If you’ve ever chewed spearmint gum or taking a whiff of a spearmint plant, you’re already familiar with the refreshing qualities of this potent green herb. Both its smell and taste are pleasantly uplifting. It’s an herb that is very similar to peppermint, yet distinctly different at the same time.
Both spearmint leaves and oil are used to create medicinal products. In fact, spearmint oil is known for its ability to decrease inflammation, destroy bacteria and may even fight off cancer cells when used internally.
Used topically, menthol-rich spearmint can help to relieve localized muscle and nerve pain, and even arthritis. Other potential spearmint benefits and uses include relief from a headache, sore throat, toothache and cramps.
What Is Spearmint?
Spearmint or Mentha spicata is an aromatic herb commonly used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Spearmint, which gets its name from its spear-shaped leaves, belongs to the mint family (Lamiaceae).
The spearmint plant is a perennial which can grow and spread quite aggressively if given the chance. It’s native to Europe and Asia.
The leaves of this herb can often be found in dried or fresh form as a flavorful addition to beverages, soups, salads, sauces, fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and more.
Its essential oil is commonly used as a flavoring for toothpaste, mouthwash, lip balm, jellies, candies. It’s also used to scent cosmetic and home products such as lotions and candles.
Spearmint tea is a common way to consume this pleasant-tasting herb, and it’s a great, easy way to reap its potential benefits. You can find spearmint tea in bag form or you can buy it as a loose herb.
If you opt for the loose herb, you simply combine one teaspoon of the dried leaves with one cup of boiled water. Let it steep for about five minutes, strain and enjoy. You can drink spearmint tea hot or iced.
You can also add spearmint to black, green or white tea to add a minty flavor. Similarly, it can be combined with other loose herbs that you enjoy to make a custom tea blend with a flavor profile or medicinal benefits in mind.
It’s always a good idea to buy certified organic versions of herbal tea to avoid unwanted pesticides.
In small amounts, herbs can be very small but mighty when it comes to nutrition content.
Two tablespoons of fresh spearmint contain about:
- 4.9 calories
- 0.9 grams carbohydrates
- 0.8 grams fiber
- 0 grams fat
- 0.4 grams protein
- 456 international units vitamin A (9 percent DV)
- 1.3 milligrams iron (7 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligrams manganese (6 percent DV)
- 11.8 micrograms folate (3 percent DV)
- 1.5 milligrams vitamin C (2 percent DV)
- 22.4 milligrams calcium (2 percent DV)
- 7.1 milligrams magnesium (2 percent DV)
Spearmint vs. Peppermint
These two herbs definitely have a lot of similarities, but they have some differences too:
- Peppermint and spearmint are two varieties of mint plants that belong to the same plant family (Lamiaceae).
- Both have a minty flavor and scent, but spearmint is slightly sweeter while peppermint is more cooling or refreshing.
- You’ll find both commonly used in candies, gums, toothpastes, and mouthwashes.
- You can use both herbs fresh or dried to create a tea.
- Both herbs are used for pain relief, stress reduction, memory improvement and digestive complaints.
- Both of these mint varieties contain an active compound known as menthol, but peppermint contains more menthol (which is why it’s more cooling).
- Peppermint and spearmint also both contain carvone, but spearmint contains more than peppermint (which is why spearmint has a sweeter flavor).
- For culinary use, peppermint is especially great in sweet dishes and pairs very well with chocolate. Spearmint is more often used in savory dishes.
Spearmint is taken by mouth or used topically for a number of health concerns including:
1. Improves Digestive Upset and Flatulence
One of the active components of spearmint is carvone. Research shows that carvone has an antispasmodic effect in the intestines.
Spearmint’s relaxing effects on the digestive tract can be beneficial for common complaints like upset stomach and flatulence.
2. Boosts Memory
Some research points towards spearmint extract, rich in polyphenols like rosmarinic acid, benefiting memory, especially in older adults.
A 2018 double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine took at look at how supplementation with Mentha spicata extract may benefit cognitive performance as well as mood and sleep for people with age-associated memory impairment (AAMI).
Ninety subjects with AAMI were randomly assigned to taking 900, 600 or 0 milligrams per day of Mentha spicata extract for 90 days. The study results reveal that subjects who took 900 milligrams per day of the herbal extract experienced a 15 percent improvement in memory while also seeing improvements in their ability to fall asleep.
Overall, the study concludes that spearmint extract may be a “beneficial nutritional intervention for cognitive health in older subjects with AAMI.”
3. Helps Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting are common side effects of chemotherapy. A 2013 a randomized, double-blind clinical trial study reveals how essential oils of spearmint and peppermint may help with these symptoms.
