Mint grows almost everywhere, but it is especially prevalent in the Mediterranean region, northern Africa, and western Asia. It was consumed in ancient times and is mentioned in Greek mythology.
In fact, the word mint comes from Minthe, the name of a very pretty nymph who frolicked along the River of Darkness. Pluto, King of the underworld, fell in love with her. There are two versions of how the story continued: one story goes that Persephone, his wife, was jealous and transformed poor Minthe into a plant, but Pluto revived her by giving her perfume; another says that it was Pluto who transformed her into a plant to protect her (from his jealous wife).
Used to make a sacred Hebrew drink and to perfume the tombs of the Egyptians, mint was cultivated by the Romans, who then took it to the rest of Europe. Charlemagne ordered it to be grown as a medicinal plant and all the convents began to produce it. There were so many varieties in the 9th century that a monk allegedly wrote that he would have preferred to count the sparks from Vulcan's furnace than the varieties of mint.
The leaves should be green without spots or marks. They should not be wilted or yellowing.
Fresh mint is sold in bunches. It can also be bought chopped and frozen, dried to use either loose leaf or in bags to make infusions, or in syrup.
Peppermint, which is particularly rich in menthol, is used to make mint-based alcohols.
Mint essential oil is used in confectionery and to make beverages and liquors, including peppermint liqueurs.
Mint is used to flavor countless dishes. It is used in salads, vegetable dishes, cereals (such as tabbouleh), and meat. Roast leg of lamb with mint sauce is a traditional English dish, and is also popular in Morocco. Mint is also an important ingredient in the Algerian Chorba, the Indian Raita, the Georgian Khmeli suneli and in Thai chicken salads.
It is also used in sweet dishes, and goes well with chocolate, strawberries, and other fruits. It can be used to make granita and sorbet.
Fresh mint should be placed in a plastic bag or wrapped in slightly damp paper towels and stored in the refrigerator.
Dried mint must always be kept in a sealed, dry box as it can wilt quite quickly.
The tonic and digestive properties of peppermint have been known about for centuries. It was a medicinal plant before being used for flavoring.
In herbal medicine, pennyroyal is used to treat irritable bowel syndrome. It can also be used to treat coughs, colds, and sore throats.
Like many other herbs, mint is rich in protective antioxidants. However, studies on this subject were carried out using essential oils and not fresh leaves.
Fresh mint is fairly high in vitamin K, which is needed for blood clotting, among other things. When receiving anticoagulant medical treatment it is sensible to eat mint in small quantities, and only use it as a flavoring.
There are hundreds of varieties of mint throughout the world, including:
- Spearmint: The most common type of mint, it grows everywhere, both wild and cultivated. There are many sub-varieties of spearmint, including Moroccan mint, used to make tea.
- Peppermint: A spontaneous crossbreed of spearmint and water mint, it has a stronger scent than either of them and smells slightly of camphor. Its sub-varieties are Black Mitcham mint and Eau de Cologne mint, which smell of citrus and bergamot.
- Pennyroyal: it has slightly velvety leaves, and quite a strong smell, which is perhaps why it has a reputation for repelling mosquitoes.
- Apple mint: as you might expect, it tastes slightly of apples. It is quite rare.
- Variegated mint: it has white oval leaves and smells slightly of camphor.
- Ginger mint: its leaves are streaked with yellow and it tastes quite spicy.
- Water mint: it grows, as its name suggests, in wetlands.