Mint is an herb native to the Mediterranean area that is grown commercially as well as in home gardens.  There are many varieties of mint but spearmint and peppermint are the most common.  Spearmint has a pale-to-medium green stem, pointed, crinkly leaves, and usually light pink or white flowers. It is most common in gardens.  Peppermint has a purple stem, a more rounded leaf with some purple, and darker pink flowers.  Peppermint has a stronger flavor than spearmint.  Both the leaves and the oil from mint have commercial uses. Mint can be used to flavor teas, relishes, sauces, and pasta, lamb and poultry dishes.  Mint is rich in vitamins and minerals as well as important phytonutrients.  All mint has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-fungal, anti-microbial properties.

Peak Time:  Summer through early fall in gardens and available year round commercially

Average Price:   $1.98 per bunch

Tips for Selection and Storage:  Choose leaves with the freshest appearance and scent.  Leaves should be free of wilt, dryness, and browning around the edges.  To check for a fresh scent a leaf can be bruised slightly to release its fragrance.  To store mint, place unwashed mint upright with stems in a glass of water and the leaves covered with plastic wrap.  Secure wrap to the glass with a rubber band.  Water should be changed daily.  Fresh mint can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Tips for Preparation:  When ready to use, mint should be rinsed and gently blotted with a paper towel. Cut with a sharp paring knife or scissors. Fresh mint tea combines well with the with green tea.

Mint in lemonade is doubly refreshing.  Mint may be frozen by placing small amounts in an ice cube tray and covering with water. You can make mint sugar or simple syrup with fresh mint too.  Mint is delicious in desserts like ice cream, and ices, sauces, soups, beans, with fruits, and even vegetables such as asparagus, squash, carrots, peas, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Mint is traditional in some meat dishes such as lamb, pork, and poultry.

Nutritional Highlights:  All mint or mentha is rich in vitamins A, C, and folate.  It has a surprising amount of iron as well as some calcium.  In addition to being a flavoring agent, fresh mint and mint oil has been used for thousands of years as an herbal treatment using the leaves and essential oils.  It has been used primarily for digestive benefits.  It has also been used for treatment of colds and fever, skin problems, and headaches.  Bioactive phytonutrients in mint include terpenes, lactone, limonene, menthone, menthol, flavonoids, and phenolic acids.  Peppermint has a bigger, bolder flavor than spearmint because of the amount of menthol.  This large amount of menthol can also cause gastric reflux and heartburn.

For a recipe for fresh mint cookies, click here.