Welcome back to our Herb Garden column. Today we explore mint.
Summer is quickly approaching in this ancient city and that can only mean one thing: finding any and every quick fix in a desperate attempt to cool down. What’s a poor and sweaty soul to do? As a Miami native, home to year-round sweltering heat, I prefer relaxing by the pool, lathered in sunblock and sipping on a mojito.
In fact, it’s no coincidence that the mojito ‒ a traditional Cuban cocktail made with white rum, lime juice, sugar and mint in particular ‒ is popular across both the Sunshine State and the islands of the Caribbean. Mint has been coveted for centuries for its fresh and cooling properties, making it the perfect poolside accessory.
Being that mint was originally found in the Mediterranean, it’s only fitting that the name mint originates from ancient Greek mythology. According to the legend, Minthe was a river nymph whom Hades, god of the underworld, fell in love with. When Hades’ wife, Persephone, found out about her husband’s infidelity, she cast a spell that turned Minthe into a plant so that everyone could walk all over her. Defeated and unable to reverse the spell, Hades instead gave Minthe a beautiful and strong aroma so that she could be noticed by whoever crushed her. Moral of the story: stay faithful to your significant other, especially if they’re a god.
Historically, mint has always been valued worldwide for its soothing properties, particularly when it comes to gastrointestinal issues. Both the Ancient Greeks and Romans used mint as a mouth freshener and a cure for nausea. The Greeks, however, also admired the herb for its aromatherapeutic characteristics and had it placed in public baths. Additionally, in many cultures, mint symbolises hospitality. In fact, in Mexico, mint is referred to as a yerba buena or “good herb.” Today, the United States grows about 70% of the world’s mint, predominantly peppermint and spearmint, the most popular species of the herb.
The actual compound that gives mint its signature scent and flavor is menthol, which is present in the plant’s leaves and released when crushed. Menthol is packed with vitamins A and C as well as some minerals like calcium and zinc. Its numbing effects make it perfect for nausea, headaches, chest pain, skin irritation and even anxiety. It can be chewed, made into a tea or used as an oil, which can then be added into several different recipes which are equally delicious and calming.
One of the most charming things about mint is that it is a perennial herb and grows easily in temperate climates across the world, making it simple to grow it in your kitchen and even simpler to add on to those plates that just need a breath of fresh air. In Italian cuisine, mint is actually a fairly common ingredient, used to add a kick to everything from salads and meatballs, to traditional Roman-style artichokes, tripe and gelato! When it comes to mint, it truly is a Renaissance herb.
Having Cuban ancestry, making mojitos is my own personal favorite use of the herb but overall, mint boasts a versatile range of culinary uses and medicinal properties, from soothing stomach pain to preventing a classic first-date disaster: bad breath. What’s your favorite way to enjoy mint?
As a student of Art History and Chemistry at Williams College in Massachusetts, Veronica Veliz’s natural curiosity has led her across the globe, specifically, to Rome. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Veronica’s Latina heritage has inspired her passion for all things food, music, and art. Her hobbies include travelling, dancing and binge-watching Netflix.