Spearmint, a member of the Labiat, is a very hardy perennial, native to Mediterranean countries. Its generic name is derived from the mythological origin ascribed to it. Poets declared that Proserpine became jealous of Cocytus”s daughter, Minthe, whom she transformed into the plant. The specific name means green, hence the common name, green mint, often applied to it.
History of Mint
The old Jewish law did not require that tithes of “mint, anise and cumin” should be paid in to the treasury, but the Pharisees paid them while omitting the weightier matters: justice, mercy and faith (Matthew xxiii, 23).
From this and many other references in old writings it is evident that mint has been highly esteemed for many centuries. It has been so universally esteemed that it is found wild in nearly all countries to which civilization has extended. It has been found in American gardens for about 200 years and is sometimes troublesome as a weed in moist soil.
Description of Mint
From creeping rootstocks, erect square stems rise to a height of about two feet. Near their summits they bear spreading branches with very short-stemmed, acute-pointed, lance-shaped, wrinkled leaves with toothed edges and cylindrical spikes of small pink or lilac flowers, followed by very few, roundish, minute, brown seeds.
Mint will yield a good crop in its first year, but grows much better in its second season. It is a hearty culinary herb that can take over a garden. A few precautions and some knowledge of the plant is necessary in order to cultivate it properly:
- Be careful of letting the mint shift itself because, having utilized the food in one spot, its stems seek to migrate to better quarters and can take over a garden.
- Each autumn the tops of the mint plants should be cut off near the ground and a liberal dressing of manure, compost or even rich soil should be supplied in order for the plant to yield again the next season.
- For drying, the stems should be cut on a dry day when the plants are approaching full bloom and after the dew has disappeared in the morning. They should be spread out very thinly in the shade or in an airy shed.
- If cut during damp weather, there is danger of the leaves turning black.
- Mint will grow anywhere but does best in a moist, rich loam and partial shade. If in a sheltered spot, it will start earlier in the spring than if exposed.
Cooking with Mint
In both the green and the dried state, mint is widely used in Europe and America. As a culinary herb, mint is used extensively to color and flavor all sorts of foods and condiments:
- Among the Germans, pulverized mint is commonly used in cruets for dusting gravies and soups, especially pea and bean purees.
- In England and America the most universal use of mint is for making mint sauce, the sauce par excellence with roast spring lamb.
- In recent years mint jelly has been taking the place of the mint sauce because it can be kept indefinitely without deterioration. A handful of mint leaves should color and flavor four to six glasses full of mint jelly.
- Mint is used widely in Europe and America for flavoring soups, stews and sauces for meats.
Kains, M.G. (1912). Culinary Herbs: Their Cultivation, Harvesting, Curing and Uses. Retrieved April 3, 2008, from the Project Gutenberg Web site: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21414/21414-h/21414-h.htm#Page_59.