By Heidi Lewis
The power in mint is menthol, its essential oil. It’s a voracious plant and can even be invasive. Mint is rich in vitamins A, B12, C, thiamine, folic acid, and riboflavin. It contains many essential minerals like manganese, potassium, selenium, iron, calcium, zinc, and phosphorus. This is why it is valued as an anti-oxidant.
Mint, or mentha, comes in at least 30 varieties — peppermint, spearmint, catmint, lemon balm, Moroccan mint, and a multitude of “flavored” mints, with hints of pineapple, chocolate, basil, orange, and so on. The mint family is divided into three main categories: peppermint, spearmint, and pennyroyal. Pennyroyal is the wild groundcover version and should not be eaten; spearmint and peppermint have many culinary and medicinal uses.
Greek mythology traces the origin of mint to Persephone, the wife of Hades, who, feeling scorned by her husband’s love for the little nymph Menthe, turned her into a plant. Mint has many uses, from calming to refreshing. In the advertising world, minty breath can give you the power to win over perfect strangers or lift a car. In cooking, it also has transformative properties, converting plain couscous into a Middle Eastern delight. Cooked peas and carrots are enlivened with a sprinkle. Try it minced on eggs, in fruit salads, or to perk up a green salad. It’s also lovely in a variety of hot and cold beverages.
Storage: To store mint, set stems in a jar of water and loosely cover leaves with a plastic bag in the fridge. Plucked leaves can also be frozen or dried.
To use: Fresh leaves can be torn or cut chiffonade fashion. To chiffonade, stack the leaves and roll them into a little cigar; cut at an angle. Even if you just use the little florets from the mint tops to add pizzazz to your iced tea, you’ll want to say (in a Euro-infused TV-commercial voice): “Mint, the fresh maker!”