What Are the Benefits of Spearmint?
Story at-a-glance –
- Spearmint is a perennial herb that grows between 12 and 36 inches tall, with spiky flowers and leaves that are pointed at the tips just like spears, hence its name
- Its leaves, stems and flowers have been traditionally used for herbal remedies. The active compounds in spearmint include carvone, rosmarinic acid, limonene and menthol
- Spearmint provides a variety of medicinal properties, including antimicrobial, antioxidant, antiemetic, antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic, restorative, stimulant and antiseptic properties
Many personal hygiene products like toothpaste, mouthwash and soap owe their fresh scent and cooling sensation to spearmint, one of the most popular and commonly used herbs from the mint family.1 In addition to its rejuvenating scent, this herb has a number of health benefits, too. Read on to discover what the benefits of spearmint are, how it’s used, and how you can grow and store it at home.
Also known as brown mint, garden mint, lady’s mint and sage of Bethlehem,2 spearmint (Mentha spicata) is a perennial herb that’s native to northern England, but now grows in various countries, including the U.S., Russia, Germany, China and Australia.3,4 The spearmint plant can grow between 12 to 36 inches in height, with spiky flowers and leaves that are pointed at the tips, just like spears, hence its name.5
The leaves, stems and flowers of the spearmint plant have been traditionally used for herbal remedies. You can consume fresh spearmint leaves to directly obtain its benefits or brew them to make tea. You can also use the leaves and flowers to extract spearmint essential oil. The active compounds in spearmint include carvone, rosmarinic acid, and flavones and flavanones like limonene and menthol.6,7
According to the “Handbook of Herbs and Spices,” spearmint provides a variety of medicinal properties, including antiemetic, antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic, restorative, stimulant and antiseptic properties, among others.8 Spearmint may also help:
1. Fight against free radicals — Studies show that the compounds rosmarinic acid, carvone, limonene and menthol found in spearmint have antioxidant properties,9,10 which may help reduce your risk for oxidative damage that’s linked to chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.11
2. Ease hormone imbalances — A study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research found that spearmint tea may help lower elevated androgen levels in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).12
3. Inhibit unwanted hair growth in women with PCOS — Spearmint’s antiandrogenic property helps inhibit PCOS-related hirsutism,13 a condition characterized by abnormal hair growth in body parts where hair doesn’t normally grow for women, like the upper lip, chin, chest, stomach and back.14
4. Improve memory — According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, spearmint extract may help improve the cognitive health of individuals with age-associated memory impairment (AAMI) because of its polyphenol content.15
5. Eliminate bad breath — Spearmint not only helps promote fresh breath with its minty scent, but it also has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that may help keep oral bacteria from causing bad breath.16
6. Lower the risk for foodborne illnesses — A study published in the Roumanian Archives of Microbiology and Immunology found that the antimicrobial activity of spearmint helps inhibit fungal species involved in food poisoning and food decay.17
7. Lower blood sugar levels — Animal-based studies have found that repeated oral administration of spearmint extract may help reduce blood sugar levels in diabetic rats, as it has hypoglycemic and hypocholesterolemic properties.18,19
8. Promote relaxation — According to a study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, spearmint extract may help reduce anxiety, as it has sedative and hypnotic effects.20 Another study shows that the menthol in spearmint may help alleviate stress by interacting with the GABA receptors, the neurotransmitters responsible for reducing nerve activity.21
9. Relieve symptoms of knee osteoarthritis — In a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, individuals with medically diagnosed knee osteoarthritis who consumed spearmint tea twice daily for 16 weeks showed significant improvement in stiffness and physical disability scores. Results show that the ability of spearmint to help manage osteoarthritis symptoms is caused by its high rosmarinic acid content.22
10. Reduce blood pressure — A 2013 study published in the journal Fitoterpia found that (-)-carvone, a monoterpene ketone found in spearmint, may help lower blood pressure levels by exhibiting calcium channel blocker-like actions.23
11. Clear up stuffy nose — Menthol may help improve breathing for individuals with nasal congestion, as it stimulates the cold receptors and creates a cooling sensation. This results in a subjective feeling of a clear nasal passage.24
