole bunch of self-heal mixed into that, or enough red clover that I can taste the greenness in it. For you the light kind of menthol element and menthone and everything from spearmint…

Katja (30:13):
I need to ground it. I don’t like that really high note of the flavor. It’s true. And I think that’s why I really don’t like peppermint, because it’s like all aromatics all the time. And it’s too much. It’s too up there.

Peppermint: Metha x Piperita, Menthol, & It’s Warming Action

Ryn (30:36):
Yeah. We can probably move on to peppermint now. And peppermint and spearmint, they have so much overlap that it’s sometimes difficult to speak of them.

Katja (30:44):
They have no overlap whatsoever. Peppermint tastes terrible and spearmint tastes great.

Ryn (30:49):
So, one of the differences between spearmint and peppermint is simply menthol saturation, how much how much do they do they carry one versus the other. And peppermint’s botanical name is Mentha x piperita. And the little x in the middle, that’s how I pronounce it. But anyway, that’s a little indicator that this is actually a hybrid. And it’s a hybrid between spearmint and Mentha aquatica or water mint. So, the thing about peppermint is that it produces way more menthol than either one of its parents.

Katja (31:24):
Yeah. And it’s funny because I don’t mind water mint. Water mint is sharp. But it’s not menthol-y.

Ryn (31:32):
It’s a little bit different, yeah.

Katja (31:34):
It has the heat, but it doesn’t have the…

Ryn (31:38):
And when we’re talking about this, you know, if we were to try to get into the chemistry. It would be that there’s other terpenoids in there. There are other volatile elements that are light, and moving, and energetic. And they trigger these kinds of responses from our nerves and mucous membranes and all kinds of stuff. But not all of them are exactly menthol. There’s a bunch of related ones like menthone and so on. But the menthol itself has a special capacity to trigger these nerves of ours and make them send a signal to the brain that says cold. Even if it’s warm tea, or even if it’s room temperature, whatever. And of course, people feel this the time. If you work with Icy Hot or anything that contains menthol, or if it’s in your Chapstick or whatever you, you experience that effect a lot.

Katja (32:29):
York peppermint patty based their entire marketing campaign on this effect. It’s the fresh, and it’s always like alpine skiing, and stuff like that in the York peppermint patty. Yeah.

Ryn (32:41):
And I know at some point we’ve talked about this on the pod, but it’s been a minute, so I’ll just do my little brief soapbox on this one. I think that peppermint is a warming plant, and a lot of herbalists disagree about that, because it feels cold in the mouth. Or if you put it on your skin, you can feel that that cool breeze, right> And that feeling is real. And when we’re talking about energetics, we do kind of ground ourselves in direct experience and what your senses tell you. But we also need to keep our observation on past the first impression. And so with peppermint my argument is this. When we look at the effects of the plant, it’s a stimulating relaxant, right? It increases blood movement and circulation. It increases metabolic activity. It increases digestive activity. Peppermint is one of our carminative plants that’s both a digestive relaxant and a digestive stimulant together. So, peppermint doesn’t taste or feel like ginger, but as far as your stomach goes, it has a lot of the same effects, right? Releasing tension in there. Increasing activity. A little more stomach acid production is going to come up. So, it’s activating. It’s stimulating. And energetically speaking, those are all synonyms for warming. Warming doesn’t always mean the thing you register with a thermometer, right? It’s about like how active is this tissue? How alive and awake and…

Katja (34:09):
How much blood is moving to it.

Ryn (34:11):
Right. And you can see say there’s a wound maybe on a leg, maybe on someone with poor circulation. And the wound looks pale, and it’s not healing well. It’s not vitalized, you know? And when we have a wound like that, one of the things we can do is we can stimulate the tissue. And we can do that with different plants. You can do that with ginger. You can do it with cayenne. But you can also do it with peppermint. You can apply peppermint as a poultice or a compress. And when you take it off after it’s been on there for a little, you’ll see the tissue is red and pink and has more circulation and more movement. And again, that’s that warming effect. So, peppermint and plants that have a lot of menthol, they can give that impression of cold. But from a more objective perspective, this is a warming plant or a warming effect of that plant. Like all mints though, there are kind of stages to the effects of mint. And if we talk about drinking the tea, in your guts, in your digestion, there’s that stimulating effect. On the surface of your body there’s a diaphoretic effect. And that can then lead to feeling cool or releasing excess heat. But the same could be said about other mints that are unquestionably warming, right?

