Mint

  • Peppermint
  • Peppermint
  • Peppermint

Description

The leaves of several species (there are over 40 varieties) of the plant Mentha, the commonest in culinary use being spearmint (mentha spicata or crispa). Pennyroyal (mentha pulegium) is also used in the kitchen and peppermint (mentha piperita) is cultivated for its oil. There are many varieties of mint in cultivation, each with a distinctive bouquet and flavor, but here we will describe only the three mentioned above. Spearmint and peppermint leaves are deep green, long , pointed and crinkled. Pennyroyal has small oval leaves, greyish in color.

Uses

For most culinary purposes spearmint is the preferred variety. Mint combines well with many vegetables such as new potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and peas. A few chopped leaves give refreshment to green salads and salad dressings. Pennyroyal is used to season haggis and black puddings. Peppermint is more commonly used in desserts, adding fresh flavour to fruits, ices and sherberts. Spearmint is popular in the Balkans and Middle East, where it is used both fresh and dried with grilled meats, stuffed vegetables and rice and is an essential ingredient of dolmas, stuffed vine leaves. Dried mint is sprinkled over hummus and other pulse and grain dishes. Yogurt dressings, dips and soups often include mint. In India fresh mint chutney is served with birianis. American mint julep is a southern classic and a glass of English Pimms #1 must always be served with a sprig of mint. Mint tea is enjoyed copiously by Moslem Arabs. Peppermint is used to flavour toothpaste, chewing gum and liqueurs such as creme de menthe.

History

Mint has been used for many centuries. The name comes from the Greek legend of the nymph Minthe, who attracted the attention of Hades. Hades wife, the jealous Persephone, attacked Minthe and was in the process of trampling her to death when Hades turned her into the herb (and was ever sacred to him). A symbol of hospitality and wisdom, the very smell of it reanimates the spirit, Pliny tells us. Ancient Hebrews scattered mint on their synagogue floors so that each footstep would raise its fragrance. Ancient Greeks and Romans rubbed tables with mint before their guests arrive. The Romans brought mint and mint sauce to Britain. The pilgrims brought mint to the United States aboard the Mayflower. The Japanese have distilled peppermint oil for several centuries and the oil is further treated to produce menthol. The smell of mint is known to keep mice away and pennyroyal is also regarded as an effective insecticidal against fleas and aphids.

Health Benefits

Peppermint has the highest concentrations of menthol, while preparations of spearmint are often given to children. Mint is a general pick-me-up, good for colds, flu and fevers. Herbalists tell us it helps digestion, rheumatism, hiccups, stings, ear aches, flatulence and for throat and sinus ailments. There are also claims that a glass of creme de menthe helps with motion sickness.

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