12. Ease nausea and vomiting — According to a study, spearmint oil has antiemetic activity, which may help reduce the intensity and frequency of nausea and vomiting in the first 24 hours after it was used.25
Spearmint’s uses go beyond hygiene products and therapeutic applications, as it’s also used in:
- Food and beverages — Spearmint leaf has a mildly sweet taste that can add flavor to various dishes or complement savory foods. It’s often found in sauces, salads, meats and vegetables.26,27 Some beverages are also infused with spearmint for a refreshing taste. This herb is also commonly used in chewing gum, candies, jams and jellies. However, it’s best to avoid eating these sugary foods, as they can cause a number of health problems.28
- Fragrance — The essential oil of spearmint adds an herbaceous-green note to perfumes. It’s often blended with other herbal oils such as lavender or jasmine.29
- Insect and rodent repellent — The spearmint plant is traditionally used in homes as a strewing herb and scattered in granaries to keep rats and mice off the grains. Its essential oil may also help repel different mosquito strains.30
Just like spearmint, peppermint is used in culinary and cosmeceutical applications for its flavoring and fragrance properties. It also offers a number of health benefits, including antimicrobial, antiviral, antioxidant and antitumor properties.31 Spearmint and peppermint are often confused for each other because of their similarities, but there are key differences that separate these two.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is actually a hybrid of spearmint and watermint. It contains a higher concentration of menthol, its primary active compound. This accounts for its strong flavor, scent and cooling sensation. Spearmint, on the other hand, has a more delicate flavor and fragrance, which it gets from its primary active compound, carvone.32
One of the most popular ways to enjoy the benefits of spearmint is by brewing its leaves in hot water to make spearmint tea. Fresh spearmint leaves are ideal for this beverage since they taste better,33 although dry spearmint leaves in teabags are also available in grocery stores.
Studies have shown that drinking spearmint tea may help decrease inflammation,34 reduce symptoms of PCOS 35 and enhance memory,36 among other advantages. To learn more about the benefits of this beverage, read the article, “Soothe Your Senses With Spearmint Tea.”
Spearmint essential oil is extracted from the spearmint leaves and flowering tops through the process of steam distillation. It has a pale yellow or pale olive color, with a very warm, slightly herbaceous scent. Spearmint oil is used in aromatherapy to help relieve various health issues, including fatigue, headaches and stress.37 Studies have shown that it also provides antioxidant, antimicrobial,38 antiseptic and preservative properties.39
Spearmint oil is used as an ingredient in food, fragrance and dental care products. When diluted, you can apply it onto your skin or add it to your bath water. For more information about the uses and benefits of spearmint essential oil, check out the article, “Spearmint Oil: The Gentler Mint Oil.”
The spearmint plant is easy to grow, even for beginners. In fact, when it comes to growing any kind of mint plant, the main concern is keeping it from growing out of control.40 Spearmint grows aggressively and, if not properly tended to, it can become invasive. If you want to add this herb to your culinary garden, here are some tips to help you grow and care for it:41
- Soil — Spearmint grows best in rich soil with a pH level of 6.5 to 7.0. To limit its growth, plant it in an enclosed garden or a pot. Make sure its container is either hanging above or sunk into the ground to keep it from spreading to areas where it doesn’t belong.
- Light — Spearmint prefers partial shade, although it can grow in full sunlight as long as you water it frequently.
- Water — Make sure your spearmint plant always has moist soil, but avoid watering it too much, as it cannot withstand soggy soil.
- Temperature and humidity — Spearmint can handle heat best among all mint plants. It can also grow in Zone 11, or locations where the average annual extreme minimum temperature is above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.42 If you’re growing spearmint indoors, provide it with humidity by misting it between waterings.
- Harvesting — You can start harvesting spearmint leaves once the plant has multiple stems that are 6 to 8 inches long. Snip sprigs as needed, but be sure not to harvest more than one-third of the plant to keep it from weakening and dying.
As mentioned earlier, spearmint leaves are best used when they’re fresh. However, if you’ve sheared your spearmint plant to avoid overgrowth, then it’s likely that you have excess spearmint sprigs at hand to deal with. Here’s how to store them for later use:43,44
- Wrap the leaves in a damp paper towel and place them inside a sealable bag.
- Close the bag, but do not seal it tightly so that air can still circulate the leaves and keep them from rotting.
- Put the bag of spearmint leaves in the refrigerator, where they should stay fresh for up to four days.
