Spearmint Benefits with Jenny McGruther


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Spearmint benefits (Mentha spicata) include helping women to balance hormones naturally, a multitude of culinary uses, and the advantage of being a familiar and easily accessible herb. 

Join me as I discuss spearmint with nutritional therapist, herbalist and brilliant cookbook author Jenny McGruther. You’ll also receive Jenny’s fabulous recipe for Honeyed Oranges with Cardamom, Coriander, and Mint.


-- TIMESTAMPS -- 

  • 00:00 - Introduction
  • 02:24 - How an elderly neighbor, a gourmet cooking club, an illness and a farmer’s market got Jenny started working with herbs
  • 07:57 - Why Jenny loves spearmint (Mentha spicata
  • 09:48 - Jenny’s use of spearmint for PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) 
  • 10:59 - Culinary uses for spearmint
  • 13:29 - How to grow spearmint plant
  • 14:37 - Jenny’s recipe for Honeyed Oranges with Cardamom, Coriander, and Mint
  • 16:55 - Jenny shares simple ideas for cooking with herbs and spices
  • 18:27 - How small steps can transform your relationship with food
  • 19:49 - The ingredient many people are missing in their meals
  • 23:21 - Jenny talks about reviving lost culinary and herbal wisdom and recipes
  • 25:48 - How herbs surprised Jenny while she was testing recipes for Vibrant Botanicals


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Transcript of the Spearmint Benefits with Jenny McGruther Video

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Hello, and welcome to the Herbs with Rosalee podcast. I'm your host, Rosalee de la Forêt. In this episode, I'm excited to interview recipe creator extraordinaire, Jenny McGruther. I've been making Jenny's recipes since her first awesome cookbook, Nourished Kitchen, and I love that her recipes are traditionally-based and filled with nourishing herbs and spices. I also had the pleasure of meeting Jenny before this, in kind of an unusual circumstance.

Several years ago, I was suddenly evacuated from my home due to a wildfire that was really, really close, and when I shared that I wasn't able to go home for a while on Facebook, and that I was actually headed towards the Salish Sea in Western Washington State, Jenny wrote and invited me to stay with her family. And I was totally blown away by her generosity, I was such a huge fan of her cookbooks, well her one cookbook at that time, and I don't even know that I knew that she knew me, really. So I was just totally blown away by that. I actually already had a place to stay, and I also didn't want to miss meeting someone I so admired, so Jenny then invited my husband and I to come to her home, and meet her family, and she fed us a delicious meal, and we walked the coastline. It was really a wonderful memory amidst so much turmoil being evacuated for the fires.

For those of you who aren't yet familiar with Jenny, she's a nutritional therapist, herbalist, and the author of three cookbooks, including Vibrant Botanicals, Broth and Stock, and The Nourished Kitchen. She's also the creator of nourshedkitchen.com, a website that celebrates traditional food ways. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest. And with that, welcome to the Herbs with Rosalee podcast, Jenny.

Jenny McGruther:

Thank you so much for having me; it's a pleasure.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Oh, I'm just so super excited. I've really looked to your books for inspiration and recipes for years and years, and I'm just so excited to have you on and to share your work with everybody. I'd love to start out by hearing your story and how you got on this path of healing, traditional foods, and herbs.

Jenny McGruther:

So when I was a little girl, plants always resonated for me, plants and delicious food. I remember being, I must have been like seven or eight, maybe even nine, and I would run a gourmet cooking club for all my friends. And we would go to the grocery store and get Cornish hens and fresh parsley, and go and cook together, because it was something that I was passionate about from a very young age.

But with plants, in particular, I remember sitting with a next door neighbor, she was an elderly woman, and she was one of my closest friends. I must have been about six or seven years old at the time, and she would teach me about various herbs. What were her favorites? Chamomile, of course, lavender, and other herbs. And it was really pleasurable to sit with her, and hear her stories of her own youth, and the plants that mattered to her. And so that was kind of what sparked things for me.

You go through life, and there are certain moments that just give you a spark of intuition about what is going to bring you passion into your adulthood. And so that was one of the sparks for me. And then as I grew older, I remember feeling really disenchanted with the industrial food system in the US. I mean, I felt that it was pretty abhorrent, the CAFOs and the industrial agriculture that just stripped the top soil and polluted the oceans and the rivers with it, and it was something that I struggled with.

