More than 3000 names have been published under the genus of plants known as Mentha. As of December 2020, Plants of the World Online recognised 34 species including forest mint, pineapple mint, New Zealand mint, spearmint (garden mint). One of the oldest medical texts in the world, the ancient Egyptian Ebers Papyrus from 1550 BC, records mint as a tool for aiding digestion and relieving flatulence. In the Bible it is mentioned that mint was used to pay tithes along with other valuable spices like anise and cumin (Matthew 23:23). In ancient Athens mint was used to scent the body, and in the 14th Century it was used for removing stains from teeth and for relieving pain in the teeth, gums and throat.
Menthol is the chemical inside all mint plants that triggers the ‘coldness receptors’ in our skin and mouth, creating the cooling sensation we know so well. How this particular chemical triggers this particular receptor is still not well understood. It is thought to exist because of the evolutionary advantage given by reducing the chance that the plant will be eaten (in the same way capsaicin functions in chillies).
Mint contains vitamin C vitamin A, manganese, iron and antioxidant properties. The leaves, tea and oil function as topical analgesics (meaning they relieve pain when applied directly to the body) and relaxe the muscles of the stomach when consumed to help food pass through the body. With antiviral, antibacterial and pain relieving qualities mint tea is often given to help with colds and flus. Mint can also help to provide relief from menstrual pain and headaches.