Just hearing the words “fresh mint” on a warm summer day and my mind conjures up the southern symbol of hospitality, a lengthy sprig of green mint submerged in frosty tumblers or icy silver cups of cool mint juleps.
Later, when the cold weather rolls around and the holiday season appears, mint becomes part of the warm and comforting holiday meals. Mint will change its look and adapt itself to the coming season when it will be used dried or frozen to flavor and garnish pork roasts, vegetables, jelly sauces, jellos and creamy desserts.
Mint has its last harvest in the fall, this is the time to pick the leaves for drying or freezing for the winter.
Whichever way one eats it, drinks it, or prepares it, Mint is an herb with many beneficial uses for good health. In fact, the reason most of our ancestors grew this pungent herb was for its many health benefits. Even today, naturalists still employ peppermint to treat gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome and the common cold.
The herb, mint, belongs to a large family with over 30 species, the most common being peppermint and spearmint.
Native to the Mediterranean and Western Asia, mints interbreed often, making it difficult for even an expert to distinguish all the varieties. All mints contain the volatile oil menthol, which gives mint that characteristic cooling, cleansing feeling.
The Greeks believed mints could clear the voice and cure hiccups. In fact, mint is part of Greek mythology and according to legend – “Menthe” originally a nymph, and Pluto’s lover angered Pluto’s wife, Persephone, who in a fit of rage turned Minthe into a lowly plant, to be trod upon. Pluto, unable to undo the spell, was able to soften it by giving Minthe a sweet scent, which would perfume the air when her leaves were stepped on – thus aromatic herb Mint.
I guess that is why I just naturally plant mint along my walkways, where my clothes can brush softly up against it as I pass by or I can step upon its perfumed leaves and release refreshing mint fragrances into the air. On warm summer nights these beguiling aromas are especially invigorating. My ancestors, like most who came here from across the sea, brought this pungent herb to America primarily for medicinal uses.
Mint is a perennial and its seeds can be sowed in flats or in the ground. Once the tenacious herbs take hold in your garden, it is very easy to propagate them by cuttings and transplanting once the root system is well established. Mint needs humid soil and only moderate sunshine. It will grow in, out and around all garden plants, not unlike a weed, this herb is tenacious and dedicated to spreading through the garden. The trick is to continuously cut them back and restrict their growth. Otherwise this herb will spread like wild fire through your garden in the form of strong willed runners.
Frequently cutting or mowing of large plots will keep mints at their prettiest. In late fall, cut back to the ground and mulch if winters are severe.
Mint can be grown in pots and planted with other herbs. And according to legend this is a good herb for keeping ants away from doors and combating mice and fleas. Keep mint leaves near food, beds and wardrobes. Use it to freshen the house: like an air freshener it brings the fresh smell of herbal fragrance into every room. It can be simmered in a pot of water with Rosemarie, and lemon grass to create a unique and lively potpourri.
The mint varieties come in a number of good and useful flavors. There is one called Chocolate mint to be used in desserts, Spearmint for drinks, Peppermint for drinks & desserts and garden mint for general cooking. Pineapple mint for salads & cooking.
To reduce the effects of tannin and caffeine in your favorite tea use fresh mint, Spearmint, or Peppermint sprigs in your teapot with your favorite tea. Snap a few well-sized leaves off, wash, and add to your teapot. Steep for 2-3 minutes. Longer for a more potent flavor.
Many cooks like to add chopped mint leaves to scrambled eggs, and omelets, for a change of pace flavor, or to egg substitutes to enhance the flavor. Add the mint at the end of cooking of scrambled eggs or omelets. Too much heat will turn the mint bitter. Fresh mint leaves are good in salads.
Mint is commonly used with peas, carrots, potatoes, eggplant, beans, and corn to pep up the flavor.
Ingredients needed for traditional mint juleps:
- * 5 med. fresh mint leaves plus one fresh sprig for garnishing
- * 1 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- * 2 tablespoon cold water
- * Finely crushed ice
- * 2 full ounces Kentucky Bourbon
Place the mint leaves, sugar and water in an 8 ounce silver julep cup or highball glass. With the back of a spoon, lightly crush the mint, and then stir until the sugar dissolves. Pour in the bourbon and pack the glass tightly, with crushed ice. With a long-handled spoon, gently giggle the mixture to mix the ice and bourbon together until the outside of the container becomes frosted.
For the finishing touch, garish with a sprig of fresh mint before serving.
Makes 1 drink. (a traditionalist and true julep connoisseur would remove the crushed mint leaves before serving).
By Cookie Curci