By Naini Setalvad
Soothing, healing, warming, whichever way you look at it, mint comes up a winner, says Naini Setalvad
One of the most popular flavours in the world, mint is cooling and warming with a sweet fragrance. Mint is best known as a mouth freshener. The market brims with products like mint-flavoured toothpaste, chewing gums, breath fresheners, candies, inhalers and what not. And of course let us not forget our favourite – mint chocolates and ice creams. Little do we realise that mint does a lot more.
Mint comes in various forms and flavours. We have spearmint, peppermint, and garden mint leaves. There is one form of mint to be used in desserts, a separate one for drinks, and for general cooking the common or garden variety will do fine. There is also pineapple mint for salads. In India, mint is popularly known as pudina. The two most common varieties are plain pudina and peppermint.
Nearly every person coming to my centre is asked to have mint leaves daily in the form of chutney or tossed in salad, or even in pudina-lemon juice. A typical Indian home at the peak of summer, especially in the north, consumes mint all the way! You step into any kitchen and the aroma of mint will tantalise you. A few moments later, comes nimbu pani with mint, and on the table, there will usually be pudina raita and pudina chutney.
Beat the heat
The heat of summer has always been soothed with a host of drinks made with mint. Choose from the delectable aam panna – raw mango drink served with mint, or buttermilk tempered with mint or a glass of chilled jal jeera with mint, which works wonders as a digestive. Mint is popularly used as the base for the pani in pani puri. Chilled iced tea, or warm herbal infusions with mint, refresh one immensely. In winter, piping hot pudinawali chai is comforting, while a hot kadhi infused with mint eaten with khichdi is indeed comfort food.
Mint is soothing, a digestive, and a strong diuretic. It is a wonderful mouth freshener that keeps away bad breath. For centuries, mint has been enjoyed for its wonderful aroma, its great taste, and healing power. Long known for its ability to settle a nervous stomach, mint has many other health benefits as well.
It is amazing how dried mint leaves, boiled in water, form a strong concoction that helps soothe the digestive tract, and ease the severity of a stomach ache. Drinking herbal mint tea helps irritated bowel syndrome, and cleanses the stomach. Prevent water retention with mint, as it is a strong diuretic, and helps in eliminating toxins from the body. When included in the diet on a regular basis, mint reduces the growth of bacteria and fungus in the body.
Mint has antifungal properties which help curb asthma, and a steam inhalation with an infusion of mint leaves gives relief from congestion problems, like sinus infections and the common cold. Mint helps in getting rid of headaches and migraines. No wonder, when we have a headache, we crave for hot pudina chai. Inhaling essential oil of mint provides a sense of calm, and relaxes the mind. Mint finds extensive use in the field of aromatherapy.
|Naini Setalvad is a nutritionist, specialising in lifestyle and immunity disorders. Her foundation, Health For You, throws light on healthy food habits.|
Gleaming white teeth can be achieved by chewing mint leaves. This is why pharmaceutical companies use menthol (an extract from mint) as a key component for many medicines and drugs. Research indicates that mint has anti-cancer properties. The phytonutrients in mint are believed to prevent cancers of the colon, skin, and lungs. A good source of vitamins A and C, mint contains a considerable amount of dietary fibre, folate, iron, and vitamin B2.
To reduce the ill effects of tannin and caffeine in your favourite tea, use fresh mint. Toss the greenest leaves from spearmint or peppermint sprigs in your teapot, as you are almost done brewing it with your favourite tea. Infuse for a couple of minutes or longer for a more potent flavour.
The mythology of mint
The Greeks believed mints could clear the voice and cure hiccups. In fact, mint is part of Greek mythology. According to legend – Menthe, originally a nymph, and Pluto’s lover, angered Pluto’s wife, Persephone, who in a fit of rage turned Menthe into a lowly plant, to tread on. Pluto, unable to undo the spell, was able to soften it by giving Menthe a sweet scent, which would perfume the air when her leaves were stepped on.
Mint can be grown in pots and planted with other herbs. According to legend, this is a good herb for keeping ants away from doors, and combating mice and fleas. Keep mint leaves near food, beds, and wardrobes. Use it to freshen up the house like an air freshener; it brings the fresh smell of herbal fragrance into every room. It can be simmered in a pot of water with rosemary and lemon grass to create a unique and lively potpourri.
Whichever way one eats it, drinks it, or prepares it, mint is an herb which benefits health in many ways. In fact, the reason most of our ancestors grew this pungent herb was for its health benefits. Even today, naturalists still employ peppermint to treat a host of medical conditions, ranging from gallstones and irritable bowel syndrome, to the common cold.
Cucumber Mint Salad
300 gm cucumbers chopped in small cubes
1/2 cup pomegranate
1 cup mint finely chopped
2 tsp roasted til (sesame) seeds
1 green chili, finely chopped (optional)
Lemon to taste
Salt to taste
1. Peel and cut the cucumber in small cubes and put it in a bowl.
2. Add pomegranate, til seeds and mint leaves to the bowl.
3. Add salt and lemon to taste.
4. Add finely chopped green chili (optional)
5. Mix well.
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