Mint (Mentha genus) is a perennial herbaceous plant that is found in many species. It belongs to the Labiatae family and has a slightly spicy taste and strong aroma. It grows up in Asia, Africa and Europe, preferring sunny areas, but also low shaded areas. Known since ancient times, this plant has been widely used both as an ingredient in natural cuisine for food and for its therapeutic properties. Here is a guide on its varieties and recipes.
Where does the term mint come from?
Maybe not everyone knows that its name comes from Myntha, a beautiful nymph born in the hellish river Cocito, according to Greek mythology. The Greek myth tells that Hades, the god of the Underworld, fell in love with Myntha and when Persephone, Ade’s wife, discovered him, he transformed Myntha into a plant, the mint. That way everyone would walk on her. In the impossibility of cancelling the spell, Ade decided to give her a magnificent perfume, so that everyone could hear it by passing it next to her.
In ancient times, Hippocrates used it as an aphrodisiac, while the Greeks and Romans used it as a perfume. Thanks to the slightly healing action, in the past a paste was obtained to be applied to wounds, mixing it with olive oil.
Mint: varieties and classifications
There are about 600 varieties of mint, different in characteristics and properties. The most common ones are peppermint, Roman mint and aquatic.
- Peppermint: rich in menthol and essential oils. Other types of mint such as black and white mint are also included in this classification.
- Roman mint or Mentha viridis: bushy plant typical of the countryside, it is also used to decorate gardens.
- Nepitella: it was used extensively in the preparation of traditional dishes, and in distant times it was one of the main remedies to deal with numerous problems.
- Aquatic mint: grows in humid environments, near water bodies. It elicits a good pesky scent for insects.
Being one of the most common varieties of mint, we’re going to discover what benefits you can get from consuming this herb.
Since the Middle Ages, in fact, it was already one of the most effective natural remedies for healing bad breath and whitening.
Today it is appreciated for many health problems thanks to the active ingredients of menthol.
- Gastric problems: fights stomach pain, meteorism and various gastric disturbances. She proves useful in nausea, vomiting and colic.
- Flu: if you are affected or cooled, you can improve your condition by using the essential mint oil in the diffuser.
- Skin problems: in case of erythema, sunburn and insect bites, it relieves the sensation of itching and burning.
- Headache: finally, it acts as a calming agent, either by inhaling it by means of a diffuser or by massaging the temples with essential oil.
The properties of mint
Composed mainly of water, fibre, ash, protein and carbohydrates, mint has a good concentration of mineral salts. In particular potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese, sodium and phosphorus.
The proportion of vitamins is also very high, especially those in group A, vitamin B, vitamin C and vitamin D.
The properties of mint depend on the presence of an alcohol extracted from the essence of mint, menthol.
- Refreshing: this component is used to prepare cosmetics, perfumes and medicines, thanks to the pleasant sensation of freshness that emanates.
- Antiseptic action: it is often used in candy making and to relieve sore throat, acting as a natural disinfectant.
- Natural analgesic: in limited form, to avoid side effects on the nervous system, relieves pain.
- Digestive: from a therapeutic point of view, thanks to its properties, mint can be useful at the end of a meal as a digestive, in addition to performing an antispasmodic function.
- Remedy for car sickness or sea sickness: drinking an infusion of fresh mint leaves 2-3 days before travel (and also during the trip) helps prevent nausea and vomiting.
- Toner and astringent: its leaflets are widely used in cosmetics as well. For example, in the form of infusion, it is perfect as tonic and astringent and if the skin is reddened. It also has a refreshing effect. A decoction is prepared to be placed in a sterilised glass bottle with 6 g (approximately 2 handfuls) of fresh mint leaves infused in 100 ml of boiling water. Leave it for 20 minutes and then filter.
