Hint of Mint
By Neil Zevnik
Don't wait till after dinner! Enliven your meals now with this bright, refreshing herb.

According to Greek mythology, the origins of the mint plant are to be found in a tale of lust, betrayal, and spite that rivals any prime-time reality show. We are told that Hades, god of the Underworld, cast his wandering eye upon a particularly tasty little nymph by the name of Minthe. Hades’s wife, Persephone, was understandably put out, and in a fit of anger punished Minthe by turning her into a plant that would be trod upon by anyone strolling by. Hades was unable to undo his wife’s spell, but he softened the blow by giving Minthe a sweet and soothing scent. Doubtful she was much consoled by this, but she did achieve immortality of a sort, as her tale has lived on through the centuries in the herb that bears her name.

And even if perhaps this is not the factual origin of this useful and pleasing plant, it does reinforce the evidence suggesting that mint has been a welcome part of numerous cultures for many millennia. In Ancient Greece, mint leaves were rubbed on the dining table to welcome guests; in India and the Middle East, bundles of fresh mint were used to cleanse the air of homes and temples; and surely a mint julep has been an enduring component of Southern hospitality.

The Stats
Although there are more than 25 species of the genus Mentha, the most commonly found and used one is the ubiquitous peppermint. This potent herb is found in toothpastes, air fresheners, perfumes, moisturizers, medicines, shampoos, and chewing gum; it’s even used as a natural insecticide.

But there is more to mint than just a refreshing aroma and a brisk taste. Your digestive and respiratory tracts will bless you for ingesting mint on a regular basis, as its benefits are well-documented. Got indigestion, heartburn, even irritable bowel syndrome? Peppermint oil will relieve and guard against the discomfort by relaxing the muscles of the intestine. Got asthma, allergies, or a bad cold? The rosmarinic acid in peppermint has been shown to reduce inflammation and open airways.

And the benefits of sweet little Minthe’s descendants don’t stop there. Perillyl alcohol, a phytonutrient found in peppermint, has been shown in animal studies to stop the growth of tumors, and to protect against skin and lung cancers as well.

On a nutritional level, mint provides healthful doses of manganese and vitamins A and C, both of which play a role in cancer prevention by reducing free radicals and protecting cells from DNA damage. Peppermint even has a substantial amount of omega-3 fatty acids, and we all know how good those are for you.

Getting It
Fresh mint should be available year-round in your local supermarket. Organic is best, and remember your local farmers’ market will always have the freshest selections. If not using right away, put the bunch of mint (stems down) in a jar of water, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and store in the fridge for a few days.

Related Articles: