Just hearing the words “fresh mint” on a warm summer day and my mind conjures up the southern symbol of hospitality and mint juleps.
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, naturalist 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 “Minthe” originally was a nymph and Pluto’s lover. 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.
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 it back and restrict 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. Roses make good companion plants.
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.
Many cooks like to add chopped mint leaves to scrambled eggs, and omelets, for a change of pace. 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.
Finally, I read what they call “mint sniff.” Bruise a mint leaf, raise it to your nose, and inhale. Do this whenever you’ve forgotten the beauty in the world. Believe me, you’ll remember. Now for my mojito on the front porch.
Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.