Just hearing the words “fresh mint leaves” 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 mint juleps.
Later, when the cold weather rolls around and the holiday season appears, with its warn and traditional dinners, mint changes its look and adapts itself to the coming season.
Mint will then 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, so this is the time to pick the leaves for drying or freezing for the winter.
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The Benefits of Mint
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 History of Mint
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 trodden 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 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.
How to Plant 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 wildfire 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.
Mint can be grown in pots and planted with other herbs.
How to Use Mint Leaves Around the House
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 lemongrass to create a unique and lively potpourri.
How to Use Mint Leaves in Food & Drinks
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.
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Mint Cooking Recipes
Many cooks like to add chopped mint leaves to scrambled eggs, and omelets. For a change of pace, use mint with egg substitutes to enhance the flavor.
Add the mint at the end of cooking 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.
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Mint Juleps Drink
Ingredients needed for traditional mint juleps:
- 5 medium fresh mint leaves plus one fresh sprig for garnishing
- 1 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons 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, garnish 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)