From garden to table
Bruce Burnett, CH
The fresh scent of mint can energize and lift our spirits. Make our cinnamint herbal auto refresher to enhance alertness while driving.
In Greek mythology, Hades, god of the Underworld, fell in love with the beautiful nymph Minthe. Hades’ wife, Persephone (the daughter of Zeus), became jealous and changed Minthe into the herb mint.
Hades could not bring Minthe back to human form, but he gave the herb a fragrant aroma and arranged it so that the more Minthe was trod upon, the sweeter her smell. Hence the popularity of mint as a strewing herb. In medieval times, strewn mint not only helped as an air freshener, but also had antiviral and antibacterial qualities that were reputed to combat the plague.
The pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) species of mint has long been used as an effective flea deterrent. Pennyroyal, incidentally, is one species of mint that should never be taken internally. It is especially toxic to pregnant women and can cause miscarriages.
Mint in the medicine chest
In Ayurvedic medicine, mint is recommended as a tonic, digestive aid, and remedy for coughs and colds. The medieval abbess and herbalist Hildegard of Bingen prescribed mint for indigestion and gout.
Ethnobotanist Dr. James A. Duke cites mint as effective in the treatment of arthritis, backache, gallstones, herpes virus, and morning sickness. He recommends peppermint in particular for treating indigestion, but he also claims its antioxidants may help prevent cancer, heart disease, and other ailments associated with aging.
“As for the garden of mint,” wrote Pliny the Elder (23 AD to 79 AD), the great Roman naturalist and natural philosopher, “the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes our spirits.”
Mint in the garden
The genus Mentha consists of 19 original species, but these have hybridized into about 2,000 different mints, resulting in botanical confusion but culinary and medicinal profusion. Mint leaves can be round, oval, slightly pointed, smooth, or wrinkly, and have toothed or serrated edges. The telltale feature of all mints is that the stems are square.
Contrary to what many gardeners believe, most species of mint do not require shade and wet soil. In fact, like most herbs, mints thrive in moist but well-drained soil in partial to full sun. Indeed, mint is susceptible to rust if kept too damp.
Because this herb spreads rampantly through invasive roots, it is ideal for container growing. Grow different species in separate pots in widely spaced locations to discourage cross-pollination. Cutting back the plant, especially the flowers, will also discourage cross-pollination and proliferation, and promote new growth.
Mint in the kitchen
The original medicinal mint was spearmint (Mentha spicata). Peppermint (Mentha × piperita), which is stronger in flavour, is a hybrid of spearmint and water mint (Mentha aquatica). Because it is milder in flavour, spearmint is preferred for raw food recipes.
Most cooks agree that the best species of peppermint for culinary purposes is either blue balsam or black mitcham. The stems of black mitcham are very dark, almost black in appearance. This plant has a very strong peppermint flavour, and it is grown commercially to make peppermint oil.
The classic savoury application of mint is, of course, for roast lamb. However, the herb goes equally well with chicken and fish. Most vegetables are also enhanced by the addition of mint, notably new potatoes, peas, and carrots. Bergamot mint, orange, or other citrus mints are best with fruits and desserts or for iced tea.
One of the great dishes that uses fresh mint is the Middle Eastern salad, tabbouleh.
Cinnamint Herbal Auto Refresher
Mint is famous for its soothing, cooling qualities, but recent research has confirmed mint’s ability to enhance memory, concentration, and alertness, especially if inhaled. Mint therefore makes the ideal car freshener, for it will dispel stale, unpleasant odours while increasing the alertness of the driver.
Kathleen Gips of the Village Herb Shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, shares this excellent recipe:
1 tsp (5 mL) spearmint oil
10 drops cinnamon oil
1 Tbsp (15 mL) non-clumping kitty litter
1/3 cup (80 mL) dried, cut spearmint
2 Tbsp (30 mL) dried whole mint leaves (preferably peppermint)
1 Tbsp (15 mL) cinnamon pieces, broken
Mix spearmint oil and cinnamon oil with kitty litter.
Mix all ingredients together. Age mixture for 1 week in closed glass container.
Package in small fabric bags with hang tags. These can be hung from the car’s rear-view mirror, strapped to the sun visor, or placed anywhere in the car. Squeeze the bag occasionally to release the fragrance.