The story of mint begins with an ancient Greek myth. When Pluto began showering a wood nymph named Minthe with his affections, Persephone, Pluto’s wife, became enraged. She cast a spell on Minthe and turned her into a garden plant. Pluto could not undo the spell. The best he was able to come up with was a pleasant aroma, so that Minthe would always be noticed. A charming story that factually tells us mint has been used by humans since ancient times.
Mint has always been used as an aromatic. People rubbed it on their dining tables, spread it on the floor, burned it for incense, added it to their baths and served it in tea. The two primary types of mint include peppermint and spearmint, although orange, apple, water, curly, cat and Corsican also exist. All told, there are at least 25 different kinds of mint. Both peppermint and spearmint taste like a cross between pepper and chlorophyll, but spearmint is said to have a cooler, more subtle flavor.
All mints prefer, and thrive, in cool, moist spots in partial shade. In general, mints tolerate a wide range of conditions, and can also be grown in full sun. They are fast growing, extending their reach along surfaces through a network of runners. Due to their speedy growth, one plant of each desired mint, along with a little care, will provide more than enough mint for home use. Some mint species are more invasive than others. Even with the less invasive mints, care should be taken when mixing any mint with any other plants, lest the mint take over. To control mints in an open environment, mints should be planted in deep, bottomless containers sunk in the ground, or planted above ground in tubs and barrels.
Mints can be propagated by seed, but it can be quite tricky. Mint seeds are highly variable, one might not end up with what one pre-supposed was planted; some mint varieties are sterile. It is more effective to take and plant cuttings from the runners of healthy mints. The most common and popular mints for cultivation are peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, horehound, catmint and pennyroyal.
The odoriferous members of this family deter white cabbage moths, ants, rodents, flea beetles, fleas, aphids and improves the health of cabbage and tomatoes. To make sure you do not start a new problem by fixing an old one, you can grow mints in containers and place around your garden. Another trick is to remove both ends of a coffee can and plant the mint into the can to restrain the roots and force them to grow down rather than out. Be careful where you plant mint, as it is an incredibly invasive perennial and quite hard to destroy.
Use cuttings as mulch around members of the brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, greens). It attracts hoverflies and predatory wasps. Earthworms are quite attracted to mint plantings. We have found that placing mint (fresh or dried) where mice are a problem is very effective in driving them off!
Harvesting of mint leaves can be done at anytime. To keep mint fresh just clip off the sprigs and place them in a jar of water in the home. If you are just harvesting the leaves, you can keep them in the fridge by way of putting them in a Ziploc bag with some water in it. Optionally, mint can be frozen in ice cube trays. Dried mint leaves should be stored in an airtight container placed in a cool, dark, dry area.
The leaf, fresh or dried, is the culinary source of mint. Fresh mint is usually preferred over dried mint when storage of the mint is not a problem. The leaves have a pleasant warm, fresh, aromatic, sweet flavor with a cool aftertaste. Mint leaves are used in teas, beverages, jellies, syrups, candies, and ice creams. The flowers range in color from light pink/lavender to a dark purple, they are also edible and have a slightly milder mint flavor.
Mint contains a number of vitamins and minerals, which are vital to maintain a healthy body. Mint is rich in Vitamins A and C and also contains smaller amounts of Vitamin B2. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant and may help to decrease the risk of certain cancers such as colon and rectal cancer. Although mint may be consumed in small quantities, the vital nutrients obtained are still beneficial to one’s health.
Mint also contains a wide range of essential minerals such as manganese, copper, iron, potassium and calcium.
•Mint has always been used medicinally to aid digestion and relieve indigestion. If you suffer from frequent indigestion, drinking a cup of peppermint tea after your meal may help.
The chemical compound menthol, which is obtained from peppermint oil, is well known for its healing properties on the chest and respiratory system.
The substances that give the mints their characteristic aromas and flavors are menthol and pulegone.
Mint was originally used as a medicinal herb to treat stomach ache and chest pains. During the Middle Ages, powdered mint leaves were used to whiten teeth and today mint is a main ingredient in making homemade toothpaste and mouth wash and the nasty commercially prepared toothpastes use mint to keep you coming back to their poison.
Many people also believe the strong, sharp flavor and scent of Mint can be used as a mild decongestant for illnesses such as the common cold.
Mint leaves are often used by many campers to repel mosquitoes.
Mint oil is also used as an environmentally-friendly insecticide for its ability to kill some common pests like wasps, hornets, ants and cockroaches.
Mint is one of the herbs that has it all. It grows like a weed, is perfectly safe for use, and is an excellent remedy for reducing symptoms related to digestion. And it tastes good going down! They don’t serve after-dinner mints virtually everywhere you go for nothing. It is well known for its properties related to indigestion, stomach cramps, menstrual cramps, flatulence, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and colic in children. Mint teas have shown great promise at easing the discomfort associated with irritable bowel syndrome, and even at slowing the growth of many of the most harmful bacteria and fungi.
Make a Tea out of fresh or dried leaves for a tasty and refreshing after-dinner stomach soother. For the younger crowd, it can also be heated with milk for the same effect (and they will like it).
The most common use of mint is tea. Fresh mint tea can be made by pouring hot, but not boiling, water over fresh leaves of mint and allowing it to steep for about 10-15 minutes. When preparing mint tea, it is important that the preparation be covered while it is steeping to prevent the valuable volatile oils from evaporating.
