Mint is probably one of the most familiar herbs that is used in cooking and medicines throughout the world. There are many different species of mint and it grows prolifically throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and North America. Mint is a very aromatic herb, the leaves of which can come in various colours from dark green and purple to pale yellow. The leaves tend to have a slightly furred feel to them. Mint likes moist, shaded soil although the plants can grow in full sun. It can become very invasive to other plants and it is advisable to grow it in a pot, or in a bottomless container, sunk in the ground. The flowers of the Mint plant are white to purple which usually develop four seeds contained in a dry capsule.
The most common and popular Mint is peppermint or spearmint, both of which have numerous uses and are good for repelling pest insects such as wasps, ants and cockroaches, but the Mint plant is susceptible to whitefly and aphids.
It is the leaves of the Mint that have the aroma and flavour and harvesting of Mint leaves can be done at any time. They should be used immediately, or stored in an airtight container for up to a couple of days in a refrigerator, or frozen in ice cube trays. The leaf, fresh or dried, is the culinary source of Mint and fresh Mint is usually preferred over dried Mint as the leaves have a warm, fresh, aromatic, sweet flavour with a cool aftertaste.
Mint leaves can be used in teas, beverages, jellies, syrups, candies, and ice creams. Mint tea is very popular and can be used as a diuretic. One of the most popular uses in British cuisine is Mint sauce or jelly as an accompaniment to roast lamb. Mint is used a lot in Middle Eastern cuisine and is used extensively throughout the world in mouth washes, toothpaste, shampoo and chewing gum as well as numerous varieties of sweets. It is also used in cigarettes as it blocks the bitter taste of the tobacco whilst soothing the throat.
Mint was used as a room deodoriser many centuries ago with layers of Mint being put on the floors, but more recently it has been used by the medical profession to treat stomach and chest pains. It is also used to flavour various medicines and menthol, developed from Mint essential oil, is an ingredient of many cosmetics and perfumes. The essential oils are also used in aromatherapy, giving a calming and cooling affect.