A few nights ago, a lucky group of us got to spend the evening with herbalist Mischa Schuler talking about all of the medicinal plants in the mint family. Who knew the mint family had so many plant allies? Of course most of us know about peppermint, which is obviously a mint, but what about wood betony and bergamot? Did you know that rosemary and lavender are mints?
Opening her talk with an image from the book “Botany in a Day”, (which is a favorite of mine and Mischa also strongly recommends!) we learned some key identifying features for these plants. Square stems, opposite leaves, “mint” flowers (5 fused petals), and an aromatic smell will just about guarantee your plant is in the mint family. Mints can support multiple body systems including our digestive, musculoskeletal, respiratory, and nervous systems.
What is amazing to me is the subtleties of working with these plants. For example, Mischa describes a nervine stimulant as a plant that will be both soothing on the nervous system but also keep us alert. Peppermint has a cooling effect in that it dilates blood vessels, bringing them closer to the surface of the skin and release heat — but only if you drink it hot. Wood betony can be used to bolster self-confidence, while skullcap is useful for letting go of other’s opinions about us.
Mischa brought dried plant material to pass around and tinctures for us to taste. The highlight of the evening was the sharing of lemon balm tea. Together, we made a brew of the dried leaves and allowed them to steep while we continued a conversation about the benefits of this incredible plant. We then sipped it together, taking a long moment of silence to really feel into the experience. I was struck by how alive the tea felt in my body, like it was traveling from my tongue to my belly to all the peripheral places, fingers and toes. In early March, when the snow is still on the ground and it feels as though spring may never come, this aliveness is a welcome sensation.
Mischa has a way of bringing the spirit of the plants to the foreground. Her knowledge shines through in a totally unpretentious way – she so obviously loves what she does and does it for the right reasons. If you are at all interested in how plants can be used as medicine, I highly recommend signing up for her Beginner Herbalism Garden Series. This series will take place over 4 weeks in May in Mischa’s yurt, as the plants begin to emerge from their winter slumber. Learn more or sign up here!