CALAMINT -"LET NO WOMAN BE TOO BUSY WITH IT": HISTORY, HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF CALAMINT
Calamint gets its name from the Greek kala or kalos meaning good; it is a ‘good’ mint because it was thought to have the power to drive away venomous beasts and especially the king of the serpents, the dreaded basilisk. (Remember Harry Potter?) It is a member of the mint or Labiateae or Lamiaceae family of plants and is closely related to both catnip and ground ivy and with horsemint, peppermint, purple, yellow and white dead nettles, marsh woundwort, the teak tree, marjoram, basil, Holy basil, oregano, savory, thyme, lavender, lemon balm, Scarlet bee balm as well as bugle, motherwort, self-heal, the chaste tree, Jupiter’s sage, wall germander, Fragrant premna and hyssop to name just some of its relatives.
It is also known as
, Mountain Balm or Mountain Mint and Basil Thyme, and can be used fresh or dried- leaves and flowering tops in a calming tisane. It can grow to around a foot high and can be found on mountains, in hedgerows – virtually anywhere, although its light purple flowers are insignificant. These bloom around July and August and the leaves and are best collected at the end of July or just before, when they are at their peak. This tisane will help relieve flatulence and stomach problems. A conserve of the flowering tops was made and given for hysterical conditions. Mill Mountain
“Government and virtues. It is an herb of Mercury, and a strong one too, therefore excellent good in all afflictions of the brain; the decoction of the herb, being drunk, bringeth down women's courses, and provoketh urine; it is profitable for those that are bursten, or troubled with convulsions or cramps, with shortness of breath, or choleric torments or pains in the belly or stomach; it also helpeth the yellow jaundice, and being taken in wine stayeth vomiting; taken with salt and honey, it killeth all manner of worms in the body, it helpeth such as have the leprosy, either taken inwardly drinking whey after it, or the green herb outwardly applied; it hindereth conception in women, being either burned or strewed in the chamber; it driveth away venomous serpents. It takes away black and blue marks in the face, and maketh black scars become well-coloured, if the green herb be boiled in wine, and laid to the place, or the place washed therewith: being applied to the huckle-bone, by continuance of time it spendeth the humours which cause the pains of the sciatica; the juice, dropped into the ears, killeth worms in them; the leaves, boiled in wine, and drunk, provoke sweat, and open obstructions of the liver and spleen. It helpeth them that have a tertian ague, the body being first purged, by taking away the cold fits; the decoction thereof, with some sugar put thereto, is very profitable for those that are troubled with the overflowing of the gall, and also for those that have an old cough, and that are scarce able to breathe by shortness of their wind; that have any cold distemper in their bowels, and are troubled with the hardness of the spleen; for all which purposes both the powder called diacaluminthes, and the compound syrup of calamint, (which are to be had at the apothecaries,) are most effectual.”
Culpeper ends his description of its virtues with this warning: “Let no woman be too busy with it, for it works very violent upon the feminine subject”!!
It was clearly used for a number of ailments, although the idea of using it as a contraceptive by “being either burned or strewed in the chamber” shows just how little the people of the 17th century understood about such practices. The “huckle-bone” is the hip bone.
There have been numerous studies on the properties of calamint, and it should be pointed out that its volatile oil, found in the leaves can be used in cookery. Like peppermint it is also used to flavour some pharmaceutical products. The oil has been found to have “non-selective central nervous system-depressant “properties as far as rats are concerned that is. (Journal of Medicinal Food Vol.14 (3) pp292-300, “Chemical composition and biological activities of Calamintha officinalis Moench essential oil” Monforte M.T. et al. 2011.)
Another study has shown that “Probably the gastroprotective effect depends on a synergistic action of all the compounds occurring in C. officinalis leaves, even if the antioxidant potential of the leaves plays an important role by removing damaging agents from the gastric mucous.” “Protective Effect of Calamintha officinalis Moench Leaves against Alcohol-induced Gastric Mucosa injury in Rats” Monforte M. T. et al. Journal of Phytotherapy Research 2010.
Calamint also shows possibilities for diabetes sufferers, and probably more evidence to support the traditional use of calamint will be found in the future.