An ancient herbal mint tea from Brazil is as effective at delivering pain relief as commercial medicine, according to university researchers.
Brews from the plant, hyptis crenata, have traditionally been used by native Latin American healers to cure headaches, fevers and flu.
Now reseachers at Newcastle University have demonstrated that there is a scientific basis for the claims after testing the remedy, known as Brazilian tea, on mice.
Infrared beams were shone onto the legs of the animals to guage their response times when they had been given the tea as opposed to water. They responded more slowly when soothed by the herbal infusion.
The mint was as effective as a synthetic aspirin-style drug, Indometacin, the lead researcher, Graciela Rocha, will reveal today at the International Symposium on Medicinal and Nutraceutical Plants in New Delhi, India. The International Society for Horticultural Science is also publishing the paper in its journal Acta Horticulturae.
The Newcastle University team plan to carry out clinical trials to measure how successful the mint is at relieving pain in people.
“Since humans first walked the earth we have looked to plants to provide a cure for our ailments,” Rocha explained. “In fact it is estimated more than 50,000 plants are used worldwide for medicinal purposes.
“Besides traditional use, more than half of all prescription drugs are based on a molecule that occurs naturally in a plant.
“What we have done is to take a plant that is widely used to safely treat pain and scientifically proven that it works as well as some synthetic drugs. Now the next step is to find out how and why the plant works.”
The Newcastle team carried out a survey in Brazil to find out how the medicine is normally prepared and how much should be consumed. The most common method was to boil dried leaves in water for 30 minutes and allow the mixture to cool before being drunk.
When the mint was given at a dose similar to that prescribed by traditional healers, Rocha found, the medicine was as effective at relieving pain as the Indometacin.
Rocha, who is Brazilian and remembers being given the tea as a cure for every childhood illness, said: “The taste isn’t what most people here in the UK would recognise as a mint. In fact it tastes more like sage which is another member of the mint family. Not that nice, really, but then medicine isn’t supposed to be nice, is it?”