Katja (35:30):
I mean, the same can be said about cayenne. That’s why equatorial cultures make spicy hot foods, and far north cultures make bland foods. And bland sounds so negative, and I don’t mean it negative. I just mean well, the absence of spicy.

Ryn (35:51):
It’ll be like the thing where you have the tea that’s basically, you know, yak butter. So, it’s maybe not spicy and flavorful in that sense, but it is rich.

Katja (36:02):
Yeah. Rich is actually the word that I really meant.

Ryn (36:04):
To sustain you and give your body those calories to burn off and keep you warm.

Katja (36:08):
Creamy, fatty foods. Yeah.

Ryn (36:10):
Right. Which by the way, our mints can help us to digest. When we think about fat digestion, I myself go straight to sage or centaury. But mints are going to help. And, you know, when you think about people putting mint jelly with lamb dishes and that kind of thing, it’s another digestive. It’s another carminative herb. Again, it’s going to get some movement, get some activation into there.

Katja (36:35):
Peppermint is one of those plants that people talk a lot, a lot about in terms of like afternoon slump to kind of wake up your brain a little bit. And this is part of that warming stimulating effect as well. And you know, every time we say stimulating relaxant you may be thinking, huh? How can those two things coexist? But what’s going on – and I think this is a really good place to see it – is that peppermint is able to relax the vasculature to the brain. So, you are releasing tension – not just to the brain, lots of places, but famously the brain – you’re releasing the tension that was squeezing your blood vessels. By releasing that tension, blood is able to flow more freely to your head. And when more blood is there, more oxygen is there. And when more oxygen is there, plus blood is circulating, moving around. It is not just bringing oxygen, it is also clearing out old stuff. It’s clearing stagnation, literally the cobwebs. And so you get the relaxation of the vessels, which allows more blood to flow, which feels stimulating to your brain. You’re able to think more clearly. It doesn’t have to be peppermint for that job, right? Rosemary can do that very well as well. But peppermint is sort of famous for that.

Ryn (38:04):
It does need to be something with a potency to it. I feel like…

Katja (38:08):
There’s some zing involved.

Ryn (38:09):
Spearmint doesn’t quite get me there. Spearmint has enough effect to relax the neck and the mind and the brain and everything, but not enough to be like okay, now I’m ready to do some thought work.

Katja (38:24):
Yeah, no. I think about spearmint and skullcap, right? We’re more in that relaxing place.

Ryn (38:30):
Spearmint and skullcap, peppermint and rosemary. Yeah.

Katja (38:33):
There you go. Yeah.

Peppermint Oil

Ryn (38:35):
As kind of groups, right? Yeah. Peppermint, well, you know, it’s December. So, there’s candy canes and stuff like that going around. And you know, yeah, okay. They’ve got peppermint oil in them, and maybe that’s worth saying, right? So, essential oils, they’re not the same thing as the tea of the plant. And that’s going to become even more important when we come around to pennyroyal in just a minute. But it does apply to peppermint too and to spearmint as well. These are plants though where it is possible to safely ingest some carefully diluted, dispersed, formulated essential oil.

Katja (39:23):
By which you mean like in Altoids they put some peppermint oil. But the process that they use to make the Altoids spreads that oil all around.

Ryn (39:36):
Yeah. It mixes into the sugars.

Katja (39:37):
Yeah, so that your carrier is not… You know, if you put a drop of peppermint oil, of peppermint essential oil into a glass of water, please don’t ever put essential oils in water and drink it. Don’t do that, please. But if you were to do that, the peppermint oil won’t disperse. It will just float in a glob right on top of the water, because it’s oil. And famously oil and water don’t mix. So, what ends up happening is you swallow that whole glob in one swallow. And the whole thing hits your liver. And now your liver has to…

Ryn (40:10):
Now your mucous membranes, you know, yeah…

Katja (40:12):
Right. So, yes, the mucous membranes are a huge part, but I was sort of getting right to the liver there. But maybe I should have started with the mucous membranes, because over time essential oils are very hot. They’re solvents, basically. They’re super concentrated. And so, you know, you’re putting that right on your sensitive mucous membranes, and it’s burning. Yeah.

