by Barbara Porsch, Master Gardener, Herb Enthusiast
Mint was selected as Herb of the Year in 1998. It is one of the oldest recorded herbs. There are biblical references to paying taxes with mint leaves. The old herbalists used it for treatment of many ailments. There are so many varieties of mint that the nomenclature becomes very confusing. There are at least 25 main varieties and hundreds of hybrids and varieties. There are many shapes and characteristics of leaves, but all have square stems. There are many exotic varieties such as grapefruit, ginger, lime or chocolate, but three species are best for culinary purposes: Mentha spicata (spearmint), Mentha piperita (peppermint) and Mentha suaveolens (apple and pineapple mint).
Some say the ONLY mint to use in a Mojito is spearmint. Some swear by a certain mint for tea. Too often mint is relegated to a cool drink like iced tea when it has such possibility in savory foods. Mexican women often add a few leaves toward the end of cooking their chicken soup or tomato soup. It is also great in chilled cucumber soup or green pea soup. Toss some leaves into steamed English peas, or fruit salads. The Middle Eastern salad tabbouleh is a meal in itself. (Google The Barefoot Contessa’s tabbouleh recipe on Food Network.)
Indians make raita by combining mint with chopped cucumbers in yogurt to serve with their fiery curries. Vietnamese serve fresh leaves of mint, cilantro and basil to compliment their delicate spring rolls or soups. Mint and lamb make natural perfect partners. Try Lucinda Hutson’s Grandma’s summer mint sauce recipe.
Once you start experimenting with mint’s varied uses and delightful aroma, you won’t want to be without it. It is no wonder that Mexicans call it yerba bueno, the good herb.
Lucinda’s Grandma’s Summer Mint Sauce
½ cup white wine vinegar
3 Tbl brown sugar
1/3 cup fresh mint, chopped
1 Tbl water
Bring vinegar and sugar to boil while stirring. Add water and mint leaves. Remove from heat and allow to stand at least an hour before serving. Drizzle over roast lamb or lamb chops. Use leftovers on cooked carrots or peas.
Mint is very easy to grow and easy to find at local nurseries. I suggest planting in pots because it can be invasive in the ground. It would love a spot by a leaky faucet in partial shade. Pick up a couple varieties when you see them for sale. You will enjoy them.