How to grow mint at home
If you want to grow mint at home, rest assured that it is simpler than you think, as it is a plant that adapts well to many types of soil and climate. So don’t miss our practical guide full of tips and advice on how to grow it in pots or on land, to get some useful stockpiles of its fantastic leaflets.
Like many other perennial plants, mint also adapts well to almost all soils and climates, shady or sunny exposures and withstands even the most adverse climatic events. The only thing that should be done when growing mint in pots or gardens is moisture: to avoid waterlogging and too moist soils because, in the long run, they could damage the root system of the plant and compromise its development.
This aromatic plant prefers rich soils, so remember to change the mould every two years or enrich it with organic matter. In the coldest or particularly rainy periods, cover the stems with towels in order to protect the leaves from weathering and frost; to successfully cultivate mint in pot or on the ground, it will be necessary to assure the seedlings regular watering which will allow to keep the soil always humid, avoiding to wet the leaves.
The spread of mint must coincide with the arrival of spring and may occur through the seeds, by cutting of the vegetative apices or by transplanting already adult seedlings in pot or in the open field. If you optaste for the propagation for such, remember that the apices to be planted must be at least 20-25 cm long, removed from the plant towards March-April or early autumn and placed in a glass with water or directly in the soil to facilitate rooting.
If you choose pot cultivation, keep in mind that as soon as the plant starts to sprout, it will have to be moved in full sun and that the potting will have to follow the growth. Opt for large containers at least 40-45 cm or 60 cm if you have enough space to grow larger and lush plants.
Growing tips for mint
A definitely valid advice for those who want to grow mint with success is to choose the variety that best suits their climatic zone: peppermint, for example, lives better in the cold and if grown in the garden will attract butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects that will make the joy of all other plants. Peppermint thirsty, on the other hand, lives well in the warmer climates.
Harvesting and preservation
Usually, the harvest takes place in summer when the leaves are particularly rich in menthol and essential oils. After removing from the plant the larger leaves and some of the vegetative tips, use mint for raw consumption, dry it to prepare herbal teas and infusions or freeze it in ice cubes to have a good supply always ready for use at any time of year. Remember that if the leaves are not harvested regularly, in mid-season the buds of the plant will be pruned anyway.
Side effects of mint
Mint, although it is an excellent natural remedy, must be taken with attention to some indications. Avoid it if you suffer from gastric reflux, kidney or liver disease, favism and ulcer.
Before you take it in pregnancy, you should discuss it with your doctor. We recommend that you do not use it in the evening, as it may disturb sleep.
Recipes prepared with mint
You can use this plant to savour many types of dishes, sauces, sauces, soups, salads and smoothies. That’s why you can find mint almost everywhere: from pasta recipes to second courses, both meat and fish.
However, it is mainly used in sweets and soft drinks. From ice cream to ice-lime to mint granite, from cocktails to bitters, thanks to its thirst quenching and refreshing power and its digestive action.
But not only that, just think of the famous tea typical of Middle Eastern countries: served hot it helps to combat the sense of thirst and refresh, thanks to the presence of menthol.
It is particularly present in Tunisian and Algerian cuisine, where it is used for example to refresh the taboulé and bulgur, or to perfume aubergines and grilled zucchini.
How to prepare mint syrup
Mint syrup is also a very popular thirst quenching drink, especially in summer. Here’s how to prepare it at home with a few ingredients
- 500 ml of water
- 50 g of fresh mint leaves
- 500 g of cane sugar
- 1/2 lemon.
- Put the mint leaves in water, leaving them infusion for about 15 minutes. Then rinse them carefully, dab them with a cloth and let them dry.
- Chop them into small pieces and pour them into a container, together with the sugar. Mix and wait half an hour. Put the water to boil and when it is ready, pour in the mint and sugar mixture plus the grated lemon rind.
- Cook until it becomes a thick liquid. Cooking times vary according to your taste. The more you let it cook, the higher the density of the syrup.
To complete the preparation, filter it with a strainer and pour directly into a previously sterilized glass bottle.