Mother Earth Living

Down to Earth: Fresh Mint Encounters

Fresh Mint Syrup

“But I want leaves in mine, too,” I whimpered.

I associate fragrances with events in my life. One vivid memory from my early childhood comes back to me occasionally when I sip iced tea garnished with a sprig of fresh mint.

When I was very small, my parents had a group of friends, all with young children. The women took turns hosting parties, and each tried to outdo the others with fancy little sandwiches, teas, and cakes. On this particular day, we were gathered at a two-story farmhouse with green shutters on the tall windows; the yard held huge shade trees and a wide expanse of lush bluegrass lawn that felt wonderful on bare feet. We children were playing upstairs while the mothers visited.

The stairs were steep. I’d just drawn a picture and ran excitedly out of the playroom to show it to my mother. The warm brown oak floors had been waxed and polished to a shine, and when my foot hit the bright handwoven rug on the top landing, it launched me into the air and out over the steps in less time than it took to say, “Oops!”

The ladies below heard “thump, bump, bang, thump, thump,” and finally “kerbam” as I landed on the bottom step. They rose up in alarm, crowding around my mother, who had gathered me up in her arms. As soon as I caught my breath, I began to wail for all I was worth. Mother turned pale, and her hands shook.

When it was determined that I hadn’t broken any bones, just lost a little skin, the party resumed. All of the ladies were holding glasses of iced tea with mint leaves floating on top. Trying to capitalize on their sympathy for my skinned knee, I asked for some tea, too, but Mother thought that tea before naptime was a poor idea. “I’ll fix you your own little glass,” the hostess said and poured me a child-sized juice glass full of iced water.

“But I want leaves in mine, too,” I whimpered.

The woman accommodatingly added a big sprig of mint. I carried my glass to a little chair and sat sipping my “tea” and playing with the sprig of mint while reliving in my mind that flight down the stairs.

At the time, we had no mint growing at home, but after that incident, I recall searching the yard for plants that might bear mint leaves. Near my swing stood an elm tree. Its leaves looked like mint leaves to me, but I found that they had little taste and none of the fresh minty aroma.

Soon afterward, though, my grandmother gave me a start of mint and taught me how to grow the plant. In later years, I learned that every so often mint needs to be dug up and divided, and eventually, I discovered that just grinding the plants up with a tiller is one of the best methods for keeping a mint bed producing.

Today, the smell of mint in summer often brings back that flying-carpet ride and my first taste of mint. I now grow many kinds of mint and use the leaves in a number of different ways. I like to candy the leaves of chocolate mint the same way that I candy violets. I also like mint syrup. This syrup, which I’ve used for many years, was one of the first herbal recipes that I learned to make. It’s useful for flavoring lemonade and mint juleps, and as a base for mint sauce to be served with lamb. As a digestive aid, a teaspoon of mint syrup in half a glass of water is better than antacid tablets.

Jim Long is an herbalist and the owner of Long Creek Herb Farm in Oak Grove, Arkansas.

  • Published on Jun 1, 1996
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