Lamiaceae family – the mint family

I am continuing my series on the medicinal benefits of the different plant families.  This is something I explored whilst studying herbal medicine.  It helps to give you the general characteristics of the plant families.  Not everything will be applicable to each and every plant, but will relate in general to the medicinal species found in the group.

The mint family is a favourite of mine, my garden contains: peppermint, spearmint, applemint, pineapple sage, garden sage, purple sage red deadnettle, lavenders, rosemanry and lemon balm.  all of which belong to this delightful plant family.  The Lamiaceae is a family of flowering plants (mostly herbs and shrubs) that comprises over 240 genera and 6,500 species worldwide.

The original family name is Labiateae, so given because the flowers typically have petals fused into an upper lip and a lower lip. Although this is still considered an acceptable alternative name, most botanists now use the name “Lamiaceae” in referring to this family.

The plants are frequently aromatic in all parts and include many widely used culinary herbs, such as basil, savory, marjoram, oregano, hyssop and thyme. Many members of the family are widely cultivated, owing not only to their aromatic qualities but also their ease of cultivation: these plants are among the easiest plants to propagate by stem cuttings.  Why not have a go yourself – if you have friends, family or neighbours who have these herbs in their garden, why not ask if you could have a stem cutting?  You can place it in water to see if it roots, or use root hormone powder, or just place it in some mud/compost and leave it for several months to root itself.  Either way you could grow your own herbs for free due to kindness and sharing.

There are several plant characteristics which define the fact that a plant belongs to this family.  This is the botany of the plant families.

patterns in the mint family

The mint family have square stems, you will notice that the leaves are attached to flat edges not corners.  The leaves are often simple in shape (no lobes/edging etc), the leaves are also in opposite pairs at right angles to pairs above and below them on the plant stems.

leaf botany


There are no Stipules.

A close up of sage - Salvia officinalis

A close up of sage – Salvia officinalis

You will also notice (especially on closer inspection that the plants are hairy, this can include the leaves and other parts including flowers.  Can you see the hairs on the sage above?

Flowers from the lamiaceae family bloom in nodes with at least 4 different flowers; some form 2 dense opposite inflorescences like whorls; may form end spikes: sometimes with ‘a protective throat of hairs’  The petals of the flowers are irregular in shape generally with 5 united petals, two of which are usually lipped.  The petals can also be tubular.

On inspection of a member of the mint family in flower you will find 2 pairs of stamens at base of petals, 1 pair longer than the other.  Once the flower has been fertilized 4 distinct chambers develop containing four fruit/nutlets/seeds.  The style arises from the base of the ovary between the 4 chambers (the style is the male sex organ of the flower which is essential in reproductive pollination.

The constituents of the Lamiaceae Family

As with several of the herbs I grow in my garden, they are aromatic.  Hairy glandular trichomes produce and store essential oils also known as volatile oils.  These volatile oils are very light and therefore easy to evaporate, they can pass through the blood brain barrier and also through skin and are therefore used in the therapy aromatherapy. Essential oils probably work at least partially via stimulation of the sense of smell, and subsequent activation of the limbic system.

Volatile oils are made up of monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes and the phenylpropanoids.

Because of their small molecular size, many monoterpenes are volatile and are the principal components of volatile (essential) oils, occurring to varying degrees in practically all essential oils.  Whilst they do have significant therapeutic effects on a phytochemical level they are not classed as aromatic and rarely contribute much to the odours and tastes of the volatile oils.  Hydrocarbon monoterpenes tend to be weakly antiseptic, bactericidal, stimulating, expectorant and slightly analgesic. They are often mild skin irritants.  Some are antiviral and others break down gallstones.  Monoterpenes provide the ‘high notes’ that dominate citrus and needle oils, such as eucalyptus.

