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The versatile mint. (The garden).


Peppermint (mentha piperita) does a lot more than make a refreshing drink. It's indispensable in my herb garden and so vigorous I can pull handfuls up by the roots and it always comes back, as fresh as ever. When I planted my first sprig of mint, I did what the gardening books told me: put it in a five-gallon bucket and plant the entire bucket to keep the invasive roots confined. But I discovered mint has a wanderlust all its own and soon found it cropping up in the bee balm, the chamomile, and even the yard. Sort of like that one tiny bit of comfrey I can never quite dig up entirely!

Not that I mind, you understand. Running the lawn mower over the mint in the lawn releases a burst of clean scent that instantly revitalizes me like a cool shower on a hot day. When I remove tendrils that have dipped their toes across other herbs' boundaries, I just walk them over to my brassicas. Rubbing the stems of mint together to bruise the leaves, I lay the sprigs on my cabbages and broccoli. The strong scent confuses the cabbage butterfly so she doesn't lay eggs on my plants. As long as I remember to replace the wilted stems with fresh ones weekly, I can look forward to enjoying a worm-free crop.

Even the dog and cats seem to like rolling in the mint. It's really cut down on the flea population and the critters smell so good when they're petted. I've noticed quite a few insects don't seem to like mint. I don't know whether it's the strong scent or the essential oils, but when I crush a few leaves of mint and lemon balm together and rub them on my arms at dusk, the midges and mosquitoes look elsewhere for snacks.

Peppermint now inhabits one quarter of my herb garden and I can't say that I've discouraged it very much. I can never have enough peppermint. I use it fresh from spring to fall in the kitchen. The new tip growth makes a beautiful garnish for fruit salads and ice cream. Chop it up real fine and mix it in your law)rite potato salad or cole slaw recipe for a change of taste. A few sprigs in your morning tea or cocoa is a wonderfully refreshing way to start the day. You can freeze leaves in ice cubes to add to lemonade or water to impress your guests or give yourself a special treat.

You can even use mint as a medicine. Crush a few leaves and breathe in deeply to relieve a tension headache. Brew up a strong cup of mint tea to aid digestion after a big meal. Adding some chopped leaves to certain recipes may even help you avoid the gas and bloating that often accompany bean, legume, or brassica dishes. Crush a few leaves and wipe the sweat from your forehead after a long afternoon out in the garden. The essential oils in peppermint bring renewed vigor and put the sparkle back in your eyes. Chewing a leaf and spitting it out is a quick breath freshener when unexpected company arrives. Dried peppermint leaf powder mixed with myrrh powder, sage powder, and baking soda make a good toothpaste for receding gums and gingivitis. Just dip a wet, soft-bristled toothbrush into the powder mixture and brush gently in little circles. It takes about two weeks to start seeing results. For liniment to be used on aching muscles, try adding a strong cup of peppermint tea to one-half cup of witch hazel.

To brew a cup of peppermint tea, select the top few inches of growth and use only clean, unblemished leaves. Crush a few by twisting them between your fingers to release the oils. Place the crushed leaves in a cup and pour boiling water over them. Cover the cup with a saucer and steep at least three minutes, longer if it's for medicinal purposes. Strain and enjoy. A little sugar, honey, molasses, or stevia will sweeten it, if you like. To make iced tea, take a couple handfuls of clean, unblemished leaves and crush them into a pan. Fill the pan with cold water and bring it slowly to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, cover it with a lid, and let it steep. When it's no longer hot, strain the fragrant liquid and store it in jars in a cool place, like a root cellar, refrigerator or spring house. On a hot day, this drink is so refreshing and invigorating, you don't even need ice cubes. You can feel it cool your insides all the way down!

In temperate climates, mint can be harvested all year long. In northern Ohio, I have to dry my mint for winter use, but it's easy and takes little time. I dry mint by cutting the stems, removing any bad leaves, and hanging the stems in bundles upside down inside a dark, cool closet with the door cracked for ventilation. Ten stems per bundle is enough. Mold can form if you crowd the drying mint too much. I use rubber bands on my mint bundles and suspend them from coat hangers with spring-clip clothespins. After a couple of weeks, I strip the whole dried leaves carefully off the stems and store them in old Ovaltine jars in a cool, dark place. The leaves should feel crisp, not limp. Any limp leaves are tossed into the compost along with the blemished ones.

I love peppermint! It's almost impossible to destroy and that makes it tops for anyone with a brown thumb who wants to start an herb garden.

RELATED ARTICLE: Kids' allergies on the rise.

Oversensitive immune systems in children may be contributing to a rise in food allergies.

The number of patients who present at hospital casualty departments with severe food allergies has risen to 30,000 per year, reports MSNBC News. About half of these cases derive from peanut allergies. Some 200 people die following food allergy crises every year.

Ironically, improved health care and more effective vaccines may be part of the problem. Little children are not falling ill so often, and thus their immune systems are prone to overreact to sensitivity to food types.

On a brighter note, most victims of severe food allergies are children, 20% of whom go on to outgrow the allergy.
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Author:Flowera, Kay
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 2002
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