And so I became vegetarian for a while, and vegan for a while, as a way to combat that. It was a political statement about food, and I began to get really sick on that diet, and doctors told me, "Oh, there's nothing wrong with you, it's all in your head." I was told that for years and years and years, and it was only about after I had given up, I was like, "Okay, I have taken every lab test in the world. I'm still feeling sick. I still have tremors, maybe it just is all in my head." And then I went and got this, they had a health fair at my local community, and we did a bunch of blood work, and sure enough, I was legitimately sick at that point. And I think it was something to do with being so sick and so ignored for such a long time that made me look elsewhere for solutions, I guess, would be one of the factors that contributes to your interests and your passions.

And it was about that time that my husband and I started a farmer's market, and we began to learn about the local food systems, regenerative agriculture, and learn from our local farmers who also worked with herbs. We had one great CSA that not only had wonderful artichokes and beautiful tomatoes, but she'd throw in a bundle of nettle or horehound in there too. And it was really a wonderful exploration of this concept of incorporating herbs, not only as medicine, but as part of your daily life, which I think is likely the traditional approach.

And so these things resonated for me, traditional foods, foods the way we would've made them a hundred, 200 years ago, before the green revolution of the 1950s, before the industrialization of food, and finding solace and comfort in traditions, history, and pleasure in that as well.

So from there, I wrote my books, The Nourished Kitchen, the first one, and I ended up enrolling in the NTA's Program for Nutritional Therapy. I ended up working with them, and I worked on their Culinary Wellness Program, which featured a substantial section on the medicinal benefits of culinary herbs. And so that just sparked this idea of the next cookbook, which is Vibrant Botanicals. So that's kind of like the crazy story of how I got to where I am, I guess.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Yeah. Yeah. That's interesting to hear that, because I knew bits and pieces of that, but I'm just struck about how similar our paths are because I also was a vegetarian, and then a vegan, for political reasons, and I also got very sick from that.

Jenny McGruther:

Yes.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

And your book, and other traditional food books, were a big part of healing from that, and really looking at whole food nutrition, and diversity of foods, and getting lots of things, joyfully, as a part of my life, things that I wasn't really aware of eating before, that I wouldn't have necessarily chosen before. So yeah.

Jenny McGruther:

It's powerful.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Yeah. It really is. Yeah. And I'm really excited to talk about spearmint today, because that is one of my very favorite minty mints. And actually, we have a hard frost coming tonight, and so I'm cutting back my spearmint today. So, with talking with you and with having spearmint in my garden, coming into the house, anyway, spearmint's very much on my mind right now. What inspired you to choose spearmint today?

Jenny McGruther:

Well, there's a couple things. Sometimes an herb just speaks to you, you just know it's yours. And there's something about spearmint that really resonates for me, it feels like one of the right ones for me... motherwort is another one... but it feels right to me for some reason. And I think that a lot of people, when you try enough, you'll find that there's this, again, this spark that lets you know, that something is right. It feels right, it's a very intuitive process.

So it's dear to my heart for that reason. But I think, also, that it is a very approachable herb, and I think that's really important for a lot of people. I think we tend to focus on herbs that trend in the public sphere, ashwagandha, turmeric, some other herbs... they tend to trend in the public sphere, reishi is another one, and people get really excited about them. But in that fervor of these trending herbs, we lose focus on those things that are closest to us, and really accessible, and really approachable. And that's why I like spearmint, because it is a super approachable herb. You can grow it, and it grows so easily, like crazy, it'll take over your garden, which I'm sure you can see.

And in addition to that, it's a very familiar flavor. We use it to flavor after-dinner mints, or other mints, flavor various things, gums, mints, candies, it's familiar. And it has a great ability to be used for culinary purposes, which is really where my interest lies. In addition to that, it is fairly gentle and it has a myriad of uses. For me, I think it really came down to its anti-androgenic effects, and the fact that it really can be helpful for promoting hormonal balance in women. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, that's something that I've been struggling with for decades, and the strategic use of foods and herbs has been really essential in my journey of healing and living with that condition.

And the research on it is pretty interesting, there's quite a few studies, most are coming out of Asia, or central Asia, Turkey, for example. And it's really interesting to see how well it affects hormonal balance in women with PCOS, when you actually look at the studies, especially when it's partnered with things such as flaxseed. They've had some really good effects there. So that's where it kind of hits my heart personally.