In general, sesquiterpenes in essential oils are slightly antiseptic, bactericidal, slightly hypotensive, cooling, anti-allergy, and anti-inflammatory; calming some are analgesic and/or spasmolytic.  Their properties are less influenced by functional groups than with monoterpenes.  Sesquiterpenes are more viscous than monoterpenes, less volatile, often yellow or brown.  The total essential oil content of plants is generally less than 1%.

Within the plant, essential oils are stored in special plant cells, e.g. glands, glandular hairs, oil ducts and resin ducts.  They may be found in any part of the plant, including flowers, fruits, leaves, roots, wood, bark and saps.  Most oils are a complex mixture of compounds, which vary according to the season, time of day, growing conditions and even genetic factors. Therefore, different examples of the same botanical species may produce widely differing oils. These different oils are known as chemotypes.  Aromatherapy distilled the volatile oils out of plants using several methods including enfleurage and steam.

General Medicinal Uses of Essential oils include:

Antiseptic – this can be a local effect on the skin or internally in the digestive system, or systemically by a reflex action benefiting organs such as the lungs.  Sage is an example of a local antiseptic herb, and thyme a systemic antiseptic.

Carminative – mint, rosemary and lemon balm all have calming effects both physically and emotionally.

Anti-catarrhal – mint and hyssop both support the reduction of catarrh within the body.

Common medicinal uses of the lamiaceae plant family:

•Anti-spasmodic – Release muscle tension
•Sedatives – Reduce irritability and excitement.
•Relaxants – Release tension in the muscles.
•Anti-catarrhal- Enable the body to get rid of mucus.
•Febrifuge – Brings down a fever.
•Stomachics – Improves stomach function and appetite.
•Expectorants – Promotes the removal of phlegm from the chest.
•Endocrine regulators – Helps to regulate the endocrine system.
•Anti-microbial – Inhibits the growth of micro organisms such as bacteria.
Recipes which utilise plants within the Lamiaceae family:
I have given a link here to an amazing blogger who creates and shares recipes:
Lavender Scones
(Makes about 12)
225g plain flour
15ml baking powder
50g butter
50g sugar
2 tsp fresh lavender flowers roughly chopped
150ml milk
  • Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 7.  Sift the flour and baking powder together.  Run the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs.
  • Stir in the sugar and lavender, reserving a pinch to sprinkle on the top of the scones before baking them.
  • Add enough milk to make a soft, sticky dough.  Bind the dough together, then turn it out on to a lightly floured surface.
  • Shape the dough into a round, gently patting down the top to give 2.5cm depth.  using a floured cutter, stamp out 12 scones.
  • Place on a baking sheet.  Brush the tops with a little milk and sprinkle over the reserved lavender.  Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly.  Serve with warm jam and clotted cream.

Lemon Balm Syrup


200 grams sugar
237 ml water
24 grams lemon balm (loosely packed fresh, leaves)
Fresh lemon balm to garnish

  • Stir together first 3 ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, and boil 1 minute or until sugar is dissolved.
  • Remove from heat, and let stand 30 minutes. Pour liquid through a wire-mesh strainer into a cruet or airtight container, discarding lemon balm leaves.
  • Cover and chill 4 hours. Garnish, if desired.
  • Syrup may be stored in refrigerator up to 1 month.

There are numerous recipes out there that incorporate the culinary herbs.  Peppermint is great for IBS and digestive issues.  Thyme is anti-viral and can help to shift a cold.  Sage can support and darken hair, improve memory and reduce infection.  I would love to know your favourite recipes using this plant family.


Herbal Hair Dyes

As the sun is STILL shining… and my last post didn’t jinx it… I would like to introduce you all to natural ways to highlight or dye your hair.  I was inspired to write this post yesterday when I was out with my sisters and niece.  Hair dye was purchased – a divine plum (I can’t wait to see her new look!!).  Whilst in the aisle of a shop in Freshney Place, Grimsby, several people picked up hair lightening kits.


