Sunday, May 17, 2009

Mint - a year of food by the season

Mint has been available in my garden now since mid-April. It is one of the first herbs I found growing wild on the farm. Actually, I smelt it on my dogs and followed their path back to where they had been. Like many plants here I imagine it escaped long ago from the Chapman garden.

Since this time I have also started growing Swiss mint and this herb is a treasure. The mother plant was given to me by Jamie Board over at Board's Honey Farm in Restoule. It has distinctive pale mauve flower heads and you can see it in the photo in the jug on the right. The first jug contains some marjoram which can be a topic for another day. I also grow peppermint and it too has spread nicely. For the past three years I have been growing what I call Mexican mint. It re-seeds here and there and I am still finding out about that plant. It tastes like a cross between tarragon and mint.

Mint is a pioneer, perennial herb and there are hundreds of different varieties. You can often get a clump of mint from a friend. Put it in a spot where it can spread. It likes partial shade or sun so it is flexible! There are all kinds of cautions about watching where you plant mint as it spreads uncontrollably. I am mad about mint and quite happy to have it spread! I have been told there is wild mint in our area and it is on my list of plants to find and forage.

Mint has a cool, refreshing, sweet flavour. Add fresh mint to beans, fruit salad, jellies, peas, raita, chutney and other sauces, salad, salad dressing and Middle Eastern dishes like tabbouleh. Mint makes a great tea and I also tear the leaves off the stem and add to wraps.

I pick a soup size bowl of mint and wash it in a couple changes of cold water to remove the dirt that tends to collect on the lower leaves. Drain and keep it in the fridge for easy access. It will stay fresh for a few days. Canadians typically use fresh herbs as garnishes or flavour accents. I have increased the amounts I use in many recipes as a means to eat fresh, local food and to get greater nutritional and medicinal effects of the herb. Mint leaves can be a part of the salad, not just the garnish!

NUTRITION FACTS (per half cup/125 ml): 20 calories, 15 mg sodium, 3 g fibre, 2 g protein. %Daily Values are 10% for vitamin C and calcium, 40% vitamin A and 30% iron.

MEDICINAL USES: The medicinal qualities of mint are due to its menthol which helps digestion, soothes hiccups and intestinal cramps and just happens to taste wonderful, too. If you suffer from acid reflux you may have to avoid mint as it relaxes the sphincter at the top of the stomach and can cause more acid to leak into the esophagus experienced as "heart burn."

The platter above is of Chicken & Goat Cheese Herb Fritters over Field Greens I made last summer for a cooking class for a group with Penny Tremblay. Penny and her daughter Sierra took these photos.

Join me for a gourmet cooking class at Chapman's Landing Cooking Studio in Nipissing village. We will be offering another "100 Mile Menu of SLOW Foods" on Saturday May 30th. On June 6th we will be working with garden herbs to make tasty herb vinegars, oils, dressing and marinades. Menus and information on classes are posted on my website.

© Nancy Guppy, RD, MHSc

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