Monday, November 03, 2008


I've had a request to write about herbal teas, and I'm happy to oblige. Technically, anything without camellia sinensis (the tea plant) is not truly tea. I like to call these tea-free drinks herbal infusions (tho they may contain spices, roots, bark, etc.) or tisanes. I am planning to write about herbal infusions over the next several Mondays. I start my herbal infusions theme today by talking about the ubiquitous mint (mentha species).

Mint has been used for a variety of purposes for a very long time. The Greeks and Romans used mint in both drinking and bath waters. Mint has interesting roots in mythology, too.

"The species name Mentha is derived from Roman mythology. Minthe was a lovely young nymph who caught the eye of Pluto, the ruler of the underworld. When Pluto's wife Persephone found out about his love for the beautiful nymph, she was enraged. She changed Minthe into a lowly plant, to be trodden underfoot. Pluto couldn't reverse Persephone's curse, but he did soften the spell somewhat by making the smell that Minthe gave off all the sweeter when she was tread upon. The name Minthe has changed to Mentha and become the name of the herb, mint.

As for the origins of mint's reputation as the herb of hospitality, Greek mythology tells us the story. Two strangers were walking through a village. The villagers ignored them and offered neither food nor drink. Finally an old couple, Philemon and Baucis, offered them a meal. Before the four sat down for their meal, the couple rubbed the table with mint leaves to clean and freshen it. The strangers turned out to be the gods Zeus and Hermes in disguise. As a reward for the hospitality Philemon and Baucis had shown them, the gods turned the humble home into a temple. Mint thus became the symbol of hospitality."


Mint comes in many varieties. In my backyard, I have peppermint, spearmint, catnip (a mint variety) and chocolate mint. My favorite way to use mint is to pick fresh leaves and toss them into a teapot. I pour boiling water over them and steep to the desired mintiness.

When fall comes, it's easy to pick a few sprigs of mint and tie them together. I hang them in the kitchen so that I can grab a few of the dried leaves for a quick (and inexpensive) herbal infusion.

Mint is known for aiding in digestion. Try a few cups of mint tea when you have an upset stomach. In The Tea Deck, mint is listed as being good for nausea (especially due to motion sickness), headaches, and menstrual cramps.

In addition to the drink and food uses, mint also offers us its lovely lavender-colored flowers. I enjoy cutting these to bring inside. They grace me with their beauty and their minty aroma. Mint has a long blooming season. Cut it back to encourage even more blooms.
Mint is very easy to grow. In fact, it can be invasive, so either stay on top of it or plant in a container and don't allow it to escape! Where I live in the Midwest, mint dies back after a killer frost, but eagerly comes back in the spring. Around here, we give it very little attention - it takes care of itself.

Do you like mint? How do you like to use it?

First and third photos from wikipedia. Middle photo is mine.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

I love mint! One of my favorite uses is scenting homemade soap with a mixture of peppermint and spearmint essential oils.