If you are dealing with a sinus cold, inflammation or upper respiratory problem, brew your mint tea and while it is steeping, place a towel over your head and inhale the steam from the tea. This is the only time when the steam should be allowed to come out of the kettle when making mint tea.
Mint also can be used as an appetite stimulant. It reduces hunger for a short time, but when the effects wear off the hunger returns stronger than before.
For those lucky enough to need to gain a few pounds, a tea might be tried 30 minutes before a meal for appetite stimulation. Peppermint is much more effective as a medicinal herb than Spearmint, which is mostly a culinary herb. However, use Spearmint in place of Peppermint in cases of digestive problems or colic in very small children, as Peppermint may be a bit too strong.
The well-documented antifungal properties of mint are thought to play a role in the treatment of asthma and many allergy conditions as well. It is even thought that mint may have benefits as an anticancer food. Mint is known to contain a phyto-nutrient called perillyl alcohol, which has been shown in studies on animals to prevent the formation of colon, skin and lung cancer.
Herbalists and American Indians have known for ages that mint oil used externally in a cold compress or rubbed directly into the skin can significantly reduce pain in cases of arthritis, chronic joint pain and sprains/broken bones and new research indicates that this is true.
For a refreshing and cleansing facial wash, place a handful of bruised Mint leaves (any kind) in a quart-sized pan of cool water. Let sit for an hour or so, then chill in the refrigerator and use as desired.
For a wonderful cleansing, antiseptic, refreshing and toning face pack:
Make a paste by pureeing a handful of mint leaves with a cup of natural yogurt and a quarter of a medium sized cucumber and apply it to your face. Leave it on for about 15 minutes—then wash off. Don’t worry about getting any in your mouth; whatever you have left over you can just eat!
Mint combined with Rosemary in vinegar is used to help control dandruff (place the sprigs in a bottle that can be tightly sealed and let sit for at least a week out of direct sunlight).
A way to rejuvenate the body or to help ease the discomfort from the common cold or flu is to rub mint oil on the bottom of your feet, or to add about 20 drops of the essential oil or 1 handful of slightly bruised fresh mint leaves, to a warm water foot bath. You can also do this in a regular bath for the entire body, you’ll just have to use more of the mint oil or fresh leaves.
Having a few mint plants growing in the garden is a must for anyone serious about herbs and their medicinal uses, as a many of the other herbs have objectionable tastes that can be masked by the addition of one of the mints.
To summarize the healing benefits of mint:
• Relieve symptoms of indigestion, heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome by relaxing the muscles in and around the intestine.
• Act as a powerful antioxidant, protecting the body against the formation of cancerous cells.
• Inhibit the growth of many different types of bacteria and fungus
Ease and unblock the breathing and respiratory passages and airways.
• Relieves the symptoms of colds and flu.
• Mint can help with nasal allergies.
• It can relieve congestion, head colds and headaches.
• Act as a mild sedative and has calming properties.
• Relieve minor aches and pains such as muscle cramps and sprains.
• Combat bad breath.
• Provides a cooling sensation to the skin and can help to treat minor burns, itching and skin irritations.
• Mint is a very good cleanser for the blood.
• Mint tea can help clear up skin disorders such as acne.
• Several species of the mint family work quite well as insect repellants (fleabane, catmint, catnip, pennyroyal).
Peppermint is an excellent flavoring for ice cream, cookies and chocolate. Below are some other ideas on how to incorporate the benefits of mint into your diet whether it is peppermint or spearmint.
• Add chopped mint to sauces for red meat particularly lamb.
• Add several sprigs of mint to peas, green beans or new potatoes whilst boiling.
• Add mint to a homemade or pre-prepared chocolate sauce for a choc and mint sauce.
• Use as a garnish for cool drinks and fruit desserts.
• Use dried peppermint leaves, added to boiling water to make a refreshing and digestive tea.
• Make a yoghurt dressing with chopped mint leaves, natural yoghurt, garlic and salt and pepper for salads especially cucumber salad.
• Add to cold soups or hot tomato soups.
• Use to make curries.
• Use mint to flavor cakes, meringues and biscuits.
• Use to make a marinade for lamb.
• Add chopped mint to rice, chickpea, cous cous or bean dishes.
• Great to add some bruised mint leaves to ice cubes and then just pop a few in a glass of lemonade or iced tea on hot summer days. When I make my mint cubes, I bruise the leaves and then fill the ice cube trays with very warm water. This helps to bring out the essential oils in the mint leaves into the water as it freezes.
• Traditional English Mint Sauce. For the old school accompaniment to lamb, mix a handful of chopped mint leaves with a tbsp of sugar, 4 tbsps. of White Wine vinegar, and a little salt and pepper to taste;
• Mojito. A Mojito is a refreshing Cuban summer cocktail recipe. Simply mix 2 tsp Sugar with around 10 mint leaves, 2 tbsp lime juice, and 75ml rum. Pour over a glass half filled with ice cubes, and top up with soda water;
• Mint Potatoes. Chop up and toss with fresh boiled or roast potatoes.
• Garnish. Take a simple looking has properties related to soothing tooth aches, indigestion, stomach cramps, menstrual cramps, flatulence, desert, sprinkle liberally with icing sugar and decorate with a couple of sprigs of mint.