Marvelous mint!

Mint has cast its spell on me.

You know that I’m passionate about food and plants. But you may not know that I’m really passionate about mint! This little uber-aromatic plant that grows wild, that ANYBODY can grow, that you may not pay much attention to (except in your toothpaste) is possibly my ULTIMATE favorite.  

There’s not a day that goes by that this humble herb doesn’t  find it’s way into my thoughts and conversation. Every morning I walk into my kitchen and out onto my balcony and see my ever-growing pot of mint. Every morning it greets me. I’m in love with a weed! It grows like wildfire (thus the pot). I ALWAYS have it in mind. People say, You’re the cook that puts mint in everything! Guilty as charged. But there’s a reason. 

This very common, humble herb is a nutrition and flavor powerhouse. 

Mint has an enchanting history, in fact and mythology. Named for the naiad (water nymph) Minthe, whom Persephone transformed into a plant to prevent her husband Hades, the god of the underworld, from seducing her. Hades was unable to undo the spell, but endowed the herb with a captivating aroma so when people trod on her leaves he could enjoy her scent. How’s that for a back story? 

Native to Europe, mint was used by Ancient Greeks and Romans to flavor cordials, perfume baths, aid digestion and freshen breath. Romans carried mint as they marched through Europe to Britain, where medieval monks used it for culinary and medicinal purposes. Ancient Hebrews scattered mint over the synagogue floor for its scent, and it’s been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 1000 BC. The Japanese have grown it to obtain menthol for at least 2,000 years!

One botanical detail: have you ever noticed that mint has square stems? It’s a trademark of the mint family of herbs, nearly unique in the plant kingdom. 

Ready to geek out?

Part of the fascination in writing my books is discovering the latest science about food. As my co-author Mat Edelson and I scoured the science of herbs, mint was a huge surprise for its vast healing powers!

  • According to our review of many studies, just 5 MINT LEAVES can positively impact your health!
  • The vitamin A and vitamin C in mint protects against cognitive decline. Just smelling it helps mood, focus and memory.
  • Mint is anticancer and anti-inflammatory. Its abundant luteolin, a plant flavonoid, which exhibits anti-oxidative, and anti-tumor effects, creating cell apoptosis. It’s an NF Kappa B regulator. NF-kB is a protein complex that controls transcription of DNA, cytokine production and cell survival. (Read more about NF-kB here.) It relieves indigestion, and makes foods that don’t taste quite right more palatable. It contains perillyl alcohol, which in the lab stalls growth of liver, mammary, and pancreatic tumors. It has a high volume of vitamin C and beta-carotene, which lowers colorectal cancer risk.
  • It’s antimicrobial, destroying germs in the food it contacts.
  • It’s a digestive aid, appetite suppressant and breath freshener. 
  • It’s a top longevity food, for all the above reasons. 

This little plant is a culinary pharmacy in itself!

From a culinary point of view, I’m always thinking about mint adding this bright high note to a dish. Imagine the brightness of tabbouleh, filled with parsley and mint, mint julips, the mojito. Sometimes I sneak mint leaves into a salad and people wonder what makes it taste so good! 

It’s easy to incorporate in your life:

  • Put it in a pitcher of water.
  • Steep it in tea.
  • Chop it -- just like you use parsley -- and put it on everything.

I prefer spearmint (mentha spicata) for cooking, rather than peppermint. It’s more volatile, more intense, which makes it great for brewing a pot of tea. 

Delicious recipes including mint!

An elegant coleslaw salad with superb flavor and crunch! Red cabbage and jicama together with mint, cilantro, and almonds toasted with maple syrup tossed with an Asian dressing make an EXTRA special and nutritious summer salad. 

The pomegranate seeds make this guacamole a visual delight, and of course the mint brightens the flavor. A really unexpected use of mint! And wow, does it work.

Chimichurri is to South America as salsa verde is to Italy. My version combines parsley, garlic, red pepper flakes, olive oil, lemon juice, and the kicker, mint. As the Argentines might say, this is a chimichurri that adds destello (sparkle) to a dish.