“As for the garden of mint, the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes our spirits.” Pliny
I have been overseas and arrived home just in the ideal time to pick and dry the mint I have growing everywhere in my garden. In Spring, the leaves are bursting with vitality and goodness. Mint is an aromatic herb that has its origin in Asian and Mediterranean countries. It is used both for cooking and healing. It is packed with vitamins and minerals, especially carotene, Vitamin C, magnesium, copper and iron.
Never thought about mint? Most of us depend on it everyday. From toothpaste to lotions, medicine and health or hygiene products, everyone benefits from this fantastic herb. It’s a brilliant healer for painful joints, headaches, sciatica and
inflammation and research has shown that
menthol is hugely beneficial in aiding digestion, which is why it’s so popular in teas. Mint plants contain an antioxidant known as rosmarinic acid, which has been studied for its effectiveness in relieving seasonal allergy symptoms. When applied topically in oil, ointment or lotion, mint has the effect of calming and cooling skin affected by insect bites, rash or other reactions.
A few words of caution. Remember that peppermint oil in large portions can be toxic. Pure menthol should not be taken internally. Some medication can react with mint or mint oil. If you’re unsure check with your doctor. Do not use mint oil on the face of an infant as it can interfere with breathing. Also, be aware that digestive issues relating to gastric reflux may be exacerbated through large consumption of mint.
Some fun facts about mint:
- It derived its name from the nymph, Menthe, who, according to myth, was turned into a plant by the goddess Perserpina when she found out that Pluto was in love with her (ultimate revenge … turn your rival into a herb).
- Greeks used mint in their baths.
- Romans used it in sauces to aid digestion and also brought the herb to Britain.
- It was used in medieval times for its culinary and medicinal properties.
I have a large garden and grow mint everywhere. It is one of those ferocious growers and will take over a garden bed if not restrained. One way to contain mint is to use an old bottomless bucket pushed into the ground. The mint won’t be able to put its roots out sideways, so will take longer to spread. If grown in a pot, mint needs to be watered regularly to keep it healthy. It prefers damp, partly shaded areas and once established will grow for many years. Mint dies down in Winter and sends up new shoots in Spring. It really is the perfect plant to begin with, as you build your herb garden. It’s easy to grow and is really fun to add to many recipes – whether breakfast, dinner or dessert.
There are many different types of mint: Peppermint, Spearmint, Pineapple mint, Apple mint, Ginger mint, Horsemint, Catmint, Chocolate mint, Lavender mint (a personal favourite), etc. Obviously, not all mint varieties are used for culinary purposes. Some are better utilized for their aromatic properties or aesthetic appearances while others, like field mint, are normally treated as medicinal plants. Different mint types should be planted as far apart as possible – like opposite ends of the garden, to avoid cross pollination which affects taste and unique characteristics.
I dry the mint in bunches, in a cool, dark storage cupboard. When dry (brittle), I just shred it into a container and, presto, it’s ready for tea. On a hot, sunny day there’s nothing better than ice tea – with only homegrown ingredients: mint, lemon and/or lemon balm.
Why not give mint a go?
Here are some recipes to get you started:
Fresh Mint Tea
A large handful of fresh mint leaves (I also add fresh ginger and/or lemon balm to vary the taste)
A kettleful of filtered water (about 2 to 4 cups depending on how strong you want your tea)
Honey to taste
- Roughly tear the leaves with your hands and place them in a small strainer placed over a teapot or glass bowl.
- Bring the water to a boil and pour over the leaves.
- Gently bruise the mint leaves with the back of a wooden spoon or a muddler to release the oils.
- Cover the teapot or bowl and let the leaves steep for at least 5 to 10 minutes, then remove the strainer pressing on the leaves to extract as much liquid as possible.
- Pour into tea cups or mug and sweeten with honey or sugar to taste, if desired.
For iced mint tea: Follow the directions above adding sweetener if using while the tea is still warm. Cool the infusion to room temperature, then store in the fridge. Serve over ice with an additional sprig of fresh mint.
Pearl Couscous with Mint and Pecans
Serves 2 as main, 4 as a side
1 medium-sized red onion, cut into slivers
1/2 cup pearl couscous
1/2 cup (plus 2 tablespoons) water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped (reserve a few whole leaves for garnish)
1/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped and toasted
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pan on medium heat, sauté the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for approximately 20 minutes. The onion should be soft and slightly caramelized, but not completely reduced. Sprinkle the onions with a dash of salt.
In the meantime, chop the pecans and toast in a smaller pan on a low flame for about 5 minutes. Nuts should be aromatic, just lightly toasted. Stir frequently to prevent burning (they can go from toasty to burnt in just a second, so keep an eye on them the entire time). Chop the mint, reserving a few leaves for garnish.
Place couscous in a medium-large bowl. Boil water, measure it to 1/2 cup mark and add one more little splash. Pour water into bowl with couscous. Cover with foil for about 12 minutes. Remove foil, then add cooked onion, toasted pecans, fresh mint and a tablespoon of olive oil and vinegar. Stir until evenly mixed, and sprinkle with a little fresh mint on top.
Mint! Explore the wonder!