The allure of mint and a journey through the great Southwest

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By: Rachel Shenk

Rachel Shenk

Have you ever let your nose lead you? That’s the story with mint and me. Something about the smell grabs me and won’t let go, especially at this time of year. For me, the scent of mint means newness, growth, freshness, cleansing, healing, soothing, calm. And I probably have not covered it all. When springs comes around and the sun and the rain have both had their turns, I know that mint is not far behind.

A couple of years ago, around this time, I planted a patch of spearmint taken from my Aunt Mary’s garden. As I put my hands in the dirt, I said a little prayer for my Aunt Esther who was on her dying bed and I thought how appropriate my gesture was as a memorial. Oh, Aunt Esther! Her interest in herbs and wild edibles helped me on my journey of food. But it was her acceptance of and interest in my life that really left an impression.

When I was a young college student, Aunt Esther invited me out to her place for a couple of weeks. At that time, her home was in Santa Fe, New Mexico in a small adobe house. I joined a friend and we drove out through the plains to Colorado Springs where I took the Greyhound bus over the San Juan Mountains and through the San Luis Valley into Santa Fe.

For the next two weeks, I walked all over Santa Fe with and without Aunt Esther. I drove north to Los Alamos to see where the atomic bombs were made in secret. I meandered through the craft and gallery road and talked to artists. I hiked the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and was sunburned by the wind and the sun. The deep blue skies and the smell of piñon permeated my nostrils. I tasted the homemade tamales and sipped the hottest chili. I ate the sweetest cornbread and the best frybread.

My aunt drove with me to the pueblos to participate in a Native American celebration. She also took me on a road trip through New Mexico. The route took us over the Continental Divide and through national forests. We went on a wildflower hike out in the dessert and stopped at the Very Large Array to check out the huge satellite dishes leaning into space. During those two weeks, we ate a variety of foods I had never tasted before and with Aunt Esther’s dietetic knowledge, I learned about their nutrients.

Now here I am in Goshen, remembering Aunt Esther, as I look for signs of spring. I get down on my knees in my established mint bed, push aside the vinca vine also growing there, and all of a sudden I see little soft green sprouts pushing through and I know my mint has endured the hard winter and is ready to grow. Soon, it will be time to make meadow tea and mojitos, throw mint into salsas and salads, whip up some mint ice cream and mint brownies. And that smell will continue to grab me. Crush some mint in your fingers. See what I mean?

Here’s my recipe for meadow tea.

Meadow Tea

Ingredients

  • 4 cups mint leaves, loosely packed
  • 2½ lemons, thinly sliced
  • 8 cups water
  • 2¾ cups sugar

Directions

  1. Mix the water and sugar in a large pot. Bring to a boil.
  2. Immediately turn heat off, remove from the stove and throw in the mint and lemon. Stir once.
  3. Cover and let cool.
  4. Strain and store in the refrigerator.
  5. Use as a concentrate. Put 1¾ cups concentrate into a gallon pitcher, add cold water and stir.
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