Columbia Road Market 72
Clockwise from top – Spanish Mint, Basil Mint, Pineapple Mint and Tashkent Mint
My friends Mick & Sylvia Grover, the herbsellers in Columbia Rd, sell so many different kinds of Mint (Mentha) that it has inspired me to start a Mint garden to permit comparison of the diverse flavours and explore the myriad uses of each distinctive variety. While others are connoisseurs of fine wines, expensive whisky, unusual cheeses, fancy olive oil or rare wild fungi, it suits me to become the connoisseur of Mint, a delicious and useful herb that is less appreciated than more exotic flavourings only because it is so popular. I hope you will indulge this newly-minted trait, because whilst I try to resist the seductions of mere novelty, I am always eager to learn new things.
I think of my mother running down the garden in Devon with an umbrella in early Spring to grab a few sprigs of Mint to make a sauce to accompany the lamb for our Easter Sunday lunch, and I think of drinking Mint tea to accompany couscous at a troglodyte village at the furthest extremity of the Sahara desert in North Africa. These days, I like to chop up fresh Mint in my green salad and add it to bowls of homemade soup to create another dimension of piquancy, and surely no Summer is complete without Mojitos or a glass of Pimms with a Mint leaf floating in it.
For just a few pounds, I was able to buy nine different Mint plants from the Grovers in Columbia Rd, and ever since I have been pinching the leaves and training myself to the recognise their characteristic flavours. Though I do not think I am ready for any blind tasting just yet, it offers a relaxing way to idle a spare half hour on a Summer Sunday.
Garden Mint is the one I know from childhood and Spanish Mint is a more vigorous strain that has a flavour inclined to spearmint – which I think of as the flavour of chewing gum. Tashkent Mint is another hardy variety with coarser leaves and a more aromatic scented flavour than Garden or Spanish Mint. Moroccan Mint is the one you need to create the authentic mint tea, and, of the larger plants, this is my favourite for its rich green colour and regular well-defined leaves that are deeply perfumed.
Lemon Mint and Pineapple Mint may sound like novelties but they do carry a hint of the fruits they are named after, and Pineapple Mint has attractive variegated leaves and trailing growth. Either would make an ideal addition to fruit salad. Basil Mint is a fleshy plant that resembles Basil as much as Mint, yet while it does share the flavours of Mint and Basil, to me it also has a strong aroma of Lavender. This could be wonderful on a dish of Vanilla ice cream.
Then come the Peppermints – Black Peppermint which has a very strong spearmint flavour and leaves that darken to purple through the season, and Chocolate Peppermint which does not smell of chocolate but possesses a scent which, if you close your eyes, is close to the scent of “After Eight” Mints.
So there you have my nascent mint collection. I realise this is a huge subject which offers the opportunity of discourse upon the origins, culture and medicinal properties of each one of the different varieties of this favoured plant – but I choose to leave you with it there, lest I risk becoming a Mint bore.
Clockwise from top – Garden Mint, Chocolate Peppermint, Hilary’s Sweet Lemon Mint, Black Peppermint and Moroccan Mint.
You might like to read about Mick & Sylvia Grover, Herbsellers of Columbia Rd