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The Herb That Cannot Be Vanquished


Mint: not only something to brush your teeth with or adorn the tea tables of old ladies playing bridge. This delicious Old World herb has a myriad of uses in cuisine, herbology and medicine, and popular mythology.

Though spearmint is a common enough ingredient in many gardens throughout the world, known for its sweet smell and tendency to be invasive, it is also known for the fact that it makes one of the most delicious teas around. Luckily, it’s spicy flavor and easily recognized pungent smell are only heightened by the addition of another herb to this blend.

African mint tea is a very simple mix of spearmint and honeybush, which is another of the most common tea-making ingredients. Similar to rooibos in nature, honeybush has a naturally sweet flavor (hence the name) and grows only in limited areas of South Africa’s southwest and southeast corners. It is commonly used on its own to produce herbal tisanes, or teas, but here wakes up in the company of vivacious spearmint.

Mint also has a long history of myth associated with it, and it’s not hard to see why. This almost preternaturally scented herb is calming and cooling by turns, and sometimes lively and invigorating at other times. When crushed, it gives off an even more wicked scent, which is likely to stay with the hands for hours to come. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this divine smell plays into one of the most popular and common of the mint myths.

This one concerns Hades, domineering lord of the Underworld, who fell in love with a beautiful nymph named Menthe (who gave her name to such liqueurs as Crème de Menthe). He pursued her, wanting to possess her, but before he could achieve this ambition, his jealous wife Persephone caught wind.

Persephone, who was herself the daughter of a goddess and had been imprisoned in the Underworld under false pretenses, was not about to share her throne. She responded in a way jealous women the world over might understand: she simply trampled Menthe underfoot. Before she could kill her, however, Hades intervened and turned Menthe into the lovely, sweet-smelling, ground-growing shrub we know today.

Ever afterward, he thought of his lovely prize when mint became trampled underfoot, releasing its distinguished odor. Persephone also was mollified at the thought of her former rival reduced to being walked on by strangers, so perhaps it could be said that mint saved this marriage.

Whatever the case, African mint embodies all of the richness of that myth, as well as all the good that the herb itself if supposed to possess. In addition to aiding digestion and calming stomach upset when drunk in tea form, the leaves can also be rubbed on the head to relieve headache or on the skin to reduce swelling and itching. Rarely has so storied an herb been available in so lovely a blend, so don’t wait any longer to get ahold of a steaming cup of African Mint today.