Fresh & Dried Mint is part of a monthly series here on FBC called The Spice Box. Primarily written by Michelle Peters Jones, these articles create a spice primer for new and experienced home cooks alike!
Scientific Name of Mint: Mentha (with additions, depending on the genus)
Mint, of course, is not a spice, but an herb. However, if your gardens are anything like mine, this herb is probably going wild round about now. My partner calls mint a weed - I beg to disagree. I love mint in all it guises, and it’s of the few herbs I always have around for cooking, eating and drinking.
Mint has several different genera, with peppermint and spearmint being the best known. It also comes in varieties like chocolate, lemon, ginger, orange, apple and Japanese, each variety with it’s own distinctive aroma.
How To Grow Mint
Mint is a hardy perennial and easy to grow - it's grown all over the world, with each culture having it’s own use for this beautiful, fragrant herb. Spearmint can take heat, while peppermint can be grown in quite cold environs. Peppermint leaves are easily distinguishable, with the sharp green and purple spiked sprigs, while spearmint is smaller, rounder and has greeny-grey leaves.
Generally speaking, in Canada mint is extremely easy to grow throughout the spring, summer and early fall. But it can easily and quickly take over your garden if you aren't careful. It's a herb that's best suited to container gardening so that you can keep it... well... contained! Keep it evenly moist (but not soaking wet) during its growing period. Harvest mint as needed as it will continue to grow quickly throughout the season. Snip it regularly with a pair of scissors and add to drinks, salads or use it as a garnish for summer desserts! Harvest larger bunches for drying to use over the winter.
In milder climates, like Canada's west coast, mint can easily make it through the winter outdoors - it goes dormant and won't produce usable leaves during winter but it will spring back to life in early spring.
Flavour Profile of Mint
One of the first things that we would notice about this herb is its strong – almost medicinal – fragrance. The sweet scent defines the flavor profile of this herb, and it has a grassy taste, with a slight edge of bitterness to the leaves. Peppermint has a bright, peppery taste to it, while spearmint tends to be cooler and subtler. Various other genus of mint taste similar to their names. Lemon mint, in particular, has a strong citrus flavor to it.
Storage and Use of Mint
As I mentioned earlier, growing mint is easy, and you can do it either in your garden or in a small pot. Mint can be harvested as soon as leaves start getting a dark green. It is one of those herbs that is delicious fresh or dried and while fresh mint tends to have a superior flavor, dried mint is also used in several dishes, particularly mint tea.
Fresh mint is used straight from the plant, leaves picked and chopped and stirred into dishes. It is delicious in all kinds of dishes, including stirred into grains and used whole in salads. If you're looking for lots of great mint inspiration check out these recipe ideas that feature mint (there's more than 30 recipes!).
Look for fresh, bright green or purple leaves with no yellowing or rotten spots. If you don’t have a fresh mint plant, you can store mint wrapped in damp paper towels in the crisper of your refrigerator. You can also do as I sometimes do, and place bunches of mint in a glassful of fresh water and store them in the door of the refrigerator.
To dry mint, harvest large bunches and gently strip the leaves from the woody stalks. Dry the leaves in the sunshine, or in a dehydrator. Carefully transfer the dried leaves into an airtight container, keeping them as whole as possible, and store in a cool, dry place. You can use this mint for an excellent mint tea and also in cooking. Another way of drying mint is to hang bunches upside down in a cool, dry place. I tend to use my unheated pantry. When the bunches are dry, store as above.
Different cultures have different ways of using mint. Scattering mint leaves to freshen a home, for example, or chewing mint leaves to freshen breath. In many Middle Eastern countries, guests are offered mint tea as soon as they arrive, as a signifier of hospitality.
There are significant health benefits that are associated with mint. Mint tea is used to soothe an upset stomach. It is a proven anti-bacterial ingredient. Mint oil is used in inhalers to help breathe easier. Mint is also a popular agent in perfumeries, the confectionery industry and in oral tooth care. No wonder it is one of the best used herbs in the world.
And finally, did you know that the name ‘mint’ comes from the Greek word Mintha? Mintha was a Greek nymph who was transformed into a plant by the goddess Persephone, who was jealous of her. When Pluto, the object of Minthe’s affections, could not reverse the spell, he cast upon her another spell which made the plant fragrant, so as to be pleasing to the senses.
Have a spice you’d like to see profiled? Let us know in the comments.