Saturday, September 4, 2010
Herb Of The Week - Mint
The herb of the week is Mint (mentha).
The name Mentha, comes from the Greek mentha. According to legend Hades, the Greek god of the underworld, had an affair with the nymph Menthe. Hades’ jealous wife Persephone found out about the affair and chased after Menthe and violently trod her into the ground. Hades changed Menthe into the plant we know today as Mint. To help Hades overcome his grief at losing his lover the Mint plant was given a delightful aroma which can be enjoyed anytime the plant is touched or walked upon.
Although Mint comes in over 500 different varieties, we have only 3 varieties growing ourselves: Peppermint (mentha piperitas), Spearmint (mentha spicata), and Apple Mint (mentha suaveoloen).
Mint is very easy to grow and is an ideal herb for a beginner. But there are some things to watch out for.
Mint spreads very quickly, and if not controlled will take over an entire garden. The best way to grow Mint is in a container, but if that isn’t practical for your purposes, there are several ways to keep it under control.
Coffee cans, with both ends cut off. Sections of PVC pipe, at least 8” in diameter and 10” long. Clay drainage pipe sections. Even a mesh bag, like the kind lemons are sold in, or an old t shirt with the neck and sleeves sewn shut. All of these will discourage the spread of Mint.
Mint grows best in partial shade and in moist soil. Planting it in dry sandy soil, or in full sun will also discourage the spread of the plant. Or you can simply dedicate one raised bed to nothing but Mint.
It is important to note I did not say any of these things would PREVENT the spread of your Mint. I am telling you right now. If you plant your Mint in the ground, no matter how hard you try to contain it, it WILL spread. That’s ok. As long as you control the spread, and slow it down, you can pick, cut and dig the shoots and new growth and keep it under control.
Mint spreads in two ways. It sends shoots, or runners, (similar to roots) under the ground. New leaves will grow off these runners. Mint also will tend to fall over as it gets taller, and will send out root systems wherever it touches the ground.
I hope I didn’t scare you off with all that. Mint is very hardy and spreads quickly, but it is also fun to grow and fun to use.
To grow the best Mint, start with transplants. Most good varieties are hybrids and won't grow from seed. The plants grown from seed will not be as hardy either.
Mint can be harvested two or three times during the growing season, with a heavy harvest at the end of the season.
Cut Mint with scissor, to avoid unnecessary damage to the stems. If you cut leaves from the top of the plant it will encourage bushier growth at the bottom, cutting from the bottom of the plant tends to lead to spindly awkward plants.
Mint, like many of the other herbs I have addressed in past weeks, can be used fresh, or frozen or dried.
Use Mint to flavor vegetables—cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, eggplants, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, and zucchini. You can add fresh Mint to cold and hot soups and beverages.
A bit of fresh Mint chopped finely and sprinkled over fresh cut cubes of pineapple makes a unique and refreshing combination.
Medicinally, Mint has a remarkable reputation with indigestion, for calming the nerves, for soothing sleep and recurring sickness. Many herbalists claim it aids virility and can be used against Migraine. Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1 tablespoonful of chopped fresh leaves and leave to stand for 30 minutes. Take as required a tablespoon at a time.
It is said that Mint in tea form aids upset stomachs, flu, and can be used to ease hiccups. Inhalations of the leaves in boiling water is recommended for head colds and asthma. Mint tea used instead of aspirin is great for headaches, particularly pre menstrual headaches. Nervous headaches can be relieved if you lie in a dark room with fresh peppermint leaves on the forehead. Aids the respiratory and circulatory systems. An anti-inflammatory and an antiseptic. Ideal for treating indigestion, flatulence, varicose veins, headaches, migraines, skin irritations, rheumatism, toothache, and general fatigue.
In Magic, Mint is used in travel spells and the bright green leaves can be used in money and prosperity spells. Fresh Mint laid on the altar will call good spirits.
Spearmint is used in all healing applications, especially in aiding lung diseases. Smelled, spearmint increases and sharpens mental powers. Place it under the pillow for protection while asleep.
Peppermint has long been used in healing and purification spells. Its presence raises the vibrations of an area. Smelled, it compels one toward sleep, and placed beneath the pillow it sometimes offers one glimpses of the future in dreams. It is rubbed against furniture, walls and floorboards to cleanse them of evil and negativity. Many believe that peppermint excites love, and so can be added to this type of mixture.
In Irish Folklore, A bunch of Mint tied around the wrist will ward of infection and disease as well as cure disorders of the stomach.
8 to 10 carrots cleaned and cut into slices (cooked until tender)
1/2 stick butter melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 TBSP washed finely chopped Mint
When butter is melted add the brown sugar and cook on medium heat approx. 5 minutes.
Add drained carrots to butter/brown sugar. Mix well, coating all of the carrots. Just before serving add in the chopped Mint. Stir well coating all and serve.
Mint Iced Tea
4 cups fresh Mint, chopped
1 gallon water
1 cups honey
1. Gently simmer chopped Mint leaves in a covered pot for 10 minutes. (Note: Covering your pot with a tight-fitting lid prevents evaporation of the volatile, aromatic oils in mint, keeping the flavor more intact)
2. Add honey, stirring until it dissolves.
3. Cover and let steep and cool for several hours or overnight. (This makes a strong, potent tea, maximizing the calcium and other nutrients in the mint.)
4. Chill overnight. Serve in a tall glass with ice. Float a fresh Mint leaf for a garnish for those special occasions.
A recent experiment I did with Spearmint, Lemon Verbana and Stevia produced a very nice herbal tea. I used about 10 Mint leaves 5 Lemon Verbana leaves and 1 Stevia leaf.
I chopped them all up together, wrapped them in a coffee filter and steeped them in a teacup of boiling water.
You may want to adjust the amounts to your own taste.
2 large cucumbers
½ cup minced red onion or chives
1 cup plain yogurt
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp vinegar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp coarse-ground black pepper
2 Tbsp fresh Mint leaves, chopped fine
1. Slice the cucumbers in either thin rounds or half-moons.
2. Mix with the minced onions.
3. Blend yogurt, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and Mint together.
4. Toss dressing with cucumbers and onions and serve immediately.
Make this recipe in small batches. If left to sit overnight it gets watery, so try to make just enough for a meal, and toss the dressing just before serving.
Growing up in a strong religious non-alcoholic family, I had no clue what any alcoholic drinks tasted like, but as a teenager I was an avid fan of Mark Twain, and I often pictured myself sitting on the veranda of a southern mansion, with Mark Twain, dressed in Colonel Sanders suits, and drinking Mint Juleps as we watched boats go up and down the river and talked about politics and life.
I am not sure I would like a Mint Julep, having learned how they are made, they seem a bit strong for my taste, but the image still lingers, so I want to finish with the directions for making a Mint Julep:
First make a Minted Simple Syrup:
In heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stir together 1 C water and 1 C sugar until sugar dissolves. Increase heat slightly, then simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Take pan off heat, add 1 bunch Mint leaves, and steep 15 minutes. Strain, then refrigerate syrup until cold, about 3 hours.
To highball glass or silver Julep cup, add 1 oz. minted simple syrup, then 1 cup crushed ice, 2 oz. bourbon, and splash of water. Add additional crushed ice to almost fill glass. Stir well and garnish with mint sprig.
So that just about sums up Mint. If anyone is looking for me, I'll be out on the veranda with Mr. Twain.....