This study reveals that application of these essential oils resulted in a decrease in the frequency and intensity of nausea and vomiting following chemotherapy treatment.
In addition to no adverse side effects being reported, the researchers also point out how the use of essential oils are very cost effective compared to traditional treatment options for chemotherapy side effects.
Related: 6 Essential Oils for Nausea
4. Anti-Tumor Properties
In vitro research published in 2018 in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine highlights the ability of spearmint oil (which has at least 44 unique compounds) to have antiproliferative effects against three human tumor cell lines.
Another in vitro study in 2014 showed similar anti-cancer properties of spearmint as well as other members of the mint plant family against four cancer cell lines (COLO-205, MCF-7, NCI-H322 and THP-1).
5. Fights Bacteria and Fungi
Looking for a great natural mouthwash or toothpaste? If spearmint oil is included, you’ll be getting some beneficial antibacterial properties.
Research has shown that Mentha spicata essential oil has potent antimicrobial abilities, which means it can help prevent the spread of bacteria, fungi and even some viruses.
Spearmint essential oil has also been shown to fight food-borne pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella typhimurium and Escherichia coli.
6. Hormonal Balance and Reduction of Hirsutism
Hirsutism is a health problem for women in which hair grows excessively where it shouldn’t (such as on the jaw line and neck), and it also causes male pattern baldness. This condition is typically caused by an increase in male hormones called androgens, such as testosterone.
A small scientific review published in 2017 reveals that spearmint tea may help to decrease androgenic hormones for female patients with hirsutism.
Judging from the studies to date, the length of spearmint consumption should likely be longer (more than 30 days) and study follow-up time should be lengthened as well.
7. Generally Calming (and Possible Sleep Aid)
Mentha spicata tea is traditionally used to treat stress and insomnia. Animal research demonstrates how extracts of spearmint appear to have anxiety-reducing, sedative and hypnotic effects.
Research also shows that due to its menthol content, spearmint may encourage relaxation by acting on GABA receptors.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps send messages between the brain and nervous system. It is said to have a natural calming effect that helps to decrease feelings of of anxiety by reducing neuronal excitability.
Side Effects and Drug Interactions
When consumed in amounts commonly found in food, spearmint is safe for most people. When taken as a medicinal substance or applied topically to the skin, it is also generally considered safe when used appropriately.
If you are pregnant, it’s important to know that excessive use of this herb in tea or any other form such as a spearmint supplement may result in damage to the uterus. Therefore, it is recommended to avoid large amounts of this herb during pregnancy.
In large doses, spearmint may harm the liver or kidneys. If you already have liver or kidney disease, it’s important to know that this herb may increase liver or kidney damage, especially in large quantities. Even spearmint tea side effects may include liver and/or kidney damage if the tea is drank in excess.
For this reason, it’s not advised to take large quantities, such as in the form of a spearmint supplement, along with drugs that pose a risk of damaging the liver including acetaminophen (Tylenol and others), amiodarone (Cordarone), carbamazepine (Tegretol), isoniazid (INH), methotrexate (Rheumatrex), methyldopa (Aldomet), fluconazole (Diflucan) and many others.
It should also not be taken along with natural products that may harm liver health including niacin, DHEA, comfrey, chaparral, pennyroyal oil, red yeast rice and others.
It’s also not recommended to take it along with sedative medications (CNS depressants) since a chemical in the herb is also known to cause drowsiness or sleepiness. Sedative medications include clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), phenobarbital (Donnatal), zolpidem (Ambien) and others.
Similarly taking this herb along with other natural remedies that can induce sleepiness is not recommended. Other natural products known for causing drowsiness include 5-HTP, calamus, California poppy, catnip, hops, Jamaican dogwood, kava, St. John’s wort, skullcap, valerian, yerba mansa, and others.
- Spearmint is an herb that belongs to the mint (Lamiaceae) family along with peppermint.
- Which is better for you spearmint or peppermint? If you’re comparing, spearmint vs peppermint, the medicinal qualities are similar so it’s hard to say that one is necessarily better than the other. In terms of culinary use, peppermint is typically used more in deserts while spearmint is added to savory dishes most often.
- Spearmint uses are wide ranging including culinary, medicinal and cosmetic.
- Potential benefits of this herb include stress reduction, improvements in memory and sleep, help for digestive complaints, and antimicrobial properties.
- Spearmint also appears to have anti-cancer properties based on research to date.
- You can used fresh or dried leaves in food and drink, and also to create spearmint tea.
- Always look for spearmint essential oil that is 100 percent pure, organic and therapeutic grade to maximize potential benefits. It’s also a good idea opt for organic versions of this herb dried, fresh or in tea form.