Health properties of mint and how to cook with it

May 21, 2012 at 6:00 a.m. ET

Looking for an herb that's easy to grow, simple to incorporate into meals and that boasts numerous health benefits? Then mint's what you want. Give it a try, and soon you'll wonder how you ever lived without a steady supply of this versatile herb.

Mint

If you've decided to start gardening this spring, one herb you should add to your container gardening plans is mint. Aside from its wonderful fragrance, mint is a handy herb to have around when cooking. If you're a newbie to gardening, mint is a good choice to start with because it's easy to grow. It's hardy and can thrive in both sun and shade, and since it's well suited for container gardening, mint is ideal if you have only a small space to work with, such as a condo balcony.

Another reason to grow mint is that the herb is good for your health. Mint is loaded with vitamins (such as A, B2 and C) and minerals (manganese, iron, copper, potassium and calcium). In terms of medicinal properties, mint is often used to help relieve digestive issues (including heartburn) and aid in respiratory problems. Thanks to its antioxidant properties, it has been shown to help reduce the risk of certain cancers. Of course, most of us are familiar with the herb's cool and fresh qualities, which makes it a natural go-to for cooling the skin (if you've been burned or have a rash, for example) and for battling bad breath.

How can you include more mint in your cooking and overall diet ? Here are some ideas.

Include mint in a vegetable side dish

With fairly neutral-tasting vegetables (think peas, beans or potatoes) prepared in a simple way, adding a bit of chopped mint can liven up the dish considerably in addition to giving a bright freshness to it.

Partner mint with lamb

The rich, intense and somewhat gamy flavour of lamb makes mint its perfect accompaniment, as the mint cuts through the taste while complementing it at the same time. Rack of lamb served with mint sauce (which is very simple to make) is a popular pairing. Or if you're making burgers out of ground lamb, incorporate some mint into the meat or use it as a condiment (perhaps mixed with yogourt — see below).

Make mint tea

Snip some fresh leaves from your peppermint plant, and dry them. Once dried, pour boiling water over them, let the mixture steep awhile and then you'll have a soothing herbal tea ideal for enjoying after dinner to help with digestion.

Add mint to a yogourt dressing

The coolness of mint paired with tangy yogourt is a match made in heaven. Pour a yogourt-mint dressing onto a simple salad (cucumbers and tomatoes, for example), or use the dressing in place of tzatziki in a wrap with Mediterranean-inspired meatballs.

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