Planting it makes you environmentally correct, too – mint attracts a plethora of beneficial and pollinating insects when it’s in bloom. These critters include syrphid (hover) flies, honeybees, bumblebees, lacewings and butterflies.
Ancient Egyptians used it to cure digestive upsets and freshen the breath. In medieval times, when baths were few and far between, mint was a strewing herb, with armloads of it thrown on floors. Introduced into England by the Romans, mint was scattered in churches to sweeten the air. Powdered mint was also used to whiten teeth.
Historically, the herb is a symbol of hospitality. During ancient times, Romans and Greeks rubbed mint oil on banquet tables to greet guests with its fresh invigorating scent.
Mints are used to mask the tastes and smells of other medicines, and are active ingredients in stomach therapies and nasal complaints. In Chinese medicine, mint is used as a liver stimulant, for influenza and sore throat relief, and to treat inflamed eyes.
There are over 600 varieties of mint crossing many categories of flavor, including peppermint, spearmint, lemon, chocolate, pineapple, ginger, orange and apple.
Chocolate mint leaves smell and taste like mint and yes, chocolate. This remarkable herb comes from the spearmint family and has a purple stem with green leaves. You can use it like any mint plant in drinks, salads, desserts, sauces or as a garnish.
Spearmint has been cultivated for so long, that some believe it would be virtually impossible to find it growing in its original form in nature. Biblical references to mint suggest it was of such high value as to be used as tithes by the Pharisees. (Matthew xxiii, 23)
Spearmint oil is less used than it's stronger cousin, peppermint. The mint sauces and jellies that usually accompany lamb dishes are made of the milder-flavored spearmint. It was once recommeded as a treatment for hiccough, flatulence as well as 'the giddiness of indigestion'. Used externally, oil of spearmint, was thought to heal 'chaps and indolent eruptions.'
The deep flavor of mint is most commonly found in the older leaves of the plant. Leaves that have been exposed to abundant sunlight tend to taste stronger than other leaves.
Mint has been grown as a medicine, food additive and rubbing aid for centuries. The family of mint herbs (Lamiaceae) is found wild in Southern and Central Europe. It has been widely cultivated in both England and Africa for hundreds of years.