You can also dry the spearmint leaves by warming them in the oven at 180 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours or until they dry completely.45 Put the dried leaves in an airtight glass container and place the container in a cool, dry place. You can store dried spearmint leaves for about nine to 12 months.46
Spearmint is generally considered safe to consume in moderate amounts. However, individuals with kidney or liver disorder are not advised to consume tea made from this herb, as it can exacerbate kidney and liver damage. Pregnant women should also exercise caution when drinking spearmint tea, as excessive amounts can cause damage to the uterus.47
If you’re planning to use the essential oil of spearmint, be sure to dilute it in a carrier oil first. Applying it directly on your skin without a carrier oil can cause skin irritation. You should also avoid ingesting spearmint essential oil without the advice of your physician or an expert aromatherapy practitioner.
Q: What can I do with spearmint leaves?
A. Spearmint leaves can be used as an ingredient and for garnishing sauces, salads, meats, vegetables and other dishes. They can also be added to beverages for a refreshing, mint-infused drink.48,49 Fresh spearmint leaves can be steeped in hot water to make tea50 or steam-distilled together with the spearmint flowers to make an essential oil.51
Q: What is spearmint good for?
A. Spearmint provides a variety of medicinal properties, such antiemetic, antispasmodic, antimicrobial, carminative, diuretic, restorative, stimulant and antiseptic.52 Moreover, studies have shown that this herb may help fight free radical damage,53 reduce symptoms of PCOS54 and knee osteoarthritis,55 relieve stress,56 lower blood sugar57 and blood pressure levels,58 improve cognitive function,59 and ease nausea and vomiting.60
Q: Is spearmint good for reducing unwanted hair growth?
A. Spearmint may help reduce abnormal hair growth in women with PCOS, as it has antiandrogenic properties.61
Q: Does spearmint help you sleep?
A. According to a study, spearmint may help induce sleep, as it exhibits anxiolytic properties and hypnotic effects, which may be caused by its phenolic compounds.62
Sources and References
- 1, 32 Reader’s Digest, What’s the Difference Between Peppermint and Spearmint?
- 2, 47 WebMD, Spearmint
- 3, 8, 52 Handbook of Herbs and Spices 2006, Vol 3. Pages 502-519
- 4 “The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine,” p.1596, 2001
- 5 “Natural Food Flavors and Colorants,” p.334-336, 2011
- 6, 9, 53 Molecules. 2016 Aug 3;21(8).
- 7 Iran J Pharm Res. 2017 Winter; 16(Suppl): 75–82.
- 10 Journal of Liquid Chromatography & Related Technologies. 2006;29(10):1465-1475
- 11 Eur J Med Chem. 2015 Jun 5;97:55-74.
- 12, 13, 35, 54, 61 Phytother Res. 2010 Feb;24(2):186-8.
- 14 WebMD, Hirsutism
- 15, 36, 59 J Altern Complement Med. 2018 Jan;24(1):37-47.
- 16 Journal of Essential Oil Research. 2000;12(5):639-649.
- 17 Roum Arch Microbiol Immunol. 2010 Oct-Dec;69(4):224-30.
- 18 Iran J Pharm Res. 2017 Winter;16(Suppl):75-82.
- 19, 57 Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2018;18(6):581-589.
- 20, 62 Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018 Aug 7;2018:5921514.
- 21, 56 Eur J Pharmacol. 2008 Aug 20;590(1-3):120-6.
- 22, 55 J Med Food. 2014 Dec 1; 17(12): 1361–1367.
- 23, 58 Fitoterapia. 2013 Mar;85:20-4.
- 24 Am J Rhinol. 2008 Jul-Aug;22(4):402-5.
- 25, 60 Ecancermedicalscience. 2013;7:290.
- 26, 48 SFGate, Mint Plants Used for Cooking
- 27, 49 Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Spearmint”
- 28, 30 “The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices,” p.901-904, October 4, 2016
- 29 “Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin,” p.423, January 1, 1994
- 31 Phytother Res. 2006 Aug;20(8):619-33.
- 33, 50 Organic Facts, “10 Amazing Benefits of Spearmint Tea”
- 34 J Med Food. 2014 Dec;17(12):1361-7.
- 37, 51 “Aromatherapy Science: A Guide for Healthcare Professionals,” p.312, November 2005
- 38 Journal of Essential Oil Research, February 2010;22(1):78
- 39 Journal of Microbiology Research, 2011;1(1):1-4
- 40 The Kitchn, Everything You Need to Know About Growing Mint
- 41 The Spruce, Mint Plant Profile
- 42 The Spruce, USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Maps
- 43, 46 “The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods,” p.493, 2005
- 44 Leaf, The Best Way to Store Fresh Mint Leaves
- 45 The Spruce Eats January 2, 2019