I’d like to say a word in favor of mint in winter. While we’re still dreaming about what we’re going to plant this summer, consider saving a patch of earth for this wonderful herb. It’s invasive, though, so make sure you aren’t doing what I did the first time, which was to expect that the mint would trail gracefully through some other perennials. It will devour them.
Mint will tolerate all sorts of nasty soils, so long as it has plenty of good, hot sunshine. I won’t go into all the things you can do with mint in the summer, starting with a spear in a tall glass of cool water. These days, I’m playing with infusions.
It all started when my friend Lora Zarubin, author of I’m Almost Always Hungry, introduced me to the idea of pouring hot water over a few sprigs of rosemary as a digestive aid after a late night dinner. It was so calming that I decided to get serious about this somewhat neglected corner of the meal. These days, when the skies are occluded and nothing ever seems to be quite dry, I’m using the mint I grew last summer, and dried in the fall--easy, just spread the leaves out on a window screen and let them sit a while. That’s what is in the big Mason jar at the back of that picture (behind Frances’ teacup.) All I need to take me back to my summer garden is to open the lid and get a whiff of that heady fragrance. Mint always reminds me of my mother, who grew up in Casablanca; she introduced me to mint tea, and, as a purist, she might not appreciate where the mint is going now…
Boil the water, and into a large teapot scrape off a generous tablespoon of ginger, squeeze half a lemon (for a real treat, grow your own Meyer lemons), a dollop of honey, and a handful of mint leaves. Adjust all these things according to your taste, of course. Let this concoction sit for four or five minutes, then pour yourself a cup, curl up in the window seat, and watch the rain beat against the glass. If you don’t like mint (gasp!) you can use verbena leaves instead; they, too, are very easy to grow in a patch by the kitchen door.
A few days of this, and you’ll be looking forward to the next drizzly excuse to take out your teapot. Come to think of it, this would probably taste terrific iced. I’ll have to remember that for the summer!