The famous mint family

Nature is elegant in her reuse of forms. Consider the spiral: the cochlea found in our inner ear, the curve of a wave and the snail’s home

Nature is elegant in her reuse of forms.

Consider the spiral: the cochlea found in our inner ear, the curve of a wave and the snail’s home. Branching systems is another of nature’s favoured forms. Snorkelers are awes by brightly coloured branching coral, rivers with their tributaries branch and fingers branch off hands. Trees are nature’s ultimate expression of branching systems with their central truck, canopy and root system. Like the tree, the nervous system is a branching system.

The spinal cord has the canopy called a brain and a root system called the cauda equine (horse’s tail).

Where the nervous system differentiates from the tree is the branches off the spinal cord.

A better plant metaphor for nervous systems is medicinal plants from the mint family with a central stem, lateral branches and leaves, flowering apex and below a network of roots. With a stretch of imagination, the shape of plants from the mint family mirror the nervous systems brain, spinal cord, spinal nerves and caudal equine.

When the nervous system is fired up or burning with a low flame, other systems of the body are often out of balance.

Thankfully there are the dexterous plants from the mint family that temper minds, soothe tummies, settle grumbling gall bladders and bring peace to anxious hearts.

Motherwort (leonurus cardiaca) is a handsome plant with a pronounced calming effect on both the mind and the heart. Motherwort is the favoured herb when anxiety and heart palpations occur simultaneously. Motherwort is useful in formulas designed to bring down blood pressure. A bitter plant, it also supports the release of bile from the liver. Motherwort, like many plants in the mint family, thrives in Central Alberta gardens.

Hyssop (hyssops officinalis) is a member of the mint family that calms anxiety and dilates the bronchi. It is very useful when anxiety causes shortness of breath. I have found it useful for both anxiety resulting from shortness of breath and shortness of breath resulting in anxiety.

I have also used it in congestive heart failure with anxiety to improve the depth of the breath. Hyssop makes excellent tasty syrup that is easy to give to children struggling to breathe.

Hyssop also kills off most intestinal parasites. I find a tea will usually do the trick, saving one from having to use stronger anti-parasitic medicine from the artemisia family such as wormwood (artemisia absinthium) that can stress livers.

Hyssop does well in the garden as long as it is not too close to dominating motherwort.

Sage (salvia officinalis) is another plant from the mint family that soothes the nervous system. Sage is an effective remedy for insomnia with bloating and abdominal discomfort. Traditionally sage was used as liver tonic. I find it soothes irritated livers and quiets down grumbling gall bladders. It is useful to remember that if the liver is not happy the rest of the body or the mind is happy. I have had difficulty over wintering sage in Alberta, but every year I try. One day I will find the magic spot in the garden.

Sculcap (scutelaria latrifolia) is an indispensable plant from the mint family.

When the mind needs calming and spirits lifted sculcap is the help to use. It not only relaxes mind spasms, it also eases muscular spasms, and particularly one’s triggered by chronic anxiety.

I have seen it ease twitching and tremors when anxiety has been held in the body for several years.

It is a tender mint that loves a wet spot in the garden. It will over winter with plenty of loving care.

Hedge nettle (stachy palustris) is a weed that planted itself in my garden. It like motherwort calms an anxious heart but unlike motherwort does not interfere with thyroid function. Hedge nettle brings clarity mind by untangling confused and disorganized thinking. I am always surprised how quickly hedge nettle works. Be careful not to confuse hedge nettle with hemp nettle, a plant that can damage kidneys.

Peppermint (mentha piperita): The most famous medicinal plant from the mint family is peppermint. There is a saying in India, “If one could name all the fish in the Indian Ocean, one could name all the medicinal uses of peppermint.”

Now I have never swum in the Indian Ocean, but I imagine there are a lot of fish in it. So when in doubt, try a cup of peppermint tea. You will be surprised by how much it will help.

Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit Arneson can be reached

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