Spearmint, or Mentha spicata is a pleasant-smelling species of mint found in health-food products, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and cosmetics. It is often used in medicine for its claimed therapeutic properties.
Spearmint contains vitamins, antioxidants, and vital nutrients. Its aroma is very similar to that of peppermint. It contains less menthol than peppermint, but it is rich in limonene, dihydrocarvone, and cineol. It has a sweeter taste than peppermint.
Like other herbs of the mint family, spearmint has a square-shaped stem. Its leaves are around 5 centimeters to 9 centimeters long and 1.5 centimeters to 3 centimeters wide. The tips of the leaves are pointed, like spears, hence its name.
Many health benefits have been attributed to spearmint, whether consumed fresh or used as an essential oil.
It is also applied topically, to the skin, to help reduce swelling due to nerve or muscle pain.
A report published in the journal Food Chemistry indicates that spearmint extract has “good total phenolic and flavonoid contents” and “excellent antioxidant activity.”
Spearmint essential oil has antifungal properties, according to a study presented at the 2011 International Conference on Environmental and Agriculture Engineering.
Spearmint may help to relieve symptoms of digestive problems, by relaxing the stomach muscles, reducing symptoms of nausea, and other digestive problems.
Research published in Phytotherapy Research suggests that drinking two cups of spearmint tea a day, for 5 days could reduce the level of androgens in women with hirsutism. A second, 30-day study, of 41 women with polycystic ovary syndrome, produced similar results.
Hirsutism in women causes hair to grow on the face, breasts, and stomach. It can lead to a great deal of distress. The hair grows because of excessively high levels of the “male” androgen hormones.
Spearmint and rosemary extracts have recently been found to improve memory. Prof. Susan Farr, from Saint Louis University School of Medicine, has suggested that if antioxidants from spearmint and rosemary are made into an enhanced extract, they may help to improve learning and memory. This could help with age-related cognitive decline.
Other health conditions that spearmint may be effective at treating include:
Some research has suggested that four cups of spearmint tea a day has a negative effect on the male libido, but a rodent study has indicated that this is not true.
The nutritional value of 100 grams of fresh spearmint is:
- Energy – 44 kilocalories
- Carbohydrates – 8.41 grams
- Fat – 0.73 grams
- Protein – 3.29 grams
- Iron – 11.87 milligrams
- Manganese – 1.118 milligrams
- Copper – 0.240 milligrams
- Potassium – 458 milligrams
- Riboflavin – 0.175 milligrams
- Pyridoxine – 0.158 milligrams
- Vitamin C – 13.3 milligrams
- Cholesterol – 0 milligrams
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) – 0.061 milligrams
- Vitamin B6 – 0.041 milligrams
- Folate (vitamin B9) – 3 μg
- Vitamin C – 4.6 milligrams
Spearmint essential oils have antifungal and antioxidant properties. They can be used in natural food preservation and as an insecticide.
Unlike fresh spearmint, spearmint essential oil is not edible. Before use, it must be diluted with a carrier oil. It can irritate if it comes into contact with the skin or the eyes.
Fresh spearmint leaves contain a much lower level of menthol than other mint species, which makes it less pungent and more suited to health drinks and cooking.
Some serving suggestions are:
- Chopping the leaves and sprinkling it onto food
- Using the leaves to make mint sauce
- Preparing spearmint tea.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists spearmint as “generally recognized as safe for their intended use.”
People with a mint allergy may experience a mild reaction, including skin rash, throat irritation, headache, or dizziness.