Mint, also called "mentha", is an aromatic perennial herb. Mint belongs to a large family with over thirty species. All mints prefer and thrive near pools of water, lakes, rivers, and in cool moist spots in partial shade. In general mints tolerate a wide range of conditions, and can even be grown in full sun. Mint very often grows wild.
Known in Greek mythology as the "herb of hospitality", mint was used as a room deodorizer. Today it is more commonly used for aromatherapy through the use of essential oils. The mint leaf, fresh or dried, is the culinary source of mint. The leaves have a warm, fresh, aromatic, sweet flavor with a cool aftertaste. The most common and popular mints for cultivation are peppermint, spearmint, and more recently apple mint.
Mint essential oil and menthol are used extensively as flavorings in breath fresheners, drinks, antiseptic mouth rinses, toothpaste, chewing gum, desserts, and candies. Mint oil is used as an environmentally friendly insecticide to kill wasps, hornets, ants, and cockroaches. Today naturalists employ peppermint to treat gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome, and the common cold. Mint is a great aid to digestion and for settling the stomach.
When I was growing up living in Brooklyn, the family (Grandpa and the three sons, my father being the youngest) bought a summer bungalow out on Long Island to use for weekends and the summer. It was a beautiful place on a corner lot with a hedge that around the property. It had a screened porch in the front where we would eat. In the backyard it had an old fashioned hand operated water pump, still functional, and back in the comer an actual functioning outhouse. Fortunately, there also was indoor plumbing, but the pump and outhouse lent ambience to the place. Well, near the pump was a patch of mint growing wild. The aroma was intoxicating. Now whenever I smell fresh mint it brings me back to the "Clinton Street house" as we called it.
Mint leaves are used in teas, beverages, jellies, syrups, candies, and ice cream. Mint is also traditional with lamb dishes. Alcoholic drinks sometimes feature mint for flavor or garnish, such as in the mint julep and the mojito. Crème de menthe is a mint flavored liqueur. Fresh mint adds refreshing flavor when snipped over peas, fruit, or lettuce salad.
Mint is available year round being grown outside or in hothouses. Choose bright green unwilted leaves. Wrap dry leaves in an unsealed plastic bag and keep in the refrigerator for a up to several days. So add a little mint!
Eat up and enjoy!