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A practical guide for nutritional and traditional health care.

Mints

Mints are a multifarious plant group that comprises over 25 species and possibly several hundred assortments as well as hybrids and, hence, difficult to classify. The dissimilar mint species have several common features as well as chemical properties. In fact, often botanists also find it tricky to decide on the manner to name a particular species. Peppermint and spearmint are among the most familiar mint species found in North America and they are valued very highly owing to their commercial use. Peppermint encloses a volatile oil that contains menthol, which is used for manufacturing medicines, liqueurs, candies, cigarettes as well as several other items. On the other hand, spearmint is comparatively pleasing, but has a less powerful essence, which is derived from its leaves and oil. Spearmint has become a vital item in the food industry.

Apart from being used in jellies and mint sauces, spearmint is also employed to add essence to candy, chewing gums, baked items and liqueurs. In addition, spearmint is also packed in the form of dried up flakes for domestic use, while restaurants and bars purchase fresh spearmint with a view to flavour lamb as well as vegetable dishes. They also use spearmint to garnish mint juleps, iced teas and several other beverages. In the United States, mint cultivators plant approximately 67,000 acres of peppermint and about 28,000 acres of spearmint every year.

People became interested in the therapeutic properties of mint sometime during the first century A.D., when the Roman naturalist and philosopher Gaius Plinius Secundus (Pliny) documented the medicinal use of mint. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, over 40 diseases were reportedly cured by using mint. Perhaps this may have encouraged a 17th century visitor to New England John Josselyn to take note of the fact that mint was among the plants listed for being transported to the New World.

In the contemporary times, mint is primarily used in home remedies as well as in pharmaceutical medications to ease stomach and intestinal gas attributable to specific foods. In fact, a range of after-dinner mint candies as well as liqueurs are available in the market which confirms the effectiveness of mint in this regard. In addition, the effectiveness of menthol, an oil which is extracted from peppermint, in the form of a relaxing rub for tender muscles as well as for treating ailments related to the upper respiratory system, can easily be proved by visiting a neighbourhood pharmacy, where you will find labels of several therapeutic preparations for treating the respiratory problems and also rubs for aching muscles which reveal the presence of menthol. On the other hand, the oil extracted from spearmint is mainly used for perfuming toiletry items.

Even today, people continue with several past uses of mint, although sometimes in different forms. Owing to the potent scent of mints, they were scattered around the houses as well as public places with a view to get rid of the foul smell as well as to fend off parasites. In present times, people have made the most of the deodorant properties of mint by manufacturing mouthwashes and toothpastes with mint flavour to improve the breath.

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Another variety of mint, the European pennyroyal possesses a potent smell that is loathed by insects. When the oil extracted from this species of mint is consumed, it proves to be extremely poisonous - a little over an ounce of the oil may result in grave harm to the liver.

Calamint large-flowered (Calamintha grandiflora)

The mint species Calamint (botanical name Calamintha grandiflora) is indigenous to the southern as well as south-eastern regions of Europe, northern Iran as well as Anatolia. Calamintha grandiflora is a tough, straight, scented plant that grows perennially and up to a height of about 20 cm to 60 cm (approximately 8 inches to 24 inches). The base of the plants is woody, while the stems are square and soft. The leaves have green stalks, are soft, light and indented. They produce spikes of beautiful vivid pink, tubular blooms during the middle of the summer and attract bees. This variety of mint has a potent, sharp and pleasantly fruit-like fragrance with a tinge of thyme. Calamintha grandiflora grows excellently in properly drained and comparatively alkaline soils. This herb has a preference for sunlit sites, but has the ability to endure slight shade. This mint species is propagated from its seeds and, alternately, by division of the established clumps. The leaves of Calamintha grandiflora can be used to prepare a pleasant, sweet, fragrant herbal tea and they are a preferred substitute at whatever time mint is required. The genus name Calamintha has been derived from the Greek word 'kallis' denoting 'beautiful', while the word mintha means 'mint'. Therefore, the name Calamintha grandiflora is a very appropriate name for an extremely beautiful plant.

