Welcome back to the Casa Mia series “The Herb Garden”. Today we introduce the herb mentuccia, or Calamintha nepeta –– a perennial herb of the mint family.
One of the most central herbs to Roman cooking is mentuccia, also sometimes called mentuccia romana. This is a specific type of mint, commonly known as lesser calamint, with small, tender leaves and a delicate flavor of mint mixed with oregano. It is most famous for its use in Carciofi alla Romana – Roman style artichokes. In this quintessential Roman dish, the fresh, bright flavor of mentuccia is indispensable. Some recipes for trippa alla romana call for it, but most use the more pungent menta (regular mint).
This herb grows wild around the Mediterranean, cropping up in parks and fields as well as cracks in the sidewalks or cobblestones usually in the Summer, and through the Fall. It is also used in Sicilian, Calabrian, Campanian, Sardinian, and even Tuscan food. It is also called nepitella and poleggio.
If Italians aren’t talking about food, they’re probably talking about digestion, and this particular herb is said to have very good digestive properties. It is also said to have “exciting” properties. A good way to reap the benefits of mentuccia is to steep the leaves in some hot water and drink it like a tea.
Julia Terranova is a Brooklyn born, Italian-American student with a love of Rome and all things Italy. She spends her time cooking for friends and reading as many cookbooks as she can find.