Everything You Need to Know About Mint

Green and serene, the humble mint leaf is known to refresh minds and bodies in the form of teas and oils. But in its raw state, it’s a culinary jet-setter dazzling foodies the world over atop dishes as diverse as traditional English peas, Thai curries and Cuban mojitos. It grows on nearly every continent and is beloved by holistic doctors and bartenders alike. So put down your peppermint mocha and snip a sprig from your garden, mint is about to get its moment.

Mint plants love the sun, so even though none of the over 600 varieties of what’s more commonly called peppermint is native to California, it grows well here. Like rosemary and sage, it thrives and spreads, thus appearing in backyards where it was never technically planted. Having originated in Asia, perhaps this is why today mint can be found virtually anywhere.

Mint’s unmistakable fragrance, a mix of clean and sweet, led to its popularity in ancient times. Greeks used it to scent cordials and baths, while Egyptians placed mint into tombs as early as 1000 BC. Medicinally, mint is believed to have so many healing properties that a separate article would be required to cover them all. 

Websites and social media pages declare that mint may relieve indigestion, boost immunity, treat upper respiratory infections, treat nausea, prevent allergies, and so much more. While none of these cures are scientifically proven, mint does contain vitamin A and C, magnesium, calcium and potassium. 

You would need to eat a large amount to get much benefit from it, but as journalist Lewis Waverly Root once pointed out, “It is the destiny of mint to be crushed.”

And it is usually so, but mint’s role in cuisine is becoming more pronounced as the farm-to-table and garden-to-plate movements expand. Old standards, like mint jelly that accompanies roast lamb on Easter for decades, are being reimagined. Fresh mint leaves are turned into pesto, relish and chimichurri for an elegant loin of lamb served in the chicest of restaurants. A handful of mint placed over a grilled branzino or a light pasta makes for an unforgettable meal. 

Eat, drink and purchase your mint locally.

And cocktails are not to be forgotten. Mint complements, as well as covers, the flavor of liquor in such famous drinks as the Kentucky Derby staple mint julep and the mojito. It’s no surprise that at bars like the one at Farmhouse inside Rogers Gardens in Newport Beach, mint always makes an appearance on the menu.

Farmhouse currently offers a very seductive cocktail on their seasonal menu, the Natural Aphrodisiac, which contains, among other ingredients, fresh mint. So in addition to the being an herb that’s good for you in general, is it also an aphrodisiac? Is there anything mint doesn’t do?

Anthony Laborin, bartender at Farmhouse and creator of the drink, says it’s the sum of all of the ingredients, not just the mint. He also suspects you’ll have more than one of his concoctions. 

“The mint and the Blinking Owl Aquavit work so well together, you’re most likely going to have multiple, thus making you feel a little frisky,” he says. The bar at Farmhouse gets their mint and other herbs from Schaner Farms in San Diego County, one of the biggest sources for produce at the restaurant. 

For those not in the mood (pun intended) or not old enough to enjoy a minty cocktail, there are breath mints, melty mints and peppermint patties. Peppermint oil is also used in the syrup that flavors Starbucks’ addictively-delicious Peppermint Mocha and in Williams Sonoma’s famous Peppermint Bark, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year. The retailer of all things culinary has pulled a Willy Wonka and hidden more than 1,500 winning tickets inside their Peppermint Bark tins, including a chance to win a $1,000 Williams Sonoma gift card. 

The candies may not contain the health benefits of the raw mint leaf, but winning that gift card would certainly be refreshing.

I need mint! Where can I buy it and what kind should I get?

Most of the more than 600 varieties of mint are not found locally, including the only mint to be patented by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: Hillary’s Sweet Lemon Mint. Named after Hillary Clinton in 1993 (when she was First Lady), this special herb was carefully created by Jim Westerfield, a plant “hybridizer” in Illinois. It can be found at online nurseries in late spring and summer. A few different mints can be purchased in pots at nurseries or grocery stores.

Four varieties of mint are currently available at Rogers Gardens. Apple Mint, Mint the Best, English Mint and Pineapple Mint. Grown by Gourmet Grown Premiere Color Nursery, $4.99 each. 

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