Ryn (40:35):
Yeah. And there’s this, there’s this big difference, right? Like if you were to just take one drop right on your tongue or whatever into your mouth, it would burn and irritate those tissues. And, you know, it’s not like it’s going to make you scream and cry or whatever, but it is going to cause some damage. And it’s definitely not a habit we want to get into, you know what I’m saying? But there’s a big difference between that and I have a peppermint spirit’s preparation. Which is a high alcohol tincture of peppermint leaf, and a couple of drops of peppermint essential oil is added into a few ounces of that tincture. And it does boost up the menthol-iness of the finished thing quite substantially. It makes it into something where just a drop or two… This preparation is often called peppermint spirits. So, just a drop or two of peppermint spirits is going to be an effective carminative, an effective after meal digestive agent, that kind of thing. And the goal of making this product with the essential oil addition is so that you can take just a drop or two, as opposed to a squirt or two of your normal peppermint tincture. So, there the dispersion, that’s why it has to be a high proof alcohol tincture here, is because you can’t just do this in – I don’t know – 20% alcohol. That much water in your substance there is not going to allow the essential oil to disperse.

Katja (41:59):

Ryn (42:00):
So, anyway, my point is just really in bringing all of this up was just to say yes, there are times when people prepare a food object or a tincture, a spirit’s preparation or something like this, and they do put essential oils in there. This is not actually a counter example to when Katja and I are always saying don’t go ingesting essential oils, because we always add undiluted, right?

Katja (42:23):
But water is not dilution.

Ryn (42:25):
Water is not dilution.

Katja (42:26):
Right. And some essential oils, I would say, are not safe even if they are diluted.

Ryn (42:31):
Oh, absolutely. Right.

Katja (42:32):
But famously peppermint oil is often used to make candy or other things. And so if all you ever say is never ingest essential oil, and you don’t think very critically about that. And then you just say well, but Altoids have essential oil in them.

Ryn (42:50):
It sounds like a counter example, but it isn’t.

Pennyroyal: Mentha pulegium & Myth

Katja (42:52):
Right. It’s really not. And so yes, the bottom line is always please think critically. Yes. Well, that is a good segue into pennyroyal.

Ryn (43:06):
Yeah. So, pennyroyal has a sketchy reputation in some circles.

Katja (43:11):
And it’s so unearned. I mean, we could start off by saying do not ingest essential oils for any purpose, especially not for the purposes of an abortion. If you require abortion services, please get those from a qualified medical practitioner. And pennyroyal will not only not do that job for you, it won’t do it as tea. It won’t do it as essential oil. But hey, people have actually killed themselves trying.

Ryn (43:39):
With the essential oil, not with the tea.

Katja (43:40):
Right. The tea will not kill you. But the tea also will not give you an herbal abortion. Pennyroyal teal, first off, it is wicked delicious. It is my favorite mint. It’s so delicious, I can’t even stand it. But then the second thing, when we think about pennyroyal tea, it’s a mover. It’s moving stuff. It can help with menstruation. So can ginger, right? When we move blood, when we stimulate the movement of blood, we’re clearing away tension. We’re clearing away stagnation. Such a huge part of menstrual stagnation is sedentism. So, if you are a person whose menstruation is like seven, eight days long. It starts off very crampy, very brown. It takes a while to really get flowing. And once it does, it’s kind of clotty. Those are all your body sending you a message saying that your uterus is starving. It’s not getting what it needs to do its job well. And so how do we fix that? We have to get stuff moving and listen, part of that is you’ve got to get your body moving, your lower body moving, not just your arms. Like you’ve got to walk. You’ve got to move your butt. But move your uterus. But another solution is, like a co-solution. This is not like an either-or situation. These are collaborating solutions.

Ryn (45:21):
Yeah. You get synergy essentially, right? Like we can talk about synergy between different constituents in a single herb or different herbs in a formula. We can also talk about synergy between your herbs and your movement, your exercise, your play.

Katja (45:35):
Your food, your everything.

Ryn (45:37):
Your sleep. All those elements that are the foundations of good health, yeah. And this, you know, as holistic herbalists, this is our approach. This is the way we’re always thinking about how these pieces fit together. Yeah.

Katja (45:49):
All right. So, back to our synergistic collaboration between movement and pennyroyal, is that pennyroyal really helps move the blood, relax the tension, and allow fresh nutrients, fresh oxygen to get to the uterus.

Ryn (46:07):
It’s the two of them together, right? So, it’s like other mints. It’s like peppermint is doing for your digestion and for your cognition. It’s just that pennyroyal kind of moves down. It’s increasing the movement and the circulation, and it’s releasing the tension. And those two are, you know, part of a whole there.