But it's beyond those effects, it tastes delicious, you can use it in all sorts of different ways, like teas, or mint sauce, toss a bunch of chopped spearmint into a fruit salad. I like to poach strawberries in a honey syrup and toss in spearmint for that. And that combination of the sweet, slightly acidic strawberries works really well to balance the bright punch that you get from mint, it's a really nice balance. But in addition to all of that, there's some newer research coming out from, I want to say Japan, that was looking at spearmint and its ability to support cognitive health as we age.

So, it's just a really interesting, gentle, accessible herb. You can go to the grocery store and buy it, if you don't care to grow it, although you should because it's really easy. And it has all of these benefits. It's neat.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

It absolutely is. I'm so glad you shared all that because it is, I think, something that you could easily discount, like oh, spearmint, right? Like it flavors toothpaste, or something like that. But really it does taste so delicious, I can't imagine going a summer without spearmint in my garden and having that aroma and flavor. And, like you said, so great for so many culinary purposes and super potent medicine.

Jenny McGruther:

Yes.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

There's not a lot of herbs that have been shown to affect people with PCOS in that same beneficial way.

Jenny McGruther:

Yes.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

So it's really cool, and doesn't surprise me that it would also be helpful for cognitive function, and I'm sure, I have no doubt it modulates inflammation.

Jenny McGruther:

Yes.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

I'm just making that up on the spot, but it wouldn't surprise me because it just has all of those wonderful qualities.

Jenny McGruther:

Right.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Like so many of our herbs, there's so many gifts there that it'd be easy to discount our culinary, our minty things, but lots of powerful medicine there.

Jenny McGruther:

There really is. And yes, you're right, it's easy to discount them and constantly look for whatever the newest super food is. And so many beneficial things are right in your own backyard or your garden, and spearmint is a really fun one, I think.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Yeah, and that accessibility is so important, like you mentioned, oftentimes I see it in the fresh herb section of a grocery store. I grow it in a pot.

Jenny McGruther:

Yes.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Because, as you said, it just can take over everything, and I've been growing it in the same pot for, I don't know, eight years or so. And what I find is every year I need to cut out a significant portion of it because it the roots just go round and round and round, it gets too crowded, and then the leaves get small. So in the springtime, I'm in zone four, it overwinters outside, and in its pot, and so I just take a hori hori and I cut it down the middle and take out lots of roots. I do try to gift them, but I think a lot of people have spearmint, so last time it wasn't... since once you have spearmint, you kind of always have spearmint, that's true of a lot of them. So you just clean up the pot, and give it room to grow again, and put in some fresh soil, and then it just takes off.

Jenny McGruther:

It does.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Yeah.

Jenny McGruther:

It's always there, ready to be used, friendly little face out in the garden.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Yeah, absolutely. I love the idea of pairing it with strawberries. I often pair it with hibiscus, there's something about hibiscus spearmint that's a match that just comes together so well. 

Jenny McGruther:

I agree.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

And then you have a very delicious recipe for us today. The honeyed oranges.

Jenny McGruther:

Yeah.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

With spearmint and cardamom. And that recipe actually comes from your latest book, Vibrant Botanicals. And I love this recipe because it's so simple, but it's so flavorful and impressive. You could have that on any night of the week, and you could also serve it to guests, and they'd be like, "Ooh."

Jenny McGruther:

Yes.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Lovely.

Jenny McGruther:

I love it because there's really only one or two steps. You chop up your oranges, and then you put some spearmint and some cardamom on top, and drizzle it with honey. And it's really simple, deceptively simple, and somehow you have this huge combination of flavors. It's interesting because there's a lot of compatibility in terms of the various aromatic compounds of say cardamom, which is citrus-y in many ways, and orange. And then mint also shares some of those compounds with cardamom. So you've got this fluidity that flows through that recipe where you've got the citrus pairing with cardamom, cardamom pairing with the mint, and it seems really simple, and it's super delicious. It is really simple. It's delicious.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

That just makes me think of all of your recipes. I mean, what really drew me to Nourished Kitchen, beyond just that focus on traditional foods and whole foods, is your creative use of herbs and spices. And that's something I think about all the time, and just that people often cook with foods obviously, but those herbs and spices are really missing from the meal. It's kind of like meat and potatoes and broccoli, but that there's very little herbs and spices to go in them. And with all of your recipes, you infuse things in such a really intricate way, but also simple. I mean, it's so approachable for folks to do. I'm not someone who loves to spend hours and hours and hours in the kitchen, that's just not me. But I do love good food, and I love flavorful food, and of course I love herbs and spices. So your recipes, they really bring that to life.