Chamomile flowers lighten hair naturally

As a herbalist I try to use natural products where possible and minimise the amount of chemicals I use.  It is really easy to lighten your hair naturally using herbs.  If you are spending time in the garden or outdoors why not use lemon juice or chamomile to lighten your hair naturally.  You can make a tea using dried chamomile flowers (or fresh) – infuse a handful of fresh flowers or a teaspoon of dried flowers in a cup of boiling water for 5 – 10 minutes.  Allow to cool down, I have found it easy to put the infusion in a spray bottle and then spray onto hair.  If I do this I add a quarter of a cup of vodka so that it doesn’t go off.  This can be slightly drying but will quickly evaporate on a hot day.  You can also dissolve some salt into the mixture to get a sun-kissed beach head of hair.  You can do the same with lemon or apply it to your hair neat.

If you would like streaks of sun lightened hair then ensure that you apply the lemon or chamomile to the sections of your hair that you want lightened.  Or if you would like hair that gradually lightens like the L’oreal Paris Preference range which is currently being advertised on the TV then make a large amount of chamomile tea, dip you hair in it before going out in the sun and every time you come back indoors re-dip your hair in the herbal infusion ensuring that you do not wet as much hair as the last time.

A close up of sage - Salvia officinalis

A close up of sage – Salvia officinalis

Now you may not want your hair lighter – if this is your case then you need to grow/purchase or harvest rosemary, nettles and/or sage.  A natural way to darken ones hair is to get a large handful of sage leaves, cover with 2 teaspoons of borax and 1/2 pint of boiling water.  Mix well and leave until it goes cold.  The borax helps to preserve the infusion.  You can then carefully apply it to your hair with a brush, you can repeat this process as often as you like as there are no side effects to topical application of sage infusion.  Rosemary and nettles are both reputed to darken greying hair.  Rosemary also makes a great rinse for people with auburn hair and helps to clear dandruff.  You can make herbal infusions with any of these herbs or a combination of the three.

You always need more fresh herb than dried when you make a herbal infusion, if you make it in a teapot which has a cover more of the volatile (essential) oils are preserved, the wonderful aroma from herbs are the actual volatile oils which you are sensing from your olfactory senses (sense of smell).  There are several ways that you can use herbs to darken your natural colour or aim to prevent premature greying of your hair.

Rosemary is used to darken greying hair.

Rosemary is used to darken greying hair.

You can make up an infusion and use as a rinse between shampooing and after conditioning.  You can make an infusion and place in a spray bottle and apply prior to putting your hair up.  You can apply the herbal infusion to your brush as mentioned before.  You can also make the infusion into a shampoo or conditioner itself.  Another way is to allow the herbs to steep in a plant based oil for several weeks.  Keep this oil out of the sunlight while you are making it and shake it daily ensuring that no plant material is poking out of the oil (as it can go mouldy).  You can use the oil as a deep conditioning treatment once a week.  Try applying it to your hair (it works better if it is warm) and leave on for a few hours under a hot towel or overnight and then wash out with your normal shampoo and conditioner.  Not only are you giving your hair a natural moisturiser but the infused herbs will work to darken your hair.

The methods that I have shared with you will vary in results depending on your hair type, diet, length of time you have used it, strength of the sun etc.  The key is these are natural methods of hair care.  The lightening methods are dependant on the sunshine – the sun naturally lightens our hair but the addition of the herbs helps to accentuate it.  Of course there is henna – which I am sure that most of you would be aware of.  Henna is a climbing plant which produces a red/auburn colour – a natural way to get beautiful red hair.  It would be great if you could post your pictures of your hair once they have been highlighted/dyed naturally.

If you would like to learn how to make shampoo, conditioner, infused oils, hair masks etc., I can offer one to one sessions in the comfort of your home (if you live in the Grimsby and Cleethorpes area), possible workshops on how to make herbal body care products are being planned and a possible location is being sought.  Any ideas – please let me know.