Katja (46:29):
So, peppermint is for brain fog, and pennyroyal is for uterus fog.

Ryn (46:33):
There you go.

Katja (46:37):
Yes. But so literally, if you feel like you’ve got uterus fog, right? It is heavy. It’s downward bearing. I mean, obviously blood is coming out, and so that’s a downward movement. But like lead uterus, you know, it’s just heavy. It feels like it’s moving down, and it’s weighted. All those kinds of crampy feelings, that is that stagnation. That is like you cross your legs and your leg falls asleep, because no blood is getting into it. If you sit all the time, your uterus will fall asleep, because no blood is getting into it. It will get numb. It will become unable to do its jobs well. And so pennyroyal is one of many herbs that can assist menstruation in this specific manner. Ginger is another. Mugwort is another. None of these will give you an abortion. They won’t do it. So, if you need one of those, qualified medical professional.

Ryn (47:41):
Yeah. And the thing here is because of this observable effect of pennyroyal or other plants to bring on sluggish menstruation.

Katja (47:53):
And because of all the mythology that any time any person ever wrote in a book that if it brings on the menses that was code for it’ll create an abortion. It was not code for that.

Ryn (48:03):
Yeah. This isn’t historically accurate. You know, when ancient authors wanted to write about abortion, they would just say so. And usually the procedures described involve physical insertion of sharp objects and things of that nature. You’re not going to look back into an ancient text or a hidden notebook and say this is the secret tea formula. If you just make your pennyroyal this way, it’ll take care of that pesky problems. It’s not the way this ever worked, but the myths spring up.

Katja (48:34):
Listen, the myths spring out of desperation. Because women ever have been desperate in these situations. And other people ever have been willing to take advantage of that desperation. Or and other people also ever have tried to help that desperation. It’s not always nefarious.

Ryn (48:53):
And there can be misinterpretation. Like oh, this tea, this herb was mentioned in that context. And they must have meant tea, because that’s the only way I’ve ever heard of people working with herbs. It’s easy for people to make these kinds of leaps, but it’s not justified, and it does lead to bad situations. So, like this story around pennyroyal led people to say oh wow, pennyroyal can do that. All right. I better find the strongest pennyroyal I can get. Check this essential oil out. This is good stuff. I’m going to drink that. And some people have died.

Katja (49:21):
Like literally died. Literally died. And that also has always been a part of the history of this problem. And so, I think that that’s why it’s so important to just be super honest and overt that this is not something that herbs can help with.

Ryn (49:40):
Not in the way of drink tea, and you’re done. And we have such better tools available to us now.

Katja (49:46):
Safer, more reliable. So, if that is something that is required, then we need to be fighting for accessibility to that and not expecting the plants to do that job for us.

Ryn (49:59):
Right. And the other side to this all is that it means that one cup of pennyroyal tea does not put a pregnancy at risk, right? Now, I wouldn’t want someone who was pregnant or looking to move there to drink like three quarts of strong pennyroyal every single day.

Katja (50:14):
That’s probably too relaxing.

Ryn (50:17):
Yeah. And it is true that this mint does have this compound in it called pulegone. And this is where some of the scientistic, scientific-looking sort of claims around this herb as an abortifacient come from. Oh, look at this chemical. If we take some uterine tissue in a Petri dish, and isolate that chemical, and drop it on it, we see a contractile effect. Okay, yeah.

Katja (50:41):
Yeah. But then when you isolate that chemical and consume it, it kills you. So, that’s bad.

Ryn (50:44):
Right, yeah. And it’s also just the amount of it that’s in there, and if we’re talking about a cup of tea and so on. And again, it can be possible if we’re talking about several quarts of very strong preparation a day. Not, I’m saying, to cause uterine contractions. But to maybe irritate your liver, cause some other kind of problems for your kidneys perhaps, right?

Katja (51:04):
None of which you want while you’re pregnant. All those are going to be just too much load on the body.

Ryn (51:11):
Yeah. Not helpful. So, have some pennyroyal now and again, because it’s enjoyable. And it does have a very distinctive expression of menthol to it.

Katja (51:21):
It is quite delicious. You don’t even taste the menthol. It’s great.

Ryn (51:28):
That cuts both ways. But you know, let’s not make either fear mongering or false promises about what this herb can do.