Jenny McGruther:

Thank you.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Absolutely.

Jenny McGruther:

Thank you. Yeah, I think that's the wonderful thing, you get so much flavor from herbs and spices, it brings so much to the table, and it can be really easily incorporated. Sure, you might drink your infusion, which I love to do, but you can also make a really fantastic rub that goes on your chicken. You can make a compound butter... herbal vinegars are a cinch to make. And talk about magnificent flavor, it will bring a salad to life, with just an herbal vinegar. And I think that's one of the coolest things about working with herbs is that there are many simple ways to incorporate them into your meals, and you're going to have way more flavor as a result. And of course, each one of those is going to convey its various benefits in these small ways, it's those polyphenols or other compounds.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Yeah. And what I'm thinking of is how it is so simple, but it can be a hurdle for folks when it's new.

Jenny McGruther:

Yes.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

And so having the inspiration to just try something little and simple and easy, and you find the things, like you said before, that spark that you get, like there's certain recipes that it's like, "Oh, this is going to be a family favorite." It has that spark. Once you do it, once you do it again, it really then becomes second nature to adding lots of herbs and spices into your life, even if that feels kind of foreign in the beginning,

Jenny McGruther:

Absolutely, these little incremental steps. Try one thing at a time, one small recipe, and make it work. I think people have this tendency to be all or nothing, like, "Oh, I'm really excited about herbs now, I'm going to do everything." And it can be overwhelming. Whereas, like you said, just these tiny, simple steps, and before you know it, the way you approach food in your kitchen has been completely transformed. It's really neat what those tiny little steps will do.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

And so much fun too, you know something in the herbal world that I have a tough time understanding is folks get really into tinctures. People go all in on tinctures.

Jenny McGruther:

Yeah.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Which, obviously, I love tinctures, I'm not saying that they're not good, but for me, the magic of herbalism comes to life on my dinner plate.

Jenny McGruther:

Yes.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

And through beverages, and through the absolute, pure enjoyment of them. Yeah, some tinctures can taste good, but for the most part, you're kind of like, okay, take a chaser. And having a beautiful, aromatic delicious meal, or a stop-you-in-your-tracks beverage, whether it's an iced beverage or a warm cup of something that just takes that moment of, hmm.

Jenny McGruther:

Right.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

That's the good stuff. That's why I keep coming back.

Jenny McGruther:

I agree. I think that pleasure is an important aspect of our food. It's pleasure, and enjoyment, and being able to experience things with our senses, not just take our medicine and be done, but actually experience our foods and the herbs that are in them, it really enhances the sense of pleasure we can get from our lives. And I think pleasure is very much a missing ingredient for many people.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Yeah, absolutely. And I want to talk about your book, Vibrant Botanicals, a bit more. Your books are just so beautiful. They have, and I know you do the photography, let me get there.

Jenny McGruther:

I do.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

You do all of the photography, all of the recipe creation, and I love how this one, it's so approachable in that there's information about the herbs. I love that you include energetic information because that's definitely my joie de vivre as well, and tastes and everything. And then everything is so enticing, it's just this visual delight. And again, so approachable, because it's simple and also inspiring. So sometimes I look at cookbooks and I think, "Oh, that looks so good, but whoa, way too complicated." I know I'm never actually going to make that. I wish someone would make it for me, but I'm not actually going to do that. Whereas I know with all three of your books, I never feel that way, every recipe always turns out so well, too. I know when I have a Jenny McGruther recipe it's going to be amazing.

Jenny McGruther:

You know I think the truth is that we don't have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen, slaving over complicated recipes. You know, sure, something really special every once in a while is worth it, absolutely. But I think it's really important that our food be approachable, and that's why, especially with this book, as I was expanding maybe the breadth of ingredients that most people would be familiar with, with the inclusion of these herbs, I wanted to make sure that the recipes themselves were very simple and delivered fantastic results, because it's important to me that food be approachable, and easy and fun to make, and delicious.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

You did it. Success. There you go.

