Resiliency is defined as a supremely positive quality by which one demonstrates one’s ability to recover from or adjust to misfortune or change. In this instance, misfortune is represented by my gardening abilities while recovery is asked of anything I try to plant! Mint, fondly known in this area as hierba buena (“good herb”), is an extremely resilient and low-maintenance perennial herb that can grow here quite successfully. Mint falls under the umbrella term of Mentha, which is a genus of plants in the Lamiaceae family. Gary Guzman, owner of Color Your World and Guzman’s Greenhouse in Las Cruces, tells us, “Mint plants have always been popular. There are tons of flavors such as chocolate, orange, lime, and apple mint to name a few. You can expect to pay between $4 to $10 per plant.”
The ancient Greeks used mint’s appealing aroma as a type of perfume, as the intense fragrance is released when the plant is touched. The Romans commonly used mint in sauce flavorings, infused in wine, and to decorate their tables. Furthermore, they believed eating mint would increase intelligence and could stop a person from losing their temper.
As a child, I have fond memories of my grandmother allowing me to take a few leaves off her mint plants and eat them right from the garden, especially when I had an upset stomach. She would often share “Spanglish” phrases with our family that her mother used to tell her, like “dale un poco hierba buena to the baby, es bueno para ella” (give some mint to the baby, it is good for her).
That said, the vast array of health benefits from mint surprised even me. Aside from positive digestive health properties, mint has antitumor, antibacterial, antiseptic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and carminative properties. It can also alleviate pain from cramps and colic, relieve muscle aches and headaches, and promote cell growth. It is packed with vitamin A, which is known to improve eye health, brain function, and give a boost to the immune system. In addition to physical benefits, hierba buena can also be used to treat stress, anxiety, and depression.
Mint can be featured in a cocktail, in tea or lemonade, as a salad topper, an ingredient in pesto, an essential oil, and is even considered an effective natural bug repellent. Another neat thing to try is to freeze mint leaves along with your favorite berry and H2O in ice cube trays to make for celebratory, tasty ice cubes.
- Mint is an eager perennial that can be grown indoors as a houseplant, in a window box, or in outdoor gardens.
- Mint requires regular watering and does well in partial shade but will also do just fine in full sun. As a rule of thumb, if it is damp or moist in the top half-inch of soil, then no need to water. With our desert heat, I find myself watering daily. Especially during the summer months, you can opt to mist frequently to prevent the root system from becoming dry.
- The biggest complaint about mint is that it can be invasive. Although this is true, with proper planning you can certainly keep it controlled. Planting it in the ground within a vessel will help to keep it contained. You can even do this by recycling a large coffee can or milk carton with the bottom cut out. Another option gardeners use is to plant mint alongside a sidewalk edge or other location where a permanent boundary is already set. If you are still hesitant, you could always elect to plant it in a pot. Gary tells us if you decide to grow mint in a pot, it is best to use a lightweight potting mix.
- Once plants are established, harvest mint leaves regularly by pinching them off the stems. If you are not using them immediately, place the leaves in a glass of water or in a plastic bag stored in the refrigerator for up to seven days.
- Mint is an ideal companion for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. Many claim that having mint as a neighbor promotes growth and improves the flavor of edibles planted around it.
- Mint can help repel aphids and spider mites as well as tomato hornworms (which are as menacing to your tomato plants as they sound, but they will later become beautiful sphinx moths).
- Mint attracts bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. Let your mint run free and these pollinators will thank you!
Recently, I devised the exceptionally simple recipe below while spending a weekend at Elephant Butte Lake State Park. Just mix all the ingredients after some serious “muddling” takes place. I have found that if you can muddle properly the odds of producing a delicious drink sway heavily in your favor. So, what is muddling anyway, and how do you do it? It is essentially the act of crushing an herb gently and strategically to draw out the flavors. A secret I learned is to make sure to have a sturdy glass and use a simultaneous pressing down and twisting action. One can either purchase a specific muddling tool to get the job done or it can be as simple as using the bottom of a wooden spoon or rolling pin so as not to overly bruise the herb.
Classic Cuban Mojito
Fresh mint leaves
1 ounce lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 can sparkling water (plain or lime flavored)
2 ounces rum (preferably white)
In a 12-ounce glass, combine simple syrup and lime juice. Next, add fresh mint leaves and muddle, aiming for the stem of the plant (this helps to avoid a bitter taste and prevent discoloration/bruising) until it becomes aromatic. Finally, add rum and sparkling water. After a strong stir, garnish with a lime wedge and add ice cubes and maybe even a fancy straw!
Homemade Andes Mints
Fresh mint leaves 1½ teaspoons raw coconut butter
1 cup mint chocolate baking pieces 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Once you up your cooking game with fresh mint, using artificial extract will never be your first choice! During my quest for learning all things mint, I found a recipe that is next on my list to try. It seems to be a cross between a Thin Mint Girl Scout cookie and an Andes after-dinner mint (you undoubtedly can’t go wrong with that combination). This dessert is made with three layers, each requiring a brief cooling period in the refrigerator.
In a microwave-safe bowl, combine half the chocolate and a ½ teaspoon of coconut butter. Melt for three 30-second intervals, stirring between each. Spread mixture in an 8-inch x 8-inch pan lined with parchment paper. Cool in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Using a kitchen appliance of your choice, blend ½ teaspoon of semi-melted coconut butter with mint leaves and sugar. Spread the second layer and cool again in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Repeat the chocolate layer and let cool for a final 30 minutes. Cut into individual mints.
I personally use hierba buena for everything from relieving pesky stomachaches to making it a key ingredient in my sun tea. I now realize that with a bit of creativity, mint can go far beyond those uses or even just be enjoyed as a fancy garnish. Feel free to take it a step further by sharing a few leaves with your fur family member Fido to freshen up his breath or even infused in a spray to make a bug repellent that is safe for you and Fido, too!
Story and photography by Desiree Bustamantes
Originally published in Neighbors magazine | 2022
Posted by LasCruces.com