I feel refreshed just writing that word. My mouth begins to dribble a bit, my nostrils clear, and I just feel like kissing somebody on the lips. How would life as we know it possibly exist without this amazing herb? Our teeth would be like shambling tombstones in our rank mouths; our jaws would have nothing to do in lieu of chewing peppermint cud but yak away aimlessly, numbing all listeners. And our lamb? Well. Excuse me while I take a little nap because even the mere bubble of that thought bouncing around my cerebrum is so dull … so very dull … zzzzzzzzzzz.
My crazy Australian husband hates it.
“If the world’s mint crop was hit by a devastating disease tomorrow, I would go to the local pub and have a beer.” Of course when I sweetly mentioned that he loves mint with lamb—and reminded him that not one month ago I’d spent six bucks at Whole Foods procuring the correct teeny jar of minty condiment that would properly accessorize the results of my slavery over a hot stove, he merely replied in an infuriatingly off-handed manner, “Yeah, but that’s mint sauce.” Oh, right. Of course! Because mint SAUCE isn’t the same thing. Because it has sugar and water in it. Well, he never vowed to have and to hold logic at the altar did he?
There are so many varieties of mint that I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that there exists everything from Bergamot Orange to basil to chocolate to curly. Most of us are very well acquainted with peppermint and spearmint, as well we should be. It’s in powders, pastes, salves, lotions, and potions. Interestingly (and perhaps terrifyingly), 45 percent of the mint oil harvested in this country is used in chewing gum.
Like most herbs and spices, mint has a dramatic history. Its folklore slingshots us back in time to a Roman bathhouse. Yes, you heard correctly. The Romans were fond of steeping their bodies in homage to the beautiful nymph, Minthe. The Minthe myth, revolving around misguided love, is naturally a tragic one. It seems that Pluto, ruler of the Underworld, took quite a philanderous shine to the fresh-faced and flirty nymphet. His thoroughly enraged wife Persephone, in true goddess-like fashion promptly turned Minthe into a lowly, loafer-trodden plant. Unable to remove this “hell hath no fury” curse, Pluto—with typical god-like guilt—head-hangingly eased the situation by making certain that when Minthe was tromped upon she would at least smell nice. But heck, we benefited from all of this pain, did we not?
Historically, mint was used medicinally, being touted as a means of curing all manner of ills: soothing the throat and stomach, clearing the chest (remember Vicks Vapor rub?), and being a great digestive aid in general. In England, many athletes crushed the leaves and applied it to their bruises and bashings. Nowadays, many of the historical beliefs surrounding mint are still promoted—some claim it can even help one stop smoking. (One product that promotes this beneficial effect is sold at mintsnuff.com; although I’m not certain snuff is such a great habit either…) It is indeed wonderful to have a cup of mint tea before bed. Very cozy stuff. However, I think mint is best as an ingredient in my two favorite things: cocktails and salads.
Mint, of course (and naturally), serves as a fresh and sprightly garnish. Try swishing some lightly crushed leaves through a fruity margarita with pomegranate, pineapple, or melon. A jaunty sprig slipped into a frozen watermelon daiquiri would be dishy! Refer to your favorite mojito or mint julep recipe if you like mint to be your beverage star, and not the PR guy. There’s always the classic (well it should be!) chocolate chip mint martini…
And as for salads, my good friend Adelaide provided a wonderful recipe incorporating freshly chopped mint.
Summer is panting at our door like an overheated dog, so pull yourself up onto your porch swing (or fire escape), listen languidly to the cicadas (or police sirens), grab a salad to nibble and a fresh cocktail to sip, and dream about refined gentleman callers (or kind-of-all-right dudes). Enjoy the freshness and versatility of summer’s favorite culinary defense: mint.
Photo courtesy of Martin Walls