History of the Mint Plant
From its mythological origins to its ubiquitous use in everything from cocktails, to toothpastes, to desserts, the menthe plant has been used by people for centuries. Easy to grow, sometimes invasive, but always fragrant, mint is the jack-of-all-trades of the magickal herb world.
Mint has a really cool origin story. According to Greek mythology, there lived a Naiad, a type of water nymph, who was the daughter of Cocytus the river god. This nymph’s name was, Minthe, and she was extremely beautiful. She resided near the river that flowed through the underworld and at some point caught Hades’ (the god of the underworld) eye.
One version of the story says that Minthe and Hades became lovers and when Persephone found out her husband had a relationship with Minthe, she turned the nymph into a mint plant. Another version states that Persephone caught Minthe trying to seduce Hades, and turned her into mint before he could be unfaithful. Either way, the beautiful naiad was turned into a mint plant, growing fragrant and beautiful near the river.
Factually, it is believed that mint originated from the Mediterranean region and was brought to England by the Romans. In a work published in 1440 by John Gardiner (a pseudonym) called Feate of Gardening, mint was referred to as ‘myntys‘. It is believed to have been brought to North America by the Puritans settlers in New England and was recorded as one of the plants in the colony in the 17th century.
In the Bible, mint is mentioned as one of the herbs and spices used to pay tithes by the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus tells them, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices-mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters…”. This tells us that mint (in this case probably horse mint) was an herb of value in ancient Jerusalem.1
Different Varieties of Mint
Mint is an extremely varied herb. There are apparently over 600 crossbreeds of the menthe plant. The two most popular are Mentha piperita and Menthe spicata, peppermint and spearmint. There are also popular varieties such as apple mint, pineapple mint, chocolate mint, and even licorice mint. There are other less known mints, such as horse mint, and other plants such as pennyroyal, are actually members of the mint family.
Historical Uses for Mint
Mint’s most famous medicinal use centers around digestion and stomach issues, but it was used to help with many other issues. English herbalist John Gerard wrote that “it is good against watering eyes and all manner of breakouts on the head and sores”, as well as wasp and bee stings. He is also quoted as saying that mint’s aroma “rejoice the heart of man”. It was used in herbal baths to “comfort and strengthen the nerves and sinews”, and it was also used to treat hiccups and flatulence.
It seems that mint has been used as a tooth whitening and mouth freshening herb for centuries. As early as the 13th century, written records of toothpaste recipes have been found, although the practice is most definitely much older. Plucking a mint leaf off the plant and chewing it was an ancient method of achieving fresh breath.
Ancient Romans used mint to scent their arms and garnish their table settings, and the Greeks (to tie into the Minthe & Persephone myth) used mint during funeral rites to mask the scents associated with death. It was also an ingredient in kykeon, a drink associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries, a ritual of death and rebirth experienced by initiates in ancient Greece.
According to this source there is another myth regarding mint:
Two strangers were visiting a village but were greeted with serious attitude. The villagers didn’t welcome them or offer them food or a place to stay. Finally, an old couple in the village invited the strangers in. Philemon and Baucus offered to feed the strangers. Before the meal, the couple rubbed down their table with mint to give it a clean and fresh scent. After receiving such hospitality, the strangers revealed themselves to be Zeus and Hermes. Zeus and Hermes turned the couple’s home into a temple and mint became a symbol of hospitality as a result.Natural Society.com, The Mythology of Mint: A Healing Herb
Interesting to think about how most hotels offer “hospitality mints”!
In the culinary world, mint is just as versatile. Romans flavored sauces, wines, and meats with mint. Spearmint was added to milk to lengthen the shelf-life before refrigeration. Mint is used to make jellies and sauces (usually spearmint), and during the American Revolution spearmint is said to have been an important crop, as it was untaxed and used by colonists to make tea.2
Peppermint is more often used to flavor teas, candies, and desserts. Mint and chocolate are often combined, and popular candies, like candy canes, are known for their strong peppermint flavor. Peppermint tea is commonly used to help in digestion, but also as a pick-me-up sort of tea.
Magickal Properties of Mint
As I mentioned, mint is a jack-of-all-trades kind of herb. Taking into consideration its many uses and correspondences, it can be used in several different types of magick, such as:
- bringing a ‘fresh’ approach or attitude
- attracting money (although the etymology is different, ‘mint’ is closely associated with mints where money is produced)
- Prophetic dreams
- Heighten awareness and mental clarity
- Success and luck
- Personal strength
- Cleans and purify
- Verbal communication (presentations, discussions, performances)
- Ancestor/work relating to the underworld/death
Taking these properties into account, you can do almost any kind of spellwork with mint. Mint serves to strengthen, heighten, and clarify intentions. You can carry fresh mint leaves to attract prosperity, drink peppermint tea to awaken and clarify your mind, and keep it around your house for protection. Use peppermint essential oil (with a carrier oil) on your temples to enhance awareness and physic energies, or use it in a diffuser to cleanse a space. With its bright leaves, distinctive aroma, easily attainable status, mint is an essential in the herbal witch’s cabinet.
The easiest way to connect with the energetic properties of mint is to brew a cup of peppermint tea, however I feel as thought that would be cheating…so I’ve provided a really nice recipe that should help you experience how mint can mix with other unexpected flavors to bring out unique tastes.