For the listeners, as you probably know by now, I love to share recipes when we talk about these plants. Recipes are a wonderful way for you to get involved and create your own experience with herbs. It's one thing to hear cool facts about spearmint benefits, or how other people work with spearmint, but really an entirely other thing to form your own relationship with this plant through your own observations, tending the plant, if you decide to grow it, and of course, tasting. And what better way to do that than with Jenny's recipe for honeyed oranges with cardamom, coriander and mint? You can download your recipe card using the link above this transcript. 

Well, Jenny, before we go, I'd love to hear about anything you're working on right now, and what you're bringing to life in your culinary world, herbal world.

Jenny McGruther:

Yeah. So what I love to do is I just love to develop recipes, frankly. And so, after Vibrant Botanicals, I kind of took a breath, because it was a lot to put together. And right now I'm actually working on reviving these Old World recipes. Say, for example, real marshmallows, Pate de Guimauve, things like that, where so much of our modern junk foods actually have a start in Old World recipes that were highly nourishing and even herbal remedies. Marshmallows are a great example of going from something that was relatively nourishing, and thought to be therapeutic, to something that bears little resemblance to the original, that's full of highly processed ingredients. Another one, of course, is root beer, which was very, very nourishing and now is very, very different, doesn't even have the historical ingredient.

So I'm working on that, also working on ambrosia, which most people associate with canned fruit cocktail and Cool Whip. It wasn't originally like that. So one of my current passions is actually bringing these old recipes back to life, and I think giving them due justice, to let people know what they were originally. So, no big projects other than diving into historical cookbooks and trying to revive that culinary wisdom, that herbal wisdom, that we have lost in the past 50 to 75 years.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Well, I think that's really exciting, and I look forward to seeing what comes out of that exploration of that. So each of your books has brought me on a journey, and I'm just so excited, whether you have another book coming or just with your lovely newsletter insight.

Jenny McGruther:

Right.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

And what comes out of all of it, so it's always a delight.

Jenny McGruther:

Yeah, so when I got those figured out, you'll see them in the newsletter.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Great, wonderful. Well, before we go, the last question I have for you is one that I'm asking everyone in Season Two, and that is, what's something that you've learned or experienced in your healing journey that has surprised you?

Jenny McGruther:

I'll tell you this, what was really surprising for me is actually testing the recipes for Vibrant Botanicals. Like I've said, we already incorporate herbs in sauces, and herbs in rubs, and things like that. So we already eat quite a few herbs, but in testing the recipes for that book, we were eating, easily, four to five times the volume that maybe we normally would, just because I had to get the recipes tested and photographed, and it was pretty intense there. And what surprised me the most was that we all, all of us in the family, started having really vivid dreams about two weeks into testing. They were intense, they were vivid, and I attribute it to the volume of herbs we were eating. That was surprising and an unexpected consequence of increasing our intake. And it was neat, it was surprising. Yeah.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

It's interesting to think of what was going on, like on this different physical, emotional, spiritual realms of all these herbs. I definitely would've loved to have been your neighbor during that process.

Well, thank you so much, Jenny, for being here today with us and for sharing your culinary wisdom, and it was just such a pleasure to be able to have this conversation with you, so thank you so much for being here.

Jenny McGruther:

My pleasure. Anytime, it's always a pleasure to be able to connect.

Rosalee de la Forêt:

Don't forget to click the link above this transcript to get free access to Jenny's honeyed oranges with cardamom, coriander and mint recipe card. You can also visit Jenny directly at nourishedkitchen.com.

Before you go, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter below so you'll be the first to get my new videos, including interviews like this. I'd also love to hear your thoughts about this interview and your relationship with spearmint. Leave your comments below. I deeply believe that this world needs more herbalists and plant centered folks, and I'm so glad you're here as part of this herbal community. Have a beautiful day.


Rosalee is an herbalist and author of the bestselling book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients Into Foods & Remedies That Heal and co-author of the bestselling book Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine. She's a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild and has taught thousands of students through her online courses. Read about how Rosalee went from having a terminal illness to being a bestselling author in her full story here.  



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