Moving Stagnation & Digestion

Katja (51:40):
Right. Just right in the middle. And so if you are a person with that stagnation that is tied to sedentism. And listen, if you live a sedentary lifestyle, that doesn’t make you a bad person. That makes you a person in this time. It is most common right now for people to live a sedentary lifestyle, because our culture kind of pushes us – not kind of – entirely pushes us in that direction. So, this does not make you bad. But it does cause problems for the body that we need to compensate for. And we need to move more, and we need to get the blood moving. And pennyroyal can help with that. Ginger can help with that. Mugwort can help with that. So, if you feel uncomfortable about pennyroyal, it’s not the only herb who can do this job. Angelica can do this. Really any of the warming, circulatory stimulating herbs can do this. So, you could pick any of them. It does not have to be pennyroyal, but this is something that pennyroyal can do.

Ryn (52:43):
Yeah. So again, we’d encourage you to test out the different mints to do a side-by-side comparison. If you get spearmint, peppermint, and pennyroyal, and line them up, and have a little mint flight.

Katja (52:57):
Some places you can get your hands on chocolate mint and water mint and mountain mint. Those are ones that you often have to sort of either find or get from a local farm or something like that. Those are not as easy to find in commerce.

Ryn (53:11):
Apple mint. That one has a cool Latin name. It’s like suaveolens, Mentha suaveolens. This is very cool.

Katja (53:19):
Yeah. So anyway, the more mints you can get together and then taste them, you can sort of order them in context of whatever you want. Which one’s hot order. Order them in terms of heat. Or order them in terms of menthol. Or order them in terms of whatever.

Ryn (53:38):
And I encourage also to try combining mints, minty mints, menthol mints with other members of the Lamiaceae. So, a little peppermint, a little spearmint, and some thyme is surprisingly good actually. Or sage and mint together, I quite like that. Both as tea and also for a while we had a nice bottle on the table as a digestive. So, essentially, there’s always either a bottle of bitters, or a carminative combo, or some kind of formula sitting right on the table where we eat together, so that we don’t forget to take it. And there was a time when we had sage and a mint tincture on there, the two of them mixed together. It was really kind of delightful. I’m pretty sure that was not my idea to combine them.

Katja (54:29):
No. I think maybe that was gifted to us. That’s what I think. I really like it when it is just sage. That one, just a nice strong sage tincture or elixir, for me that’s really tasty. If we’re getting really simple about bitters, that’s a really tasty one from the mint family. But do it. Try it. Try some mint in with your sage as a bitter. And listen, you don’t have to make huge batches of tinctures to try this stuff. You could put it together just like two tablespoons. A tablespoon of sage and a tablespoon of peppermint tincture. Put them together, see what you think. And if you hate it, then you haven’t wasted stuff.

Ryn (55:15):
Yeah. And one of my longstanding favorites is to combine some peppermint tincture with some cayenne tincture somewhere around… I like it around like a one to six, one part to six parts combo. But you can do like a one to 10 or something like this or even less.

Katja (55:31):
So, that’s more peppermint and less cayenne.

Ryn (55:34):
Less cayenne. Yeah, because the cayenne is so potent. But you get the cold sensing nerve activation from the menthol, and the heat sensing nerve activation from the capsaicin at the same time. And it’s very weird. But it’s like herbal icy hot, you know? You can put it on your tongue. You can rub it onto your injuries. I mean, it’s very effective.

Katja (55:51):
Yeah. Very stimulating all the way around.

Ryn (55:57):
Cool. Well, you may have other combinations or preparation ideas that you like, and we’re always happy to hear from our listeners. So, you can always reach out to us. And of course you can find us at our online herb school. That’s online.commonwealthherbs.com. And remember, for the entire month of December, 20% off everything.

Katja (56:18):

Ryn (56:19):
Just don’t forget to put in the coupon code at checkout: December2022.

Katja (56:24):
We have helpfully put the coupon code at the top of the page at online.commonwealthherbs.com, so you don’t even have to remember it or write it down. It’s right there for you.

Ryn (56:36):
Yeah. So, we’ll see you in the discussion threads and the Q&A sessions soon.

Katja (56:43):
And the community space and everything, yeah.

Ryn (56:46):
Until then, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. Drink some tea.

Katja (56:50):
But maybe not peppermint.

Ryn (56:52):
Maybe it’s pennyroyal this time after all.

Katja (56:54):
Mmm, tasty.

Ryn (56:56):
See you later everybody.

Katja (56:58):
Bye bye.


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