By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
The 650 varieties of mints have had a long history.
Pliny a naturalist in the first century A.D. believed that the smell of mint would stimulate the mind and appetite.
He suggested that the head be bound with a crown of mint to help heal the soul and mind.
Pliny, Hippocrates, and Aristotle viewed mint as an herb that would be contrary to procreation. The Greeks on the other hand forbade their soldiers to consume mint because they felt it would provoke a man to love and weaken his courage.
The Middle Ages saw the cultivation of mint for therapeutic uses grow. Wild mint or Spearmint was found in Great Britain in the 17th century.
Mint cultivation started in 1750 and spread to the continent in 1770. During this time period mint was viewed as a “great strengthener of the stomach” as described by the English herbalists Culpeper. In the 1880’s English herbalists and doctors created Family Dispensatory Chests. These chests were like modern day first aid kits and provided drugs and herbs for each village. One of the herbs in this first aid kit was mint.
Even in modern time mint shows up in first aid kits. During World War I when traditional drugs were in short supply mint showed up along with sphagnum moss, garlic, and lily-of-the-valley.
Today mint is still used to treat aliments such as stomach problems, headaches, and nervous conditions while also creating a delicious drink. The mint julep has had a unique medical past but the history continued when it became associated with horseracing and the Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Derby did not see the mint julep until 1938 when the drink was served in a souvenir glass for 75 cents.
But the concept of the “julep” was born centuries ago in Arabic countries where water and rose petals were mixed to create a “julep.” This drink was then introduced to the Mediterranean region where rose petals were replaced with mint that grew wild in the area. When the julep was introduced in Europe it became named the Mint Julep.
When the mint julep came to the United States it came to rest in agricultural regions of the east and southeast. Here farmers used the mint julep as a morning drink much like coffee. This was first described in print as a “dram of spirituous liquor that has mint in it, taken by Virginians in the morning” in 1803. During this time mint juleps were mixed with rye whiskey, rum or whatever liquor was available but today it is made with good American Bourbon, sugar, water, and mint.