Posted originally on for Huffington Post
Meatless Monday: Mint Condition
Two weeks back, a friend and I were discussing fresh mint with the passion of true believers. This was made trickier by the fact we do not share a common language. But we bond over many things including an abiding appreciation of mint’s underrated culinary attributes and its healing properties. Mint is also, my friend insists, easy to grow. So easy, she came over the next day with a ready-to-grow sprig she’d snipped from her garden.
It is prime season for herb-growing around most of the country right now, but in Miami, it is the season for burning up both people and produce. My Obama victory garden is fallow except for the collard greens which thrive on abuse.
I effusively thanked my friend for the mint then, looking around my sun-parched back yard, asked where to plant it.
She did not understand.
I performed an elaborate Kabuki-esque pantomime. “Where should I plant it?”
“Ah!” she smiled. “Under bush.”
Okay, not so helpful, but very kind of her and here I’d scored some free, gorgeous mint I could, with luck, not kill.
I figured she meant mint needs partial shade, so I filled a drainable container with potting soil, made a small hole for the mint and gently set it inside. I gave it water and my best wishes and placed it in the shadiest part of my back yard.
Within three days, the mint announced it was unhappy. It drooped. It wilted. Bits browned, crisped then fell off. I tried more sun, less sun, more water, less water. I ran it all over the garden. Still, it looked destined for the plant graveyard. This was going to be hard to explain to my friend — both shaming and difficult to impart. I practiced letting my shoulders sag. I drew my finger across my neck in the universal sign for dead.
Out of growing ideas, I brought the pot of mint inside and placed it on my sunny kitchen counter so it could live out the rest of its days in peace. It cheered up overnight. Within a few more days, it rallied and put out green shoots.
For most of you, growing mint is a breeze. It thrives in temperate climes. In fact you have to watch it if you plant it in your garden — it’s invasive and its seemingly delicate tendrils will crowd out heartier-looking plants. There’s over two dozen varieties of mint, all rich in vitamin A and C, soothing of nerves and bellies. And fresh mint adds such a zing to entrees, salads and stir-fries, you won’t believe it.
I’ll plant mint in my garden when Miami hits its growing season — October. But even if you live in a shoebox-sized studio you can, as I do, grow mint, basil, all kinds of fresh herbs on your window sill. My resurrected mint is testament to how forgiving and benevolent nature is. Be benevolent back. You can’t be more of a locavore than eating food you grow yourself. That’s a difference you can make and understand in any language.