July 26, 2010

Spearmint / Mentha Spicata

My spearmint plant is flourishing! This is the first time I have ever grown spearmint and I am excited. I have it growing in it's own separate container due to the fact that it is very invasive. Mint is so aggressive it can actually spread from yard to yard if left to grow freely in the ground. If that is where you choose to grow it, just make sure you plant it in a deep bottomless container such as a 5 gallon bucket with the bottom cut out of it. I have learned that mint is a perennial, which means it will grow back year after year. Mint especially thrives in cool, moist spots but, it is so hardy it can tolerate full sun as well.

Before I go any further, I should note that spearmint and peppermint are two different plants. However, they are both a member of the botanical genus Mentha in the mint family. The leaves from a Spearmint plant possess a lighter, sweeter flavor, which can be chewed leaving a pleasant taste on the tongue. On the other hand, peppermint leaves are very strong and should be dried first and used sparingly.

I did a little research and found that, not surprisingly, the main use for spearmint oil is used for flavoring gum, toothpaste and candy. The #1 thing that comes to my mind is Wrigley's Spearmint Gum. Of course, mint is commonly used in cooking as well. The freshly chopped mint leaves, can be preserved in vinegar, and used as a condiment when served with lamb....maybe I should remember this when I have my lamb roast! Also, both dried and fresh mint leaves are used in soups, sauces and stews. Oh yes, and we mustn't forget the famous Mint Julep...the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. Spearmint leaves are also used found in the ever increasingly popular drink, the Mojito. And, oh my goodness, I just remembered....when I was a child, my Mom would give me "Tom Tucker Mint Gingerale" when I wasn't feeling well.

This summer, my favorite use for spearmint leaves has been in fresh brewed iced tea. After picking and rinsing the leaves, I crush and twist them to release the oils and drop them into the bottom of a nice tall glass. Of course, next comes plenty of ice and then finally the tea.

It all comes together to produce one heck of a refreshing drink on a hot summer day. It may seem silly, but that simple act of picking, crushing, and adorning my iced tea with a few mint leaves makes me one happy girl! I guess it's that whole "it's summer and the livin' is fine!" thing. Ya know what I mean? I think I am high off of summer this year, or maybe it's just the mint!
Ha Ha!!

I should also mention the medicinal uses for mint. Known for it's high amounts of pure essential oil menthol, mint eases pain and discomfort by relaxing muscles of the intestinal wall. This makes it a great remedy for indigestion, nausea and flatulence. I'm sorry, did I just say that? Yes, I did. But what do we all reach for when we are a little gassy or ate one too many slices of pepperoni, sausage pizza...spearmint or peppermint flavored TUMS my friend. It's the total cure-all for a wishy-washy, upset, gassy, bloatey, heart burny stomach. Actually, another great way to soothe an after dinner stomach is to make a tea with fresh or dried spearmint leaves. I have read that you can even heat it in a cup of milk for your little one's upset stomach. It's also used for alleviating congestion and soothing insect bites.

The great thing about mint is that it is safe to ingest or to apply topically. By topically, I mean that it is found in facial cleansers, cosmetics, shampoos, perfumes and ointments. It is also commonly used in aroma therapy, claiming to help your focus and concentration. It evens promises to clear your mind and mental stress helping you to sleep. I once had a pillow spray infused with menthol that actually did make me feel more relaxed and calm at bed time.

Now that I think about it, mint is prominent in my daily life...from brushing my teeth, washing my face and hair, chewing gum, providing me sinus relief, relieving my wishy-washy stomach after consuming a bowl of 5 alarm chili, and last, but not least, my wonderful, icy cold, refreshing, sweet, iced tea, with just a kiss of spearmint...what can I say...Mint...it's a wonderful thing!