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Calamint lesser (Calamintha nepeta)

Calamint lesser (botanical name Calamintha nepeta) is native to the southern regions of Europe as well as the Mediterranean and these plants grow up to a height of anything between 30 cm and 90 cm (about 1 foot to 3 feet). These plants are potently fragrant and bushy, having elongated, slithering rhizome, which gives rise to a straight numerously branched stem. The foliage of calamint lesser has a gray hue and it makes up for the beautiful white hued or lilac blooms, which flower during the period between the middle of the summer to the first frost of the season. These flowers draw bees as well as other insects that come in search for nectar. The leaves of this herb have the taste as well as smell of spearmint, but are just warmer. The calamint lesser may be grown in the form of an extremely gorgeous edging to sunlit borders as well as beds. This mint species grows well in nearly all garden soils having proper drainage. However, it grows most excellently in total sunlight, but is also able to endure partial shade. Calamint lesser is generally propagated by division of its established clumps. Alternately, you may also propagate this herb from its seeds or from stem cuttings. The leaves of Calamintha nepeta may be employed to flavour stews and roasts. In addition, they are also used to brew a sweet and aromatic tea. This herb is preferred in Tuscan culinary, especially while preparing mushrooms as well as green vegetables.

Korean mint (Agastache rugosa)

Korean mint (botanical name Agastache rugosa) is indigenous to the eastern regions of Asia, counting the eastern areas of China, Indo-China, India and Japan. This plant is herb-like and bushy growing perennially and usually grows up to a height of about 120 cm or four feet. In some colder regions, Korean mint is also cultivated as an annual variety. The leaves of this herb are coarse, heart-shaped, vivid green and indented and possess a flavour and scent akin to that of anise. Korean mint bears purple or rose-violet blooms in the later part of summer and these flowers are a favourite of the honeybees. This mint species grows excellently in fertile soils containing properly decomposed compost or manure and having a good drainage system. Korean mint needs a sunlit site for proper growth. This herb is propagated by its seeds. The leaves of Agastache rugosa are used to flavour meats in the form of garnishes and also in any other preparation that requires the use of mint. The leaves can also be brewed to prepare a wonderful tea. It may be noted here that the Korean mint is extensively used in Chinese herbal medicine.

Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida)

As the name of this herb suggests, Mexican mint marigold (botanical name Tagetes lucida) is indigenous to Mexico as well as Guatemala and this plant grows up to a height of anything between 30 cm and 80 cm (1 feet and 2 1/2 feet). This herb has very few branches and is slightly timbered at the base. The leaves of Mexican mint marigold are shiny and lance-shaped and it produces a bunch of golden-yellow flowering heads during the end of summer. This variety of mint has a preference for loose, properly drained soil and required to be grown in total sunlight. The leaves have an aroma akin to that of anise and may be used to prepare a delightfully sweet and revitalizing tea. Frequently, the leaves of Mexican mint marigold are also used in sangria, fruit punch as well as cider. You may also employ the leaves of this herb to add essence to sauces, vinaigrettes, and butter as well as to go together with egg dishes, salads, poultry and fish. It may be mentioned here that the Aztecs added the powdered leaves of this mint species to chocolatl - a foaming beverage prepared from cocoa beans.

Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum pilosum)

Mountain mint (botanical name Pycnanthemum pilosum) is indigenous to North America and this herb grows up to a height of anything between 90 cm and 150 cm (3 feet and 5 feet). This plant has a branching stem and produces clusters of a small number of pink hued flowers. The leaves are dark green and when crushed, they exude a pungent scent akin to that of mint. This plant grows most excellently in fertile, adequately drained, loamy compost and it is important that you always keep the soil damp. Mountain mint has a preference for slight shade, but also possesses the aptitude to grow well in full sunlight. This herb is generally propagated by its seeds. Alternately, you may also grow mountain mint by division of its established clumps. Both, the fresh as well as dried up leaves of the herb may be used to prepare a delectable, mint-flavoured tea. There was a time when the indigenous tribes of North America highly valued mountain mint, as they employed the flowering buds of this plant in the form of softening buffalo meat.

Fresh mint leaf sauce for lamb

  • 1/3 cup of potent vinegar
  • 1/3 cup of finely chopped mint leaves
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of cold water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon (7.5 gram) of confectioner's sugar

To prepare the recipe, mix water and sugar in a small saucepan and place it over a low heat. Keep stirring the mixture till the entire sugar dissolves. Subsequently, add the vinegar and mint leaves and blend them thoroughly and let them permeate for about 30 minutes prior to serving.

Dried mint leaf tea

  • 4 tablespoons (60 grams) of dried up leaves of spearmint
  • 1/ 2 tablespoon (7.5 grams) of sugar or 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of honey
  • 4 cups (8 oz or 1 litre) of boiling water

Boil the water in a large teapot and add the spearmint leaves to it. When the water is boiling rapidly pour all the leaves right away over it. Let the leaves to suffuse for about 5 minutes. Subsequently, add sugar or honey for sweetening and stir the mixture once. Pour the liquid over a strainer to serve four cups of steaming tea.

Apple, mint leaf, and orange relish

  • 1 cup (250 ml) apple sauce
  • 1 unpeeled orange
  • 1/2 cup (125 grams) of finely chopped, fresh mint leaves

Shred the peel of the orange, chop up the pulp of the orange and mix them with apple sauce and the chopped mint leaves. Stir thoroughly and then marinate the mixture for more than a few hours prior to serving.

Mint julep

Mint julep is a typical American beverage that reminds one of the ways of life of people in the Deep South. It is prepared in large amounts (by the gallon) on the first Saturday of May for running the famed Kentucky Derby. This beverage has a history that goes back to no less than the early part 19th century. The objective is to accomplish a wonderful balance between the essences of mint and sugar as well as bourbon - the substance that provides the beverage its kick, while neither of these ingredients prevailing over the other. The ingredients required for this recipe include:

  • 5-6 large fresh leaves of mint
  • 1 teaspoon (5 grams) of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of water
  • 50 ml/ 2 fluid oz of superior quality Kentucky bourbon, sprig of fresh mint for dressing
  • Crushed ice

To prepare this recipe, put the sugar, mint and water in the bottom of a glass. Crush them using a spoon till the entire sugar dissolves and the flavour of mint is drawn out. Now, fill the tumbler with crushed ice. When frost forms on the exterior of the glass, pour in the bourbon slowly, letting it to drip through the ice and, subsequently, keep stirring. Use the sprig of mint for dressing and serve at once.

Iced mint tea

Iced mint tea is an ideal beverage for a garden party during summer provided it is prepared in large amounts. In case you are catering the drink to a smaller gathering, you may also lessen the amount in proportion. Adding some sparkling soda water to this tea makes it an altogether different drink - something very special from the normal mint tea.

To prepare about 6 litres (1.25 gallons) of iced mint tea, you require the following ingredients:

  • 1.5 litres/ 60 fl. ounces of soda water
  • 3 litres/ 120 fl. ounces of strong tea
  • 450 ml/ 15 fl. ounces of lemon juice
  • 750 ml/ 1 1/2 lb of caster sugar
  • Orange and lemon slices for decoration
  • Ice and mint sprigs for serving

To prepare this recipe, first pour the tea into a big bowl or an enamelled saucepan, include the caster sugar and leave the combination to cool. Keep stirring the lemon juice and pour the soda water into it. Use a spoon to transfer the blend into jugs. Next, add ice cubes and mint sprigs to decorate the beverage. Using the lemon or orange slices